Soul Asylum's Candy From a Stranger manages to be less tedious than its predecessor, Let Your Dim Light Shine, which isn't saying much. What's more, Jon Carin's credited Mellotron appears to be entirely inaudible.
What happens when you combine two of my least favourite genres in one album? Soul P is that unholiest (ho ho) of genre mash-ups, a Christian rapper, although it doesn't seem to be that obvious from his 'rhymes', as I believe they're known. He found his way to the proverbial mythical deity through a dysfunctional childhood and several spells in chokey, 'giving his life to The Lord' a mere twenty-four hours after attending a Bible group, which has to make the sceptical reader wonder what was going on in the guy's head. Anyway, 2006's The Premiere is, unsurprisingly, his debut album and the one thing I can say in its favour is that the lyrics aren't about ho's (excuse the apostrophe - otherwise it's spelled hos, which looks ridiculous), bling and the like, which isn't to say it was a pleasant listening experience, being the usual collection of musically tedious efforts with him blathering on about something or other over the top. Funniest track? I'm The Street, with its heavenly choirs (a sampled one, by the sound of it) and a rap about how he Got God. Jeff Roach plays samplotron, with a few skronky-sounding string notes in the album's first proper track, I'm Here.
SoulenginE (please ditch that capital 'E', chaps) were formed by Ettore Salati and Fabio Mancini, both ex-The Watch, although their new project has a far wider range of influences than that estimable outfit. It's difficult to pin their sound down to a nice, snappy soundbite, although more tracks fall into the 'instrumental symphonic' category than any other, highlights including opener Polheim, the piano-led Rain Flower and lengthy closer Challenge To An End. Stylistic deviations from the norm include the fusion thing going on in Rain Flower, while one of only two vocal tracks here, Down The Street, has far more of a Watch feel about it, the other (Asleep) being a near-dead ringer for mid-'70s Genesis, as is Challenge To An End. Mancini is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on most tracks and (especially) the choirs on Asleep just don't have that 'zing' to them, not to mention, where would he source a machine? The Watch's Simone Rossetti? Anyway, they haven't overused the sound (bar the solo strings part in Rain Flower), so buy this because it's a bloody good album, not because of a spurious 'Mellotron' credit.
Souls of Mischief are an Oakland-based hip-hop crew whose sixth album (in over twenty years), 2014's There is Only Now, eschews the musical violence of many of their contemporaries for a more soul-based approach, aided by producer Adrian Younge. Is it any good? I have no idea; try as I might, the appeal of this stuff continues to elude me, although I note, to my amusement, that Miriam Got A Mickey samples (appropriately) the sample-and-hold synth from ELP's Karn Evil 9. Allow me to quote Younge on the Mellotron strings all over Narrow Escape: "I sought to produce a track that King Crimson would have made...to create a Mellotron-based tale depicting an epic life journey". Fail.
By all accounts, Karen and Ryan Hover's Sound of Ceres aren't dissimilar to their previous band, Candy Claws, both outfits producing a kind of 'dream pop', full of ghostly synths, half-whispered vocals and soothing percussion, where it's used at all. You'll have to take my word for it that a little of this stuff goes a very long way, unless the thought of drifting, rather unadventurous, indie-derived music floats your boat. Is there a 'best track'? Yes, actually: closer Dagger Only Run, with its strong sequencer line, stands out as something slightly different. Given that members of Apples in Stereo played on the album, it's hardly surprising that the 'Mellotron' is clearly sampled, with flutes all over pretty much everything, plus occasional strings. The trouble is, when it's used merely as part of the wash of sound that characterises the album, it loses its distinctive edge, becoming 'just another sound'. I dunno; perhaps that's all it is.
After finding a small level of fame with Bodhi, Wim Soutaer went solo in 2000, entering the Belgian version of Pop Idol (American Idol if you're from that side of the pond) in 2003, coming third and gaining a contract as a result. His first album, Een Nieuw Begin (you guessed it: A New Start/Beginning) mostly comprises breezy, Flemish-language pop/rock, with the occasional obligatory ballad thrown in for good (?) measure. As you might expect, it's exactly the kind of bland, mainstream fare that most people 'like' because they've never heard anything more interesting. No, that isn't a plea for more prog on the radio; just something - anything - less faceless than the usual tripe that appears to be served up in any country you care to name. Alain Van Zeveren plays Mellotron samples on the vaguely Beatles-esque Wat Zou Je Doen, with really obvious fake flutes, barely sounding like a Mellotron at all, frankly. Even (especially?) if you're a Flemish speaker, you're most unlikely to get anything out of this album, unless your taste is so bland that you'd be most unlikely to read this site in the first place.
To quote from South's website: "Rock, dance, electronica, folksy acoustics, orchestral soundscapes, South have always been impossible to pin down". Y'reckon? Going by their 2001 album, From Here on in, I'd say 'indie-schmindie' covers it fairly well. OK, it's not a bad album, as such, but it does nothing new or exciting, at least to my ears. Maybe I'm the wrong generation to appreciate it. It's also overlong; I mean, what is this obsession with filling a CD, just because you can? Seventy minutes is ridiculous; once upon a time this would've been called a 'double album' and a band may have (just possibly) made one in their entire career. OK, so bands don't spit albums out one a year any more, so it could easily be argued that they're actually producing less material by releasing a long CD every two or three years. That doesn't make these behemoths any easier to listen to, though... Anyway, there's loads of samplotron on offer here, which is one bonus, played by any or all of the trio: Joel Cadbury, Brett Shaw or Jamie McDonald. The album opens with the huge fuck-off strings of Broken Head I, with a flute melody riding over the top, with strings and cellos on Paint The Silence, cellos on Keep Close, strings on All In For Nothing (Reprise), flutes on Here On In... Basically, it's all over the place, although only a handful of tracks use it to any great effect, to be honest, chiefly the first and third versions of Broken Head that bookend the album.
In direct contrast, there's very little Mellotron (credited, this time) on With the Tides, two years later. The album's even less interesting than its predecessor, wussing along like a good'un for most of its length, making listening to it a most joyous experience. It's almost as if the band have no idea how to write a song. Er... OK, Silver Sun's not bad, but it's pretty much on its own here. Anyway, producer Dave Eringa allegedly plays Mellotron on Colours In Waves, but the distant, high strings on the track could come from anywhere, frankly, although the uncredited strings and cellos in Straight Lines To Badlands are rather more obvious. Samples, then.
South Normal play a kind of punk-end-of-powerpop on No More Songs About Girls, highlights including the opening title track, Ashamed, Tattoo, Gift That Gives... It's more a case of, what isn't a highlight? Excellent, powerful-yet-melodic stuff, quite certainly a killer live act. Kurt Wolak's 'Mellotron'? What, the string line on King & Queen?
South San Gabriel (helmed by Will Johnson) are the alter-egos of Texan outfit Centro-matic, formed to play their quieter material, leaving their noisier stuff for the parent band. 2003's Welcome, Convalescence was their debut album, following a split single with Okkervil River and begins by fooling the listener into thinking it's going to be straightforward Americana. It's not long, however, before the weird electronica kicks in, juxtaposed neatly with the downbeat, country-influenced material that actually constitutes the band's raison d'être. Joe Butcher plays samplotron, amongst other things, though not that much, with what I take to be high-end cellos on Everglades and definite flutes on Evangeline.
The hugely successful Southern All Stars have been active since the mid-'70s, although Young Love is only their eleventh release. This is a 'something for everyone' album, incorporating rock'n'roll, dance pop, electronica, gloopy ballads... As a result, while no doubt appealing to their devoted fanbase, it leaves the rest of us mildly bemused, while its hour-plus running length only serves to bore the casual listener. Any best tracks? Possibly Soul Bomber. Yuko Hara plays blatantly fake Hammond here and there, so it's no great surprise that his 'Mellotron' strings on Before The Storm are obviously sampled.
Southern Backtones claim influences from The Doors through Dick Dale, Pulp and The Cult, so make of that what you will. Their overlong eponymous third album has more of a millennial alt.rock vibe about it, frankly, at its best on energetic opener Forever and odd little interlude Lanugo. Kevin Ryan is credited with both Mellotron and Chamberlin, but the strings on Here's Looking At You Now and others sound bogus to my ears.
I suppose Sneaky Like a Villain falls into the vast, poorly-defined arena of 'indie rock', combining indie, electronica, psychedelia, jazz and other genres into, well, a bit of a mess, frankly, less irritating material including the vaudeville-esque Cheap Trills [sic.] and the Clavinet-driven You Think You Know. The album blots its Mellotronic copybook immediately, opening the album with Justin Peak's samplotron flutes on The Radio's On Again, other use including the strings on Who Am I and choirs on I Remember It Was Christmas Time.
Sparklehorse were essentially Mark Linkous plus friends, playing a melancholy kind of fucked-up Americana/alt.country/whatyouwannacallit. They debuted with '95's Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (no, I don't know) and you know what? It's really rather excellent. Mix equal parts ('real') country, indie guitar-thrash, American folk and probably a few other things, the end result being a very listenable blend of Linkous' influences, with some damn' good songwriting into the bargain. Although not that long, the album probably outstays its welcome slightly towards the end, but the first half is something I can see myself playing repeatedly if I let myself. Linkous plays samplotron on a couple of tracks, notably the weird little FX-laden Little Bastard Choo Choo, where a cheap chord organ vies with strings (and flutes?), possibly even FX tapes, although the flutes (?) on Heart Of Darkness are next to inaudible.
Nothing on '98's Good Morning Spider, but the samplotron's on several tracks on 2001's It's a Wonderful Life, along with alleged Chamberlin. To confuse the issue, Dave Fridmann from Mercury Rev plays on the latter, a man known for his not-entirely-honest approach to what constitutes a 'Mellotron'. Clue: you can't play one from a MIDI keyboard. Then there's a quote from Linkous about 'the only decent Mellotron's the new Mark VI', so who knows if any of it's real? Anyway, the album is beautiful in its melancholy, downbeat without being miserable for the sake of it; this is what Americana should sound like. Mind you, Dog Door channels Tom Waits, with a truly bonkers vocal, so it's not all 3 m.p.h. stuff [n.b. Upon checking the liner notes, it becomes apparent that it IS Tom Waits. That explains that one, then...]. As for the fake-replay, Linkous plays ghostly Chamby flutes and cellos on the opening title track, with more overt versions of both on Gold Day. He's on Mellotron flutes on Sea Of Teeth, with drummer Scott Minor on Chamby, then nothing until Alan Weatherhead's distant Mellotron and Chamby strings and woodwinds (oboe?) on More Yellow Birds. Dave Fridmann plays Chamby flutes and choir on Comfort Me and, finally, some very wobbly strings on closer Babies On The Sun, with Fridmann on 'Chamby' and Linkous on Mellotron.
It took Linkous five years to release another Sparklehorse album, 2006's (deep breath) Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (yup; another mis-use of the term 'light year'). And it's... another Sparklehorse album, you'll probably be pleased to hear. Nothing startling, nothing particularly new, but a solid, dependable Linkous record, despite difficult-to-ignore clunkers like the flat top guitar string on Return To Me. Said track is the first of a mere two credited tape-replay efforts here, with distant Chamberlin flutes from Linkous. The other is the lengthy closing title track, with Linkous on Chamby again and Dave Fridmann on Chamby and Mellotron, although none are that obvious, with (Mellotron?) flute melodies and (presumably Chamby) strings throughout, clearly sampled. Tragically, Linkous, a long-term sufferer from depression, killed himself in 2010, robbing us of any more of his work.
Sparkler's lone release, 1997's Wicker Park, was produced by Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev producer Keith Cleversley, so it comes as no great surprise to learn that their powerpop is infused with a form of indie-influenced melancholy. Better tracks include opener Hey Long Hair, the jangly Discover and Don't Despair, but the whole seems to be slightly less than the sum of its parts, for some reason. Rick Parker is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Magic Lantern (and possibly a couple of other tracks) sound a lot like late '90s samples to my ears, which, given Mercury Rev's major sample use, also shouldn't come as much of a surprise. This is a decent enough effort, but allowing the band's powerpop tendencies full rein might've made this a better album.
Illinois native Jimmy Sparks (his real name?) plays a kind of offbeat, largely acoustic indie on Jimmy Sparks & The Blizzard, at its least irritating on grungy opener This World and Snow. Someone (Sparks?) plays samplotron strings on closer Dear Majesty.
Speedmarket Avenue are a six-piece Swedish indie outfit with joint male/female vocals, which, sadly, doesn't really give them much of an edge over their monosex-vocalled brethren. Way Better Now is their second album and despite starting vaguely promisingly with lengthyish opener Sirens, quickly peters out into a welter of second-hand indie clichés with a vague mid-'60s pre-psych feel to them. Sirens is chock-full of 'Mellotron' strings which finally give themselves away as the mystery musician plays a note a good two tones above the Mellotron's top key. Less of the same on closer Final Wall, with a couple of vaguely possible parts elsewhere, but it's all fake, anyway. Do you like half-arsed indie? Then you may well like this. Do you hate half-arsed indie? Me too.
Spiritual Beggars' Christian "Spice" Sjöstrand played in The Mushroom River Band at the end of the '90s, who mutated into Spice & the RJ Band by the mid-'00s. 2007's The Will is their debut, a retro/stoner hard rock effort where every track actually sounds different from every other; remember when albums used to do that? Amongst its highlights are See Ya, the gentler Don't Tell Me and the fab jammed-out eight-minute closing title track, but truth be told, there isn't a bad track here. Olle Blomström is credited with Mellotron, but I'd be amazed if the smooth, distant strings on Hold On were anything other than samples, especially given the Beggars' sampledelic history. So; another entrant in the 'good retro hard rock' stakes, as against the 'generic, Sabbath-channelling doom stakes'. Worth hearing.
I'm not sure what possessed Jane "Spider" Herships to adopt that particular nom de plume; does she not realise what a ubiquitous band/artist name it is? Discogs.com lists over forty alone, not least the early '80s Status Quo copyists and sole exponents of 'Merseyboogie'. Ahem. Anyway, her choice. Her debut, The Way to Bitter Lake, was originally privately released in 2006, gaining a 'proper' issue on Storyboard the following year. It's a sparse, haunted half-hour or so of intimate, personal material that transcends the usual 'boring singer-songwriter' effect, not to mention one of the quietest albums I've heard in a while, making it all the more shocking when a squall of feedback introduces the album's first electric guitar part (of all of two) several minutes into Maggie's Song For Alice. That isn't to say that I find it particularly engaging, but that's probably more my fault than hers. Matt Boynton is credited with Mellotron, but if those thick string notes under the real violin on The Bitter One are a genuine Mellotron then I'll be etc. etc. So; an album sounding as though it's sitting on the edge of desperation, whether or not it actually is. Probably a grower.
A couple of tracks, at random, of Every Day is Like the First Day, would be fine, but the better part of an hour of Malka Spigel's monotonous voice set this listener's teeth on edge, as did the dreary, indie/post-rock instrumentation and arrangements. The album's probably at its best on the propulsive Two Dimensions In A Single Frame, but I think it's fair to say that this is aimed at people other than myself. Colin Newman (as in Wire?) is credited with Mellotron, but the vague strings and choirs on opener Ammonite and the slightly more upfront strings on Back In The Old City refuse to ring true.
Bree Leslie "Brody Dalle" Pucilowski was a founding member of The Distillers after moving to the States from Australia, forming Spinnerette in 2007 following the dissolution of her original band. Their eponymous 2009 debut is a modern punk album, I suppose, although it bears little relation to the class of '77, or, apparently, Dalle's earlier work. It sounds like Queens of the Stone Age in places (turns out Dalle is married to Josh Homme), with the occasional burst of programmed pop making itself heard, but its overriding influence has to be Nirvana, a touchstone for many of her generation. The album's chief fault is its length; this is the kind of music best heard in short, amphetamine-fuelled bursts, not records the better part of an hour long. Alain Johannes allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it's entirely inaudible.
Spiral Stairs are/is Pavement's Scott Kannberg's solo project, named for his original Pavement nom de plume. They/he released The Real Feel in 2009, possibly best described as indie Americana, which is less bad than it sounds, at its best on the rip-roaring Subiaco Shuffle, although some of the slower material drags somewhat. The Posies' Jon Auer supposedly plays Mellotron, just as he did on his own Songs From the Year of Our Demise, in other words, whatever's here is sampled. To be honest, I'm not even sure what is supposed to be here: vague choirs? Even vaguer flutes? No honest-to-goodness Mellotron, that's for sure. Not bad then, but no classic.
Spirosfera were a one-off Italian progressive outfit of the 'angular' variety, loosely comparable to the likes of Deus ex Machina, perhaps. There's little to choose between any of the tracks on 1996's Umanamnesi; suffice to say, if you like the style, with extra added jazz, you'll like this. Keys man Giorgio Brugnone plays excruciating, yet mercifully brief, high samplotron string lines on Pensiero, Emanamnesi and closer Deteoria.
Spirit Nation's eponymous album appeared in 1998, but seems to have been reissued as Sacredness, expanded and slightly resequenced, with the artist name changed to Era. Dodgy small label reselling? I think so. They actually seem to be the duo of guitarist Steve Rosen and keyboard player Jimmy Waldo (New England, Alcatrazz), who combine Native American rhythms and chants with electronica and new age synth washes, which is almost exactly as dull as it sounds. I'm sure there's a huge market for this kind of stuff, but it's soporific in the extreme, especially when the expanded version runs over an hour. Waldo supposedly plays Mellotron on several tracks, although it's fairly obviously sampled, as on his work with his old cohort Hirsh Gardner. Anyway, we get strings on Earth Walk, Spirit Path, It Is A Good Day, The Thunder Beings and the title track, with very clear flutes opening I Am Water, for what it's worth.
They followed up, three years later, with Winter Moons, essentially more of the same, making it almost unreviewable; if you've heard their debut, you're heard this and vice versa. More is it?/isn't it? samplotron from Waldo, with strings on Spirit Medicine and a chordal flute part on the title track, although it's possible one or two other string parts are sample-generated. Overall, then, albums more new age than anything, leaving you quite certain what you're getting should you splash out. Samplotron on several tracks on their debut, less on its follow up, little of it particularly overt, making these a bit of a 'don't bother', I think.
Spirits Burning (US) see:
Spiritual Beggars are a Swedish retro hard rock outfit, thus combining several of this site's favourite things (Sweden, the '70s, hard rock, Mellotrons), only really missing full-on prog to complete the set. 1998's Mantra III was their third album and, I believe, the first to feature keyboards, with Per Wiberg guesting on Hammond, Rhodes and (fake) Mellotron on several tracks. The music is that sort of pseudo-retro metal thing, with too many modern influences to be really full-on '70s; it works in places, but a lot of it's a bit too much for me at times. Can't really pinpoint standout tracks, although Superbossanova surprises as the band suddenly go all Santana on us. Not much 'Mellotron', as it happens, although the strings on Euphoria and flutes on Inside Charmer are very upfront and sound real, even though they're not. Shame about the 'Mellotron overdubs recorded at' credit, all things considered...
by 2000's Ad Astra, Wiberg had become a full member, adding digitised Hammond and Mellotron to their early-'70s smorgasbord. The only thing about their sound that really gives the game away is the raw-as-fuck vocals and the occasional guitar line, which simply don't ring true for their chosen era, but at least add a smidgeon of modernity to the mix. Wiberg sticks mostly to the organ, although there's a couple of Mellotron' tracks of varying intensity. Wonderful World has some background strings, to the point where you have to listen closely to make sure they're there at all, but Mantra has some quite full-on strings and flutes, before the inevitable heaviosity kicks in again.
The band changed vocalists for 2002's On Fire and for some reason, I find the end result far more listenable than its predecessor, although I suspect that's partly to do with the more sympathetic production. The riffs are even more '70s than those on Ad Astra, with one shocking Black Sabbath cop on Fool's Gold (a subsidiary riff from Killing Yourself To Live, from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, for what it's worth), but with a concomitant reduction in '90s doom stylings, this really doesn't present a problem. Wiberg expands his sonic palette slightly here, with some (mono)synth on a couple of tracks and a little more Mellotron'than before, with string parts on several tracks and flutes on the short instrumental Fejee Mermaid.
Three years on, Demons is as listenable as its predecessor, giving the impression that this is where Spiritual Beggars' collective hearts really lie. Standouts include the Queensrÿche-esque Salt In Your Wounds and the funky (!) wah pedal-driven Dying Every Day, but in truth, there ain't a bad track here. On the 'Mellotron' front, Wiberg plays choirs on instrumental opener Inner Strength, with flutes and strings on another short instrumental, Born To Die (Reprise) with a background flute part on closer No One Heard, rounding things up nicely. For some reason (everyone's very busy?), it's taken the band another five years to produce 2010's Return to Zero, with another new vocalist and all to prove that nothing much has changed. Another good album, never in any danger of being considered 'great', better tracks including Star Born, Coming Home, Dead Weight and the Japanese bonus version of Uriah Heep's Time To Live, Wiberg adding 'Mellotron' strings to Lost In Yesterday, The Chaos Of Rebirth, Dead Weight and The Road Less Travelled.
Splendor Mystic Solis play a form of drone/noise/psych, akin to Blue Cheer after ingesting the brown acid, perhaps. Mystic Part 1 & 2 does exactly what it says on the tin, two side-long tracks that move through a variety of feels, from crushingly loud to exploratory drone-fest. Hisashi Sasaki plays Mellotron cello samples on both tracks, dipping in and out of the mix, seemingly at random.
Spock's Beard (US) see:
Reviewers seem not to rate Spoon's Kill the Moonlight, but it sounds like their other albums to me. One song actually stands out from the morass of boredom; Someone Something sounds slightly like an Aladdin Sane outtake, admittedly without most of what made that record so good, but at least it didn't send me to sleep. Samplotron from an unknown player, possibly Eggo Johanson, on Back To The Life, with what sounds like reversed, pitchbent strings. 2005's Gimme Fiction sounds just like Spoon, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. I think it's bad. Anyway, usual old stuff, one samplotron track, with a building string part in They Never Got You from Britt Daniel.
Sportfreunde Stiller? Nope, never 'eard of 'em. Seems they're a well-known German indie band, though surely not well-enough known to record an unplugged show for MTV in the States? Correct: it was actually recorded in Munich. This is effectively above criticism; a competent band who can clearly write songs playing a semi-acoustic set to a home crowd. Meaningless to us; presumably heaven sent to their fans. I'd guess that's a Memotron providing the nice polyphonic flute part on Wie Lange Sollen Wir Noch Warten.
Spotlight, Floodlight appear to be keyboard player Peter Adams' solo project, a kind of ambient/post-rock/electronica mashup, possibly at its best on May and closer Ending. Adams is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes and strings across the album really aren't; listen for the flute notes in Ending that drop below the Mellotron's range.
The Rising was Bruce Springsteen's first album to feature the full E-Street Band since the huge-selling Born in the USA, nearly twenty years earlier and, I'm glad to say, it's far more down to earth, with a noticeable lack of the cheesy synths that made Born... so painful. The Rising relies far more on good 'ol Hammond and piano, with orchestral backing on some tracks and sounds like... a Bruce Springsteen album. I'm not quite sure what else I can say about it, really; if it's by Bruce Springsteen and it sounds like Bruce Springsteen, I suppose it has to be Bruce Springsteen, really. Songs about injustice, songs about ordinary, hard-working people - business as usual, then. That isn't meant to sound negative, either - Bruce is exceptionally good at what he does; it just doesn't grab me. Roy Bittan is, oddly, credited with playing Mellotron, although Springsteen's never been known to use one before. Well, he doesn't appear to've used one again, going by the audio evidence; I've heard rumours of distant strings on Countin' On A Miracle, but I'll be buggered if I can hear them, just a regular string section.
Wolfram "DER" Spyra has been releasing albums since the mid-'90s, '99's Etherlands (ho ho) being something like his seventh in four years. His particular brand of EM borders 'Berlin School', but with a heavy trance influence, giving it a (not necessarily welcome) contemporary edge many other current artists in the field lack. Nothing wrong with listening to what's around you, but it can sound terribly dated a few years down the line... Or not. Highlights include the reflective Birds On A Wire and brief closer Mellotron Etude, but too much of the album sounds like the plinky Radio Noordzee or the rather dull Etherlands Part II for its own good. The odd Mellotron sample crops up across the album, principally cellos (unusually) and choirs, although closer Mellotron Etude is, unsurprisingly, the major 'Mellotron' track, featuring cellos and particularly unconvincing flutes. Etherlands is for the trance fan looking to broaden their horizons, rather than the hardened EM fan, I suspect; it has its moments, but too much of it sounds like late '90s TV background music for it to really convince.
De Staat fall fairly and squarely into the 'alt.rock' bracket, I think, their second release, 2011's Machinery, pointing towards the American scene of the late '80s and early '90s, with maybe a hint of Beefheart, only, er, not as original. OK, I've heard a lot worse (no, a lot worse), but tracks like Old MacDonald Don't Have No Farm No More could've been left off without harming the overall effect. Vocalist/mainman Torre Florim plays 'Mellotron' on two tracks, with nothing obvious (distant choirs?) on opener Ah, I See and distorted choirs on Rooster-Man, but I can't say it sounds particularly authentic. 2013's I_Con (or I_CON) carries on the good work, the band's aggressive indie/electronica crossover doing what it does faultlessly. Samplotron? Hard to tell. Strings here and there? Anyway, catchy yet underwhelming alt.rock, anyone? Thought not.
Stackridge (UK) see:
Det Känns is an album of rather undistinguished Swedish-language pop/rock, possibly at its best on Regnet. Staffan Hellstrand (himself a major name in Sweden) and Esbjörn Öhrwall are credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but all we get are seemingly sampled strings on opener Nu Är Jag Ung and Håll Mig Hårt, while the uncredited strings on Ingen Lust Att Stanna Kvar seem to replace the credited ones on Tömda På Varann.
This must be the most ambient 'ambient' album I've ever heard: eight tracks of drifting keyboard chording with other things drifting over the top. The most startling thing about it is Stafford's assertion that, "[it] was recorded using the remarkable m-tron pro mellotron software - an entire ambient record made with a mellotron". ??? Are ANY of the sounds here Mellotronic? Just shows what can be done with studio manipulation, I suppose.
L.A. native Renee Stahl's Hopeful. Romantic site somewhere in between slushy singer-songwriter and mainstream pop; not a combo designed to appeal to Planet Mellotron, it has to be said. Bill Lefler plays samplotron strings on opener Run and Hidden Soul and flutes on Different Roads and Daydreamers Dream.
I'm having trouble locating any useful biographical information regarding Doru Stănculescu; pretty much everything online is in Romanian. For all I know, he's recorded thirty albums, but the only thing of which we can be reasonably certain is that 2005's De-Alaltăieri... Şi Până Ieri Vol. II, which seems to translate as From the Day Before Yesterday Until Yesterday, isn't his debut. It's a strange album, combining central European folk stylings and mediæval tonalities, amongst other influences, mostly done very well indeed. It isn't all good, mind; the brief Copiii Pedepsiti is an uncharacteristically jaunty effort and the material tails off towards the end of the album, notably on the countryish Maria Si Marea, docking the album half a star. I'm sorry, but I really don't believe that Dan Andrei Aldea actually played Mellotron; all we get is a too-clean-by-far flute part on Epifanie, anyway. I actually doubt whether there's ever been a real Mellotron in Romania; I know that the one that used to reside in Bulgaria, at Studio Balkanton, now lives in Norway, owned by Wobbler's Lars Fredrik Frøislie, but that doesn't count. So; modern Romanian folk: don't knock it until you've tried it.
The Stands were an unashamedly retro Liverpudlian act, sounding more Byrds than The Byrds, although other '60s influences crop up on 2004's All Years Leaving, not least Dylan on Outside Your Door. About the nearest they get to a modern influence is the legendary La's, with Here She Comes Again bearing more than a passing resemblance to that outfit's heroin anthem There She Goes, sounding more 'authentic' than Lee Mavers ever managed. Maybe they used the right kind of dust. While it's difficult to fault their melodies, song construction etc., the album's far too derivative to excite anyone who's heard their influences and cheeky nods to The Beatles like The Love You Give only serve to accentuate their unoriginality. The unknown samplotronist sticks it on one track, with flutes and cellos on The Big Parade, sounding like they might have been put through a Leslie.
Although I've never previously heard of him, it seems Chris Stapleton is a big name in the country world, albeit chiefly as a songwriter. Had I read that before listening to his first solo release, 2015's Traveller, I'd probably have dreaded putting it on, but it's actually a very pleasant surprise, much of the album being rockier and/or bluesier than expected. Best tracks? Parachute powers along nicely, as does Might As Well Get Stoned, while many of the lyrics are superb. Try this couplet from Whiskey And You: "I drink because I'm lonesome and I'm lonesome 'cause I drink". Pure country, maybe, but his faultless delivery lifts what could've been very ordinary country songs into another league altogether. Mike (or Michael) Webb is credited with Mellotron, while producer Dave Cobb is apparently keen on using a real machine, so... where is it? It's not even as if there's anything I can point at and say, 'real or not?' There's nothing. As a result, rightly or wrongly, I'm sticking this in samples, as I find the idea of recording a real Mellotron, then dropping it out of the mix, entirely bizarre. But that's me. Anyway, good album, no obvious Mellotron.
Arjen Anthony "Ayreon" Lucassen's Star One, to give them their full name, are one of the titular Lucassen's many projects, apparently originally a proposed collaboration with Bruce Dickinson, until Lucassen mentioned it in an online interview and Bruce pulled out (so to speak). Well, that's what happens when you mess with the Dickster, innit? 2002's Space Metal isn't actually very good, frankly; imagine an off-Broadway prog-metal album, not helped by the dodgy female vocals that dog several tracks and the gratuitous synth solos (including a couple from Rocket Scientists mainman Erik Norlander) that sound like something instrumentally contemporary, although Lucassen famously owns a pristine MiniMoog. Samplotron on several tracks, unsurprisingly, with choirs on Lift-Off (which sounds suspiciously similar to Colin Towns' Second Sight, from Gillan's debut, Mr Universe), also heard on High Moon, along with pretty crummy strings, both sounds cropping up elsewhere, to no great effect. The bonus disc's Hawkwind Medley, despite being co-vocalled by Dave Brock, is terrible, ditto the drastic rearrangement of Bowie's Space Oddity and the untitled final track, which turns out to be an awful version of Donovan's awful Intergalactic Laxative.
The following year's double Live on Earth is an onstage recreation of most of the album, with a large chunk of Ayreon material thrown in for good measure; given that the two bands are so similar in concept and sound, it's hardly a huge leap of faith for the audience. Although every bit as pompous (and rather longer) than Space Metal, it somehow pulls the trick of being slightly less tedious, although any prospective listeners should ensure that they are already aficionados of Mr Lucassen's work. I would guess it's Joost Van Den Broek who plays the Mellotron samples scattered across the two discs, but it hardly matters, does it?
After a considerable break, Lucassen resurrected the Star One project and released their second studio album in 2010, Victims of the Modern Age. Unfortunately, although I can report that it's better than its predecessor, that's because it's a less individual record, not more, disposing of the bulk of the sub-Lloyd-Webber stuff and ending up sounding like just about any other prog-metal band you could name. Yes, this is an improvement. The formula goes something like this: guitars riff like mad, strident vocalist sings in an epic manner, keyboard player adds synth solo played on a modern instrument. Repeat. Marvellous. The first sound you hear on the album is the samplotron choir on Down The Rabbit Hole, with strings on Digital Rain and bits of choir elsewhere, but you were never, never going to mistake it for the real thing. Star One have improved by dint of becoming less individual. Is this really the sort of example we'd like to set our children? Eh? Maybe they're following some weird kind of Dutch governmental diktat regarding 'the inadvisability of individual approaches in the prog-metal genre and their practical applications' (in Dutch). Maybe.