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Starbelly  (US)

Everyday & Then Some  (2002,  43.11)  ****

Produced by Myracle Brah's Andy Bopp, Starbelly's second album, 2002's Everyday & Then Some, is a gorgeous powerpop release featuring all the 'right' influences and actually outdoing Bopp's mob in the process. Top tracks? Beauty Mark is particularly ripping, not least its superb backwards guitar solo, while Plateau, Ordinary Now and Doubt are all top-notch. Your task, should you choose to accept it: find a bad track on this album. Greg Schroeder is credited with Mellotron, but the only vaguely Mellotronic flutes on Plateau really don't convince; it's no surprise that The Myracle Brah's contemporaneous Bleeder also features samples. Alleged Mellotron use is pretty much irrelevant here, though; the quality of the music is the reason you should own this album.

Starflyer 59  (US)

Old  (2003,  39.08)  ***

Starflyer 59 get reviewed on Christian music websites, but unlike the other dreck I've seen described as 'Christian music', Old is a perfectly acceptable, if rather unexciting album of indie-flavoured middle-ground rock, although its averageness wears the discerning listener down after a while. The quality of the material varies somewhat, with closer First Heart Attack being a highlight, but there's nothing here that made me want to reach for the 'off' button, which has to be a bonus. Although Richard Swift is credited with Mellotron, the male voices on opener Underneath sound more like Chamberlin to me, while the strings on Major Awards could be either, the title track's flutes are definitely Mellotronic, with more of those voices on First Heart Attack. Samples, then.

The Starfolk  (US)

The Starfolk  (2013,  36.07)  **½

The Starfolk play 'adult-oriented indie pop', according to iTunes, so who am I to argue? Their eponymous LP is certainly unimaginative enough to be classified as 'indie', even having something of the Coldplays about them, which isn't any kind of recommendation. Now, someone called Andy Thompson is credited with Mellotron on the album. Nothing to do with me, squire! Ah, the perils of a common name... Anyway, he doesn't appear to be using a real one, giving us an upfront string part in Sow The Seed.

Starofash  (Norway)

The Thread  (2008,  41.51)  ***

Starofash are metal gods Peccatum's vocalist Heidi Solberg Tveitan's solo project, whose second album, 2008's The Thread, contains a gothic blend of atmospheric piano work, whispered vocals and muted band performances. Highlights include brief, vibraphone-led opener How To Invent A Heart, the string-laden The World Spins For You and the gentle-yet-slightly-disturbing The Snake Pit, although there's nothing here that should offend those into the darker side of life. EM musician Markus Reuter allegedly plays Mellotron on Him And Her, but given that he already has an album listed in 'samples', it comes as no surprise that the choirs on the track are too smooth by far. Overall, a pretty decent effort, if rarely in danger of being 'groundbreaking'. Definitely no real Mellotron, though.

Arigon Starr  (US)

Backflip  (2002,  56.12)  **½

Backflip is an album of laid-back Americana, at its best on opener Play and I Think You're Alright, although far too many of its tracks waft along to no great purpose, pointlessly extending an already overlong record. Ben Moore's samplotron finally appears in the form of flute and string parts on closer The Eagle Flies High.

Garrison Starr  (US)

Airstreams & Satellites  (2004,  45.02)  **½

Garrison Starr's Airstreams & Satellites is blander than 1995's Stupid Girl, One-Sided being a rare burst of energy on an otherwise lacklustre album. Neilson Hubbard plays samplotron flutes on Runner Up.

Ringo Starr  (UK)

Vertical Man  (1998,  52.39)  ***
I Wanna Be Santa Claus  (1999,  44.29)  **½
Ringo Rama  (2003,  49.53)  ***
Liverpool 8  (2008,  45.08)  **½

If you're out of your teens and Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey needs any introduction whatsoever, you've not only come to the wrong site, but probably shouldn't be reading anything to do with music whatsoever. I always used to describe him as 'the luckiest man alive' or somesuch, until the Beatles' Anthology series was shown on the telly and I realised he was actually a pretty decent drummer. Saying that, he didn't actually need to be that good - his rôle has always been that of inspiration; literally millions of players first picked up a pair of sticks because of Ringo. Name one other drummer who's had that effect; go on... What's more, he was (briefly and strangely) the most successful ex-Beatle for a while, racking up a string of hits in the early '70s, while managing not to kill himself drinking, unlike his pals Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson.

All of which brings us to Ringo's more recent solo career. Beginning in 1989, Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band have toured regularly, with Ringo bringing in various really quite big names (the time I saw them, he had Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Burton Cummings, Dave Edmunds and Nils Lofgren), playing a mixture of Beatles, solo Ringo and the biggest hits of his collaborators. After releasing a good run of albums throughout the '70s, he only released one album in the fifteen years before 1998 (1992's Time Takes Time - now there's a Ringoism...), when Vertical Man appeared. It was the first time he'd used Mellotron sounds himself; despite rumours, he never owned a MkII in the '60s, although John Lennon did, his machine famously living on a half-landing in his house. It's pretty much what you'd expect; pop/rock with a generally retro feel, neither exciting nor shite, just... Ringo. Best tracks are probably Mindfield and Without Understanding, though nothing stands out especially. Worst? The good-time reincarnation of Love Me Do - horrible. Mellotronically speaking, King Of Broken Hearts is a vaguely Beatles-esque ballad, with plenty of flutes and pitchbent strings from either Mark Hudson (ex-Hudson Brothers) or Starr himself, with more of the same on the title track, although, on re-playing, it sounds sampled.

In a massive burst of activity, Ringo followed it a mere year later with his Christmas album (aargh!), I Wanna Be Santa Claus, which is pretty much as bad as you'd expect. It starts promisingly, with the full-on circa '73 glam-rock stomp of Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On, but most of the material is rather anodyne and more than a little sentimental. So what did I expect from a Christmas album? Not a lot, really, so I wasn't that disappointed. Samplotron on one track, apparently from Ringo and Hudson, though I'm not sure why it took two of them to play it... Anyway, Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You) is a bizarre, eastern-flavoured track, with more than a hint of It Ain't Half Hot Mum about it (awful UK '70s TV show, set in wartime India, clearly filmed in a gravel pit in Surrey), with some background flutes and maybe strings, along with real ones. Four years on, Ringo Rama is something of an improvement, with various Famous Friends guesting, not that you'd know it if you hadn't read the credits. David Gilmour slaps a fiery solo onto Instant Amnesia and Van Dyke Parks is his inimitable self on Elizabeth Reigns, but overall, the album plays it pretty safe, though you don't buy Ringo Starr albums looking for innovation, so I can hardly slate him for not providing it. Samplotron on two tracks this time, from Hudson again, with backgrounds flutes on What Love Wants To Be and the same on Love First, Ask Questions Later, heard clearly on the dying seconds of the song. After a break, Liverpool 8 is another rather backwards-looking Ringo album and (I believe) his last with Mark Hudson, as the two appear to have had some kind of falling-out. It's a typical enough effort, the title track effectively telling Ringo's life story, with the rest of the album either having a vaguely '60s feel or sitting pretty firmly in the 'middle-aged pop/rock' category; harmless, but unexciting. Hudson plays samplotron, with strings on Gone Are The Days and the faintest of faint flute parts on For Love and Love Is.

State Radio  (US)

Let it Go  (2009,  57.38)  **½

State Radio have been described as 'alternative rock', but what I hear on their fourth album, Let it Go, is a ska/punk band flirting with reggae (several tracks) or a bargain-basement Clash (Knights Of Bostonia), which isn't really going to recommend it to anyone who reads this site with any degree of regularity. For what it's worth, the band are politically savvy, but then, so are Rage Against the Machine. I rest my case. Bassist Chuck Fay allegedly plays Mellotron, although it's entirely inaudible, which is almost as irritating as Dylanesque opener Sybil III, which is one of those tracks that you can only hear by rewinding the CD from 'zero'.

Steel Prophet  (US)

Dark Hallucinations  (1999,  52.46)  **
Book of the Dead  (2001,  40.50)  **½

Steel Prophet have a problem. A big problem. And that problem is, they sound exactly, make that exactly like Queensrÿche. I don't mean, 'influenced by', I don't even mean 'God that's close'. I mean exactly like them, down to the last vocal nuance and twiddly guitar bit. Now, I like Queensrÿche, or rather, I like '80s Queensrÿche, when they still wrote great material and didn't pander to the prevailing 'heavier or lighter' ethos, where the bulk of what would once have been just heavy rock bands had to decide whether to go the Metallica or Bon Jovi route. Talk about the devil or the deep blue sea... Grim days, the '80s; even most of what little prog was being made sucked. Queensrÿche somehow managed to persuade people, not least the cloth-eared record company brigade, that intelligent, thoughtful hard rock was a viable career option and for a while, they were right. It seems to me that hard rock always had two kinds of audience: the blokes who worked in factories and the chemistry students; Queensrÿche managed to capture the latter. All of which is absolutely no excuse for another outfit to rip their signature sound off blind a decade later. I mean, what's the point? I'm not making any great claims of originality on Queensrÿche's behalf (they began as a straight amalgam of Priest and Maiden, the latter themselves influenced by Halford's Heroes), but to churn out a straight copy, minus the great songs, seems wilfully stupid.

Enough bitching about why Steel Prophet are a waste of time. 1999's Dark Hallucinations and 2001's marginally better Book of the Dead have credits for 'Mellotron', to which I say, "You have to be joking". The former has no more than some vague string sounds on a few tracks, although the latter manages a few Mellotronlike string chords on Anger Seething, plus a couple of other possible parts, but this doesn't sound to me like a band who hauled an M400 into their studio because they love the crankiness of an original machine. This sounds like a band who own an eMu Vintage Keys, or at best, Roland's Vintage Synth module and sensibly keep its grotty approximations well in the background most of the time. Saying this, I'll probably get an irate e-mail from the band saying a) the Mellotron's real and b) why have you slagged us off?

I'll freely admit that I don't listen to a lot of modern metal and Steel Prophet are a perfect illustration as to why. I'm not saying that originality is a must; I listen to stacks of fairly derivative prog, but most bands manage to put at least a little of themselves into what they're doing and not just slavishly ape someone else's sound, hook, line and sinker. I wouldn't mind quite so much if the songs were good, but they're not. I'm sure there's a market for Steel Prophet, but it's not one where I buy my fruit and veg. p.s. Amusingly, guitarist/mainman Steve Kachinsky HAS written to me, chiefly to say that he hates Queensrÿche and they've never been an influence. Strange... He was very gracious about me slagging their albums, too, while confirming that the 'Mellotron' is definitely sampled.

Jeffrey Steele  (US)

Somethin' in the Water  (2001,  48.39)  **½

Country dude Jeffrey "Steele" LeVasseur went solo after his band, Boy Howdy (presumably named for Creem magazine's iconic cartoon character, itself named for a commonly-used American expression) split in 1996, although it took him five years to release his solo debut, Somethin' in the Water, an earlier album having been rejected by his label. It's a decent enough mainstream country/rock affair, avoiding the AOR or schmaltzy excesses of many of his contemporaries, although you'd hardly call it alt.country. Opener Tip Your Hat To The Teacher namechecks just about any country act of note, including, strangely, Creedence Clearwater Revival, quoting Born On The Bayou; ironic, given that neither Steele nor any of Creedence are Southerners, all having been born in California. Other better tracks include She Loved Me (classic country lyric) and bar-band boogie closer Hollywood Girl, but it's not really what you'd call classic stuff. Scott Baggett and Tony Harrell both play samplotron, although why it took two of them to play the quiet flute part on 3 O'Clock Flight is beyond me.

Stella  (US)

Ascension  (1997,  48.15)  **½

Nashville natives Stella (a.k.a. Stella US) sat at the noisy end of alt.rock on (their sole release?) Ascension; OK for a few tracks, but mildly mind-numbing over nearly fifty minutes, at its best on California, Blissmark and psychedelic closer Razor. Producer Glenn Rosenstein and frontman Curt Perkins are credited with Mellotron, by which we have to assume they meant the wispy flutes on the acoustic Azure and vague, background stringy sounds elsewhere. Fail.

Stephanie Says  (US)

Sex, Socialism & the Seaside  (2004,  27.55)  **

Stephanie Says, named for the Velvets song, are Stephanie Winter's solo project, unbearably twee on Sex, Socialism & the Seaside, sounding more Anglo/French than American in its determinedly pre-psych '60s approach. A particularly awful American take on Saint Etinenne, anyone? This is at its least horrible on Afterwards and the French-language (gah!) Where Is The Reason?, which isn't saying much. Stephan Winter's credited Chamberlin presumably refers to the vague strings on I Hope You're Happy.

Stephanie's Id  (US)

Grus Americanus  (2007,  48.55)  **½

Stephanie's Id (originally stephaniesĭd; they've used several spelling variants, largely due to finding themselves mis-spelt as Stephanie's ID) are a 'pop-noir' outfit with a rotating lineup from North Carolina, led by Stephanie Morgan and her husband, Chuck Lichtenberger. Their second full album, 2007's Grus Americanus, starts well, but this listener quickly tired of their schtick, which is probably more due to his failings than theirs; as a result, its best tracks appear to be clustered near the beginning, notably opener Wash Us Down With Sea Saline and the (relatively) raucous Blue. Collaborator Vic Stafford is credited with Mellotron, but the cellos on Blue and Unmistakably Love don't sound especially authentic to these ears. Pre-M-Tron, sample sets were usually limited to the basic strings/flutes/choir, but now you can access pretty much anything (did I hear some brass at one point?); saying all that, it's probably real... Anyway, while mildly diverting in places, I'm afraid this failed to grab me in any meaningful way (so to speak).

Stereo Total  (France/Germany)

Cactus Versus Brezel  (2012,  40.51)  **½

Cactus Versus Brezel is an intentionally cheap-sounding electronica/synthpop album, complete with intoned French female vocals and robotic rhythms. File under 'retro synth music'. Brezel Göring's 'Mellotron'? I can only assume they mean the stupendously-obviously sampled strings on closer We Don't Wanna Dance. Top marks for shittiest samples ever.

Stereophonics  (UK)

Performance and Cocktails  (1999,  50.56)  ***
You Gotta Go There to Come Back  (2003,  59.35)  **½

Stereophonics are quite determinedly UK indie, in its late-'90s incarnation; think Oasis (but only if you absolutely have to) crossed with, er, someone else in the same field. What amazes me about this stuff is how much heavier it is than '80s indie; as metal became more extreme, it seems the indie merchants took over the Gibson-through-a-Marshall hard rock sound, unfortunately mixing it with the weak-as-water rhythm sections and whiny vocalists the '80s scene coughed up. I'm really not a fan of this sort of stuff (what, you'd guessed?) and I have to say that I'd rather listen to, say, Blur or Supergrass in preference. Saying that, Stereophonics do a passable job on Performance and Cocktails, while being slightly less irritating (and plagiaristic) than some, although Kelly Jones' sixty-a-day vocals do grate after a while. I have to say, however, after seven or eight tracks, I found myself wishing the album was rather shorter, as in, only seven or eight tracks. Co-producer Marshall Bird is credited with Hammond, Rhodes, piano and Mellotron, the last-named on closer I Stopped To Fill My Car Up, with a pleasant little repeating flute part, sounding sampled.

Two albums and four years later, Stereophonics released You Gotta Go There to Come Back, which sounds like business as usual, at least to my ears. It's the standard mix of uptempo and slower numbers, with the requisite level of 'authentic' third-hand soulfulness, like a low(er)-budget Paul Weller; Christ, this makes Oasis sound like they mean it. I really can't think of anything else to say about such a lacklustre release, so I won't even try. Samplotron on two tracks, apparently from Kelly Jones, Tony Kirkham and Jim Lowe, who between them managed to lay down a short strings/flute part towards the end of Maybe Tomorrow and some flutes amongst the real strings on Rainbows And Pots Of Gold. Masterful.

Stereotypes  (US)

3  (2005,  32.05)  **½

Stereotypes had an inventive method of naming their albums; starting with Stereotypes, they followed up with 2, then 3... Get the idea? I don't think they got past 4, which is probably a blessing. 3 is a tedious, indie-by-numbers record, the occasional burst of energy no more than an anomaly, as on Need Some Action. Dante Conti and Mike Kamoo are credited with Mellotron, but the string lines on opener Emily, Did You Know and Til We Meet Again fail to ring true, particularly on the last-named, with flutes on Dontcha Think, sustaining way past the eight-second limit and cello on Down To Earth.

Becca Stevens Band  (US)

Weightless  (2011,  59.01)  ***

Becca Stevens has collaborated with Brad Mehldau and Taylor Eigsti, amongst others, although her own style, at least on 2011's Weightless, is more of a folk/Americana cross, full of mournful harmoniums and acoustic guitars. Unfortunately, this is one of those albums that sounds fantastic for about three tracks, but its sheer length (far too long at an hour) and repetition grind down all but the most dedicated listener; a real shame, as a good edit would've improved this enormously. Liam Robinson plays sampled Chamberlin, with chordal strings and a flute melody on There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Jon Stevens  (New Zealand)

Circle  (1996,  43.05)  *½

Jon Stevens is a New Zealander who, like so many of his musically-inclined countrymen, is frequently mistaken for an Aussie, although his early career took place in his homeland. After co-founding the apparently very successful Noiseworks, Stevens went solo in the early '90s, eventually releasing his fourth (though second post-Noiseworks) album, Circle. Well, what can I say? Horrible. Truly horrible. If this is 'adult pop', you can bloody well keep it - this is complete drivel. Most of the tracks are ballads, with those horrible '90s programmed drums and... Oh look, just steer clear, OK? Samplotron on Candles, from the enigmatically-name Barbarella G, with some typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes. Um, that's it. Do not buy this album. Oh yeah - Stevens joined the appalling INXS for a couple of years in the new millennium, as if you needed any other incentive to run away, very fast.

Pete Stewart  (US)

Pete Stewart  (1999,  44.07)  **½

Frontman for the recently reformed Grammatrain, Pete Stewart (collaborations include TobyMac), released his eponymous debut solo album in 1999. Unsurprisingly, it treads the same Christian alt.rock path as his band, making for an uninspired, yet not completely awful album that largely drifts by without ever really impinging itself on the (or at least, this) listener. Stewart allegedly plays Mellotron on Don't Underestimate, but I'd be amazed if the weedy string part with which the song is blighted emanated from a genuine machine. So; dull, albeit with a thankfully low-key Christian message. Amusingly, it seems that Stewart is now an ex-botherer, so Grammatrain are having to attract a secular audience. Good luck, guys...

Still  (US)

Always Almost  (1997,  50.17)  ***

After US prog great white hopes Echolyn split in the mid-'90s (what happens when you trust a major label), three members, Brett Kull (vocals/guitar), Paul Ramsey (drums) and Ray Weston (vocals/bass) formed a power trio, Still, releasing one album, 1997's Always Almost. It's barely 'progressive' at all, whatever you might take that to mean, being more a psychedelic heavy blues effort, better tracks including Loveless and Calculated Truth, although nothing here really stands out. Incidentally, the last track, the bizarre, folky drinking ballad Sometimes I Drink Too Much is listed as a 'bonus', but since there wasn't a version without it, I'm not quite sure what's supposed to be 'bonus' about it. John Avarese plays piano, accordion and Mellotron, supposedly, although the strings on Calculated Truth barely even sound like samples, let alone a real one, highlighted by the solo section at the end of the song. Mellotron? Actually, guys, that's taking the piss. Anyway, a reasonable release, though not even remotely as good as Echolyn's work. Incidentally, the band changed their name to Always Almost (confusing, eh?), releasing God Pounds His Nails later the same year, featuring Avarese's samples again.

Andy Stochansky  (Canada)

Five Star Motel  (2003,  44.56)  **

It's a shame Andy Stochansky's music is so insipid, as he writes a decent enough lyric and you can't even blame it on '90s blandness. '00s blandness? Five Star Motel is his major label debut, though third album overall, not to mention his '90s backing musician career, chiefly with Ani DiFranco and it's... bland. Sorry, but this 'adult contemporary' stuff or whatever you call it is simply the Death Of Music; OK, not quite James Blunt (aarghh!!), but not good, either. Nice, very specific credits, with several alleged Mellotron tracks, mostly from Ian LeFeuvre. A high string line and (uncredited) quite upfront flutes on Paris, cellos on Here Nor There, although you probably wouldn't spot them if you didn't know and a rare Mellotron clarinet that you really wouldn't spot on 22 Steps. Inaudible strings on One Day, under the real ones, from Tom Beckham this time, with the same going for the 'intro Melotron [sic]' on Miss USA, while the strings and choir on Mavis Said... are (you guessed it) inaudible. Samples, says I.

Chadwick Stokes  (US)

Simmerkane II  (2011,  58.49)  **½

After reaching the public ear via his membership of State Radio, Chadwick Stokes Urmston kicked off his solo career with Simmerkane II. A kind of indie/Americana/singer-songwriter effort, its main failing is a lack of consistency, although better tracks include opener Adelaide, Back To the Races and Spider And Gioma. Peter Adams plays rather un-Chamberlinic 'Chamberlin' flute lines on Crowbar Hotel and Spider And Gioma.

Roine Stolt  (Sweden)

The Flower King  (1994,  70.36)  ***½
Hydrophonia  (1998,  67.47)  ***½
Wall Street Voodoo  (2005,  115.08)  **

Kaipa's young guitarist, Roine Stolt, was still only in his late thirties in the early '90s, when he decided to have a second stab at the progressive scene, after years of reputedly dodgy albums. Then again, who didn't release dodgy albums in the '80s? Suggestions on the back of a used banknote to the usual address. The Flower King, on top of naming his new band, was a fine return from one of Sweden's major progressive talents, containing at least one song (its title track) that was to stay in The Flower Kings' set for years. Actually, in retrospect, it's rather less exciting than it seemed at the time, though there's some decent enough material on board, not least the first of many, many epics Stolt was to write over the succeeding decade, Humanizzimo (with its outrageous Yes 'borrowings'), also in early Flower Kings' sets.

I didn't know for a while whether or not the 'Mellotron' on the album was real, although after lending the band my own machine for a UK gig back in '99, I was assured that they'd never used anything but samples, so the same is very likely to be true for solo Stolt. Strings and/or choirs on most tracks, with some flutes, tastefully used, unlike some other sample users I could name, who just slap the things all over their records like (to quote my friend Doug) 'an ill-fitting wig'. If you want to know what all the fuss is about with Stolt/The Flower Kings. this isn't a bad place to start, though don't go expecting anything like the other early-'90s Swedish prog explosion outfits (Änglagård/Anekdoten/Landberk). Nice (fake) Mellotron, too.

Stolt spent the next few years spitting out huge chunks of Flower Kings music, not finding the time to record another solo album until '98's Hydrophonia. Given that The Flower Kings' work was already on the slide by this point, I'm amazed to find that much of the album is wonderful, uplifting instrumental prog, especially closer Seafood Kitchen Thing. In fact, apart from a couple of slightly dull pieces around the middle of the album, this is actually very good indeed, although possibly not consistent enough to grab a full four stars. Plenty of Mellotron samples on the album; not just the standard strings, flutes and choirs, but also brass on Wreck of HMS Nemesis, so worth it if you want to hear more of The Beast without caring whether or not it's real. Roine concentrated on the Flower Kings (oh and Transatlantic...) for the next few years, finally releasing his third solo album proper, Wall Street Voodoo, in 2005. And it... sucks. A horrendously overlong double-disc set, it largely consists of long, boring blues-rock jams with the odd progressive styling thrown in to keep his regular audience happy, with the occasional bit of pseudo-Mellotron on most tracks. This really is an album you want to avoid, having none of the charm of Stolt's earlier work. Run away, fast.

Kelley Stoltz  (US)

Below the Branches  (2006,  39.29)  ***

Kelley Stoltz is a lo-fi San Francisco-based singer-songwriter with an environmental bent - he 'offset' the electricity used to record his first Sub Pop release, 2006's Below the Branches. Said album is reminiscent, in places, of Brian Wilson and other pre-psych '60s songwriters, the Bowie-esque The Sun Comes Through probably being the most interesting thing here, although he gets the phrase 'barometric pressure' into Winter Girl. We get faux-Mellotron strings on Memory Collector, although that seems to be it on the fake Mellotron front. Not a bad effort, then, although Stoltz's lo-fi approach may deter some listeners.

Angus & Julia Stone  (Australia)

Down the Way  (2010,  66.01)  **½
Angus & Julia Stone  (2014,  60.14)  **

Angus and Julia Stone are a brother/sister duo from the Sydney area, whose second album, 2010's Down the Way, is more than a little reminiscent of that '70s West Coast sound, all muted pedal steel and tasteful electric, in full-on Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac mode. An Aussie No. 1 album, this is best described as a singer-songwriter/country crossover effort, with the occasional folk influence (the mandolin on On The Road, the fiddle on a few tracks) making itself felt, although the whole is not helped by Julia's irritating 'little girl' voice. Julia and Tommy Elchmann are credited with Mellotron, with background strings on opener Hold On and flutes on And The Boys, with more flutes on final 'hidden' track Old Friend, all sounding sampled. Angus & Julia Stone sees a stylistic shift to modern, lighter-than-air indie, doing the duo absolutely no favours whatsoever. Any better tracks? Two, to be precise: the haunting Death Defying Acts isn't too bad, while they have a surprisingly decent stab at channelling Neil Young on lengthy regular release closer Crash And Burn. Three credited Mellotron tracks, three players. John Solo plays distant strings on Please You, in a pleasingly non-chordal way and Thomas Bartlett plays strings on Main Street, although whatever Ed Roth supposedly adds to bonus track All This Love is entirely inaudible. Samples, anyway.

Stone Axe  (US)

II  (2010,  39.32)  ***½

Stone Axe (thanks for the UK spelling, guys) are the US duo of vocalist Dru Brinkerhoff and musician Tony Reed, who, amazingly, plays all instruments in the studio, a bassist and drummer being added for live work. Their second album, er, II, is clearly influenced by that late '60s-to-mid-'70s period, touchstones including Foghat (On With The Show), The Who (Ain?t Gonna Miss It) and Procol Harum (closer Turned To Stone, which pretty much cops A Whiter Shade Of Pale), while Chasing Dragons features that 'glam rock boogie' feel that's considered so unfashionable these days, not to mention Slade-style 'gang' backing vocals. Reed (of course) plays an occasional samplotron string part on Turned To Stone.

Stonecake  (Sweden)

In the Middle of Nowhere  (1995,  44.22)  **½

Stonecake played alt.rock, Swedish division, on In the Middle of Nowhere, at its least irrelevant on Desperate and closer The Border 930519. Tommy Andersson played distant samplotron strings on Building Castles, The Border 930519 (plus choirs) and elsewhere.

Storm Corrosion  (UK/Sweden)

Storm Corrosion  (2012,  47.51)  ****

Although Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt have worked together on several projects since 2001, Storm Corrosion are their first full-blown musical collaboration. Recorded in 2011 and released the following year, Storm Corrosion caught many fans of the pair on the hop, its dark orchestrations having more in common with Scott Walker and Talk Talk than any of their previous work, even Opeth's all-acoustic Damnation. Attempting to isolate highpoints is fairly futile, as not only are there no real dips, but the album is clearly intended to be listened to as a whole, although Lock Howl might be fans' first port of call. On the samplotron front, we get distinctly sampled-sounding choirs on Drag Ropes and strings on Hag and (particularly overtly, with inauthentic pitchbend) Lock Howl. Unsurprisingly, a little sampled Mellotron is no reason to buy this album; its invention and breadth of vision, however, are.

Stratocruiser  (US)

Stratocruiser  (2002,  40.28)  ***½
Suburban Contemporary  (2004,  38.44)  ***½
Revolutions  (2006,  42.04)  ***

Stratocruiser (who apparently have a Doleful Lions connection) play powerpop the way it's meant to be played: like The Beatles, effectively. Their eponymous debut is stuffed with songs of the quality of opener Wallflower (always open with your best track!), the Rickenbacker 12-string jangle of Straight And Narrow and the Wurlitzer-driven Wonderful Sun, although, truth be told, there isn't a bad track here. Neither is there a particularly original one, but that sort of goes with the territory, as it does with most genre-orientated acts these days. Frontman Mike Nicholson is credited with Mellotron, although the only sightings are possible background strings on Something Funny, a few seconds at the beginning of Superstar Of Cool and similar at the end of closer Mornington Crescent, all sampled. While possibly not quite up to the standards of its predecessor, Suburban Contemporary's a decent album, highlights including Gold Circle, Crystalized and raucous closer J'Aime Suis Mouvais, while Jeff Shirley plays samplotron strings on Stinson Beach. Revolutions is ordinary enough to lose half a star, although better tracks include Starched White Shirt and Smell Of Success, with Nicholson back on samplotron, with background strings on Smell Of Success, Her Day Off and Shimmer And Fade. I believe there's at least one later Stratocruiser 'Mellotron' album, but, unless I should find that it's genuine, I'm afraid I can't be bothered.

Will Stratton  (US)

What the Night Said  (2007,  33.28)  **½

Will Stratton was all of eighteen when he recorded What the Night Said in 2005, although it didn't gain a release for another two years. I hate to say this, as he seems extremely sincere, but it's a terribly dull modern singer-songwriter effort, better (i.e. less irritating) tracks including Oh Quiet Night and the harmonium-fuelled Sunol, but nothing here's likely to excite fans of, say, Nick Drake, of whom Stratton is quite the fan. Stratton is credited with Mellotron, but did he really have access to one? The chordal flute parts on opener Katydid and Sonnet suggest not, frankly, being too clean for their own good. I've actually heard a lot worse than What the Night Said; Stratton lacks that appalling habit of suddenly breaking into a 'heartfelt' falsetto, which has gained this a good half star, but it's still somewhat on the wet side.

Strawbs  (UK)  see:

Strawbs

Einar Stray Orchestra  (Norway)

Politricks  (2014,  42.56)  **

Einar Stray Orchestra's third album, 2014's Politricks, is a largely unappealing halfway house between post-rock and modern indie, combining the worst features of both genres. Is there a best track? Possibly the a capella For The Country, chiefly due to its total lack of droning instrumentation. Mellotron? Hasse Rosbach is credited on Montreal and Qualia, but I can't even hear samples.

Bill Streett  (US)

Lure  (2000,  70.53)  ***

American synthesist Bill Streett's Lure is an electronic album with techno influences, sounding contemporary for 2000, less so now. Streett has the nous to avoid sounding like The Tangs, as if to prove it can be done, although the album (like so many similar) is wildly overlong. Sometimes less really is more. Streett plays samplotron, with sustained string notes on Parting Company.

Karin Ström  (Sweden)

Karin Ström  (2004,  16.59)  ***

Karin Ström's self-titled EP is a perfectly acceptable English-language pop/rock release, its inoffensiveness a delight in a world of cack. Michael Blair's Mellotron? The vague flutey thing in the background on closer Iceberg?

Stroppy  (US)

Pipi & Margo Go to the Graveyard  (2007,  21.30)  ***

Stroppy remind me of The Dresden Dolls in general and Amanda (Gaiman) Palmer specifically, in their twisted cabaret approach to music-making. Well, you just knew that something called Pipi & Margo Go to the Graveyard wasn't going to be your average singer-songwriter effort, didn't you? In a burst of honesty, Margo Lauritzen credits herself with M-Tron, sticking mournful strings all over opener Helicopter.

Mark Edgar Stuart  (US)

Trinity My Dear  (2015,  35.16)  ***½

Memphis session man Mark Edgar Stuart writes intensely personal songs which he then records in a style I'd describe as 'old-school Americana'. His second, 2015's Trinity My Dear, covers several bases, from oddball, baritone sax-driven opener Ms. America through the pedal-steel country of Wasted to the electric Myra Gale, complete with slightly misplaced Clavinet. Best track? Maybe Joe Is Enough, although I Was So Crazy runs it a close second. Al Gamble is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on We Were In Bloom don't convince, I'm afraid. This is a pretty decent record, if perhaps slightly too eccentric for the mass market. Then again, I doubt whether Stuart really has his eye on a mainstream audience, although I can't imagine that he (or any of us, for that matter) would object to the sales.

Submarine Silence  (Italy)

Submarine Silence  (2002,  46.20)  ****

In their eponymous debut, Submarine Silence have made what must be the most heavily Genesis-influenced album I've heard in a very long time; the opening solo piano piece, The Door, is played on a Banksian Yamaha CP70 and David Cremoni's acoustic work is Hackett to a T, although his electric playing has unfortunate elements of Marillion's Steve Rothery in places. Even the cover's painted by sometime Genesis sleeve designer Paul Whitehead. Submarine Silence is entirely instrumental, which neatly sidesteps 'dodgy vocalist syndrome', not to mention the language problem, as in 'which one to sing in?'. Despite its all-too obvious influences, this really is rather good, although it's not really what you'd call a challenging listen. Cristiano Roversi (better known as keyboard man with Moongarden) is credited with 'Mellotron', though I've now had it confirmed that it's samples from EMU's Vintage Keys; they're too smooth and consistent and some of those hanging notes are held way past the eight-second limit. Loads of it, anyway, with several lush string intros and bits of flute and choir work scattered throughout for good measure. Actually, I think 'lush' is the watchword here, so don't go expecting any dissonance; hey, the reformed Van der Graaf have just put an album out if you want that... So; very nice indeed, if a tad unoriginal. Given that the band were apparently put together by Mellow's boss to record tracks for their Genesis tribute album, should we be surprised?

Subterranean Masquerade  (US)

Temporary Psychotic State EP  (2004,  17.20)  ***½

Subterranean Masquerade are essentially the duo of Tomer Pink and Jake DePolitte, whose gameplan seems to be the recording of a trilogy of concept albums in a (roughly) progressive metal style, although they incorporate all kinds of other influences. Their 2004 EP, Temporary Psychotic State, is presumably the first release in the trilogy; it's a shame in many ways that it isn't longer, as some of their ideas (not least the heavy use of violin) are well ahead of most of their contemporaries. The disc opens with fairground sounds, morphing into an acoustic guitar passage, before gently picking up the pace, the violin taking the lead, not hitting the 'metal' pedal until the four-minute mark and then only gently. The second piece carries on in a similar vein, making for one of the more original prog efforts of recent years. Andy Winter guests on samplotron, Temporary Psychotic State (A Recollection Of Where It All Began) featuring the choirs, while Observation Through Metamorphosis is mainly flutes.