Adrian "Nikki Sudden" Godfrey formed legendary post-punk crew The Swell Maps in the '70s with his brother Kevin ("Epic Soundtracks"), going on to work with a slew of other artists, not least members of The Waterboys, The Barracudas, R.E.M. and even the Stones. He also released the better part of twenty albums in around as many years during his prolific solo career, before his untimely death in early 2006, a few months before his fiftieth birthday. 2004's Treasure Island appears to be his last album released during his lifetime, a collection of rock'n'roll and country-influenced material recorded over an eighteen-month period over the preceding two years, highlights including the raucous rock'n'roll of opener Looking For A Friend, the balladic Stay Bruised and the title track. Although John A. Rivers is credited with Mellotron on Sanctified, the string line on the track (heard unaccompanied at the end) is quite clearly nothing of the sort, so scratch this one.
2006's The Truth Doesn't Matter was completed shortly before Sudden's death (which was, with excruciating irony, quite sudden), written and performed in a decidedly similar vein to its predecessor. Best tracks? Opener (again) Seven Miles, the marvellous Green Shield Stamps' very British nostalgia, Jet Star Groove and the acoustic The Price Of Nails, amongst others. Sudden is credited with Mellotron on The Ballad Of Johnny And Marianne, but, once again, it's clearly fake. It comes as no surprise (to myself, at least) that a Nikki Sudden collaborator, Dave Kusworth, has also played with the 'none more rock'n'roll' Dogs D'Amour, although, going by these two albums, Sudden was more about the song than the bandanna/eyeliner/attitude. Or, it would seem, the Mellotron. R.I.P., Nikki.
At nigh-on seventy-five minutes, Sugarfoot's Big Sky Country is actually two albums thrown together, a lightweight country record and a country-rock one, the tracks sequenced to display their versatility. It doesn't start well, but Safe As Houses is vastly better than the first two tracks, a kind of country/powerpop crossover with hints of prog (!) about it, while Dolphins [sic] Hotel channels Neil Young, other better material including A Horse Called Your Love and Byrdsian closer My Friend. Motorpsycho's Bent Sæther is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Lady Waltz really aren't. An album of two halves, then.
These days, Sugarland are the good-looking C&W duo of Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles, although some controversy surrounds the departure of Bush's original musical partner, the openly lesbian Kristen Hall, presumably seen as a barrier to mainstream acceptance. Their second album, 2006's Enjoy the Ride, despite its indie-ish sleeve, is a very typical modern country album, featuring the obligatory arena rock influence alongside the pedal steel and ten-gallon hats, difficult to review objectively without wholeheartedly embracing the country music culture. Tony Harrell plays samplotron on two tracks, with some near-inaudible strings on Want To and something entirely inaudible on These Are The Days.
Sula Bassana are yet another of Dave Schmidt's psychedelic projects (Liquid Visions, Zone Six), this one sailing closer to the trippier end of Hawkwind than the others. Sula Bassana is actually the nom de plume Schmidt goes under for the project, but it seems to make more sense to file them under 'S' than 'B', so here they are. Dreamer appears to be his/their first album under this name and is a pleasing amalgam of tripped-out jams and the 'rock' part of 'space rock', mixed with a little electronica. Top track? Probably the lengthy Ananda, but there's no slackers here. Schmidt allegedly plays Mellotron, but the major string part on the title track with the suspiciously long choir chord at the end and the strings on Baby Blue Shuffle In D Major sound a bit forced, shall we say. Samples so heavily suspected that this goes here until/if I should find out otherwise.
2006's Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band Vol. 1 is quite possibly actually Vol. 1 by Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band; it's hard to tell. Anyway, a rather lesser album than Dreamer, at least to my ears, droning on for ages without ever really going anywhere. Doubtless the point. Anyway, the credited Mellotron strings on The Terrascrew and phased strings and choir on Daydreams both sound fake as hell, particularly the former, hurling this into this section without passing 'Go' or receiving £200. Many years on and Disappear/Waves appears in 2014, split with 3AM, so actually only twenty minutes of Sula Bassana. Their contributions aren't bad, but 3AM's Waves is the most original piece here, drum-free, based around the rhythm supplied by a delay unit. Samplotron on one Bassana track, with choirs and cellos (spot the double bass note) on Smoof. 2015's Live at Roadburn Festival 2014 chronicles a blistering set, showing the band at their coruscating best over a fifty-minute set. Not a lot of samplotron, only upfront strings on Dark Days. Best SB album yet?
Sullivan were a band at the noisy end of U.S. indie, who released two albums in the mid-'00s, the first being 2006's Hey, I'm a Ghost. You know that slightly punky American indie thing? It's like that, but worse, with appalling, whiny vocals. Sorry, guys, but this really isn't any different to a thousand other bands out there; The Charity Of Saint Elizabeth's about the best thing here, but that isn't really saying much. Vocalist Brooks Paschal plays samplotron, with possible strings and definite choirs on Gardens, real cello and samplotron strings on Promise Me, while Under The Watchful Eyes Of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg (a Great Gatsby quote, apparently) opens with a string part before it gets noisy.
Sören "Sulo" Karlsson is best-known as vocalist with '90s Swedish outfit The Diamond Dogs (interesting name; wonder what inspired it?), associated with the better-known Hellacopters. His first solo album, 2003's Rough Diamonds, features various members of The Hellacopters, the Backyard Babies and his regular band and contains a reasonably appealing mix of punk and powerpop in typical Swedish style. Its highlights are possibly more apparent in its influences than the actual material, not least the Pretty Vacant quote on Inflammable 69: er's fadeout, the Beach Boys-esque backing vocals on R'n'R Declaration and the Teenage Kicks-alike riff on I'll Be Your Monkey, the songs themselves being largely competent-yet-slightly-unexciting garage rock, Dullsville Girl probably being the cream of the crop. Tomas Skogsberg plays what just might be some background samplotron string section on Vegas Vamp.
Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want hail from the same set of home recording sessions, so can, essentially, be viewed as a double album. Home recording? No shit. Thankfully, Sultan can (just about) play the drums, but the playing, production (such as it is) and overall vibe are determiedly low-fi, for better or (probably) worse. There's definitely an audience for this stuff, but it doesn't include me. Cole Alexander's credited with Mellotron on both releases, but there's precisely jack shit on the first, with no more than obvious samplotron strings on Party Crasher on the second, which also, amusingly, opens exactly like (The) Status Quo's 1968 hit Pictures Of Matchstick Men, the song for which, bemusingly, they're still best-known in the States.
Sum 41 are possibly Canada's top entry in the pop/punk stakes, releasing their first album in 2001, '04's Chuck being their third. I suppose it does what it does well enough, but it's pretty derivative; Some Say sounds like an Oasis outtake, while The Bitter End rips Metallica something rotten, never mind all the ones I didn't spot. Are there any 'best tracks? Possibly 88, but the bulk of the album falls a bit flat, I'm afraid. Vocalist/guitarist Deryck "Biz" Whibley is credited with Mellotron, but if the faint, time-stretched strings on Pieces and 88 come from a real machine, I'll be stunned. So, not so much a disappointment, as a 'what I expected', both on the musical and (non-)Mellotronic fronts.
Going by Bewildered, Terry O'Hara's dark indie/folk project Summer-Winter make the kind of records where the first two or three tracks are quite a tonic, until boredom sets in. This has its moments, notably Americana opener Yer Dead and Drink Till The Drinking, but its overly-downbeat approach ground this listener down well before the end. O'Hara's credited with Mellotron, but the solo flutes that open Out Of Reach really give the sample game away, also heard on TV Glare, Drink Till The Drinking and others.
Sun City are an Australian powerpop outfit, occasionally crossing over into a more mainstream pop/rock thing on their eponymous 2013 album, at its best on New World and People In The Seventies, maybe. Casey Diiorio plays samplotron flutes on None Of This Is Happening and People In The Seventies.
The Sun City Girls (apparently named for a retirement community in Arizona) formed in 1979, keeping a consistent lineup from 1981 to 2007, when they split after drummer Charles Gocher's untimely death. Exponents of '80s cassette culture, the band began the slow switch over to more conventional formats with 1984's eponymous release, their first CD appearing in 1993. Due to multiple-format releases, reissues and the like, it's difficult to say how many albums they've released in thirty-plus years, but according to their website, 2010's Funeral Mariachi (presumably recorded around 2006) is their 57th LP/CD. It's actually extremely difficult to describe, but I'll have a go. Lo-fi world music? Atonal psychedelic folk? Outsider western swing? Does that explain my dilemma? It's apparently the nearest they ever came to 'mainstream', which makes me wonder just what, exactly, the rest of their output sounds like. Alan Bishop, who, together with his brother Richard, made up the other two-thirds of the trio, is credited with Mellotron, but the only thing I can hear that even might be one is an odd organ sound on This Is My Name that 'hiccups' like a badly-adjusted Mellotron. Hammond (actually Lowrey) organ tapes? Samples, I'm quite sure. Anyway, while clearly highly accomplished in its genre-of-one, I'm not sure I can recommend this to most of you, either for the music or the Mellotron, though not in a bad way. I'm glad bands like The Sun City Girls exist, if only to act as the grit in the oyster shell of the music business.
Den Lyckliges is your standard wet singer-songwriter guff, Swedish division, at its least bad on Ett Enda Ord Är Mitt. Fredrik Jonsson's 'Mellotron'? Inaudible.
Irish/American (as against Irish-American) duo Sunflow's remit is to make 'music for parents and children to enjoy together', the end result being a sweet singer-songwriter album, typified by the deeply McCartney-esque Eve's Lullaby (My Little One). What could've been no more than a twee experiment is actually oddly affecting. Job done. Duncan Maitland plays Chamberlin samples, with strings and cellos on Daisies And Orchids, with more cello on Goodnight.
Sunny Day Real Estate are apparently 'Emo', which is nothing to do with legendary weirdo Emo Phillips, although it might be a lot more fun if it was. 2000's The Rising Tide was their last album (of four) and is a properly insipid piece of bilge, I have to say. I can't really find anything nice to say about this wuss-fest, so I won't even bother trying. Maybe it's that I've heard worse. Mind you, haven't you always heard worse? Bassist/frontman Jeremy Enigk allegedly plays Mellotron, although aside from the two tracks with credited strings, all I can hear is the odd not-very-Mellotronic string part that could, at a pinch, be samples. I suppose it could, technically, be a real Mellotron, but I rather doubt it. Please don't bother buying this record either way.
Rather appropriately, Sunshine Collective play cheery sunshine pop, clearly designed for 'family listening', if not exclusively for kids. Not my bag in the slightest, but they do it well. Brian Arbuckle is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with vaguely Mellotronic brass here and there, notably on Fun Fun Fun (not that one, sadly), plus definite strings, with more of the same on A Thousand Notable Things and flutes on Interlude and is that Mellotron piano on Together? All obviously sampled, to no-one's surprise.
Sunshine Fix are ex-Olivia Tremor Controller Bill Doss' new band, although he used the name prior to the formation of the OTC. It would be fair to say they have a distinctly psychedelic sound, although they're far from purist sixties-heads, with more than a nod towards the OTC's Atlanta, Georgia scene, alongside Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo et al. Their first 'proper' album (ignoring a pre-OTC cassette, later reissued on CD), Age of the Sun, is a charming pot-pourri of psychedelia from various eras, top tracks including the title track, Everything Is Waking and Digging To China, although the only really irritating track is the strange, 20-minute disc filler Le Roi-Soleil, which seems a rather pointless way to finish the album. Doss plays what I take to be samplotron, with flutes on Hide In The Light, Sail Beyond The Sunset and Cycles Of Time, although the mess of instrumentation on 72 Years makes its credited Mellotron' not obviously audible. Their follow-up, Green Imagination, is perfectly good, but unlike some other contemporary psych acts, it somehow failed to really grab me, although maybe it will several plays down the line? Only one obvious Mellotron' track (from Doss), with somewhat background flutes on Rx, although it's possible that the background sounds on a couple of other tracks are also Mellotron-generated. Overall then, not bad, not great, not much 'Mellotron'.
A quick glance at the cover of Superdrag's debut album, Regretfully Yours, is liable to make one shudder and think, "Indie-schmindie time". While it isn't entirely true to say that nothing could be further from the truth, they're actually a really good punky powerpop outfit with great melodies and an obvious love of The Beatles, although they must have Hüsker Dü and The Replacements posters on their bedroom walls, too. I'm sure repeated plays would bring out the album's subtleties, but on a single listen, no one track particularly stands out (OK, N.A. Kicker is pretty good), although the overall effect is of tuneful but energetic pop/rock, with not a trace of that terrible indie wussiness so many of their contemporaries insist on sporting (anyone say "Bright Eyes?"). Samplotron on Truest Love, from vocalist/guitarist John Davis, with a melodic string part slightly buried in the mix. They followed up, two years later, with Head Trip in Every Key, which starts badly, then picks up quickly with track two, Hellbent, keeping the quality up for the bulk of the rest of the record, other top tracks including Sold You An Alibi and Pine Away. Although Davis is credited with Mellotron again, I've no idea where it might be; the strings on Amphetamine and The Art Of Dying are real, so unless it's buried somewhere deep in the mix...
Along with Pulp and maybe Blur, the Oxford-based Supergrass are one of the more literate outfits to've risen from the Britpop 'movement' (more of a music press construction than any real meeting of minds, to be honest). I believe their previous album was something of a letdown, but Life on Other Planets was hailed as a return to form on its release and it isn't difficult to see why. The songwriting's good (these boys know how to construct a song properly), the influences are impeccable, the musicianship stands up well... Beat that, Oasis! Highlights? Hard to say, but Za is a strong opener and Brecon Beacons impresses, too, but there really isn't a bad track on the album. Saying that, little of it is 'classic', either, slightly reducing its star rating, but it's still worth hearing for those of you into intelligent, witty pop. No credits anywhere, but I believe the heavily-featured keys are played (as ever) by mainman Gaz Coombes' brother Rob, the band's unofficial fourth member. I'm not sure what his reasoning is for refusing to become a full member; maybe it pays better this way? Anyway, aside from the Hammond, piano and monosynth parts, Coombes (if Coombes it is) plays a few samplotron flute chords on the raucous Never Done Nothing Like That Before and sounds like he's probably doubling the ethereal 'rub a bottleneck across the string' part on Run with a brief single-note string part.
The Surf City Allstars pride themselves on consisting entirely of touring members of The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, sometimes featuring Al Jardine and Dean Torrence for extra added authenticity. Acoustic Vibrations is (loosely) a collection of unplugged Beach Boys songs; while the arrangements don't always work as well as the originals, their choice of material is peerless, occasional touches such as Sloop John B.'s inventive outro or the cello intro added to California Girls definitely raising the bar. Gary Griffin's 'Mellotron' credit is for no more than the samplotron flutes on Caroline No.
Susanna Karolina Wallumrød is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, whose debut album, 2007's Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, has a certain quiet beauty about it, while simultaneously being so relentlessly downbeat that, after the first few songs, listening to it actually becomes a bit of a chore. I really don't like to say this, as her transparent, open-hearted honesty should be applauded, but when an album becomes hard work... I'm not asking her to suddenly throw a polka into the mix, but after a while, a dozen very similar tracks begin to sound... very similar. Motorpsycho's Helge Sten plays 'Mellotron' on Better Days, but if the background flutes and strings on the track have anything to do with a real machine, I'll be stunned. So; an album to bring out your inner depressive, although a track or two at a time can be quite uplifting, in a strange kind of way.
I'm not sure why Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, Jr. isn't a bigger name than he is, although it's possible that his satirical take on soul and funk was just too much for his aspirational audience, more comfortable with the R&B mainstream. 1977's Finally Caught Up With Myself was his ninth album as Dogg, produced in a bucket, at the bottom of a well, now packaged, re-sequenced (why?) with the previous year's Greatest Hits? (which isn't), as The Excellent Sides of Swamp Dogg Vol. 4. The best track over the two albums is ...Hits' Call Me Nigger, a coruscating put-down of 'Uncle Tom'-style black Americans, at least as Williams sees them. See what I mean about his approach? Honest, yet... uncompromising. The only mention of Mellotrons is in the compilation's sleevenotes, but close perusal of both records (at least ...Hits was properly recorded) unearths not a hint of tape-replay, although quite a bit of string synth. Is it there? Could be, but, if/until someone gives me some more detailed info, this stays here.
Michael Gira reformed New York noiseniks Swans in 2010, 2014's To Be Kind being the second coming's third release. As a non-fan, I find it difficult to even attempt to describe the two-hour album. Ambient punk? Psychedelic post-rock? Quiet noise? Some of the material (opener Screen Shot, A Little God In My Hands) make at least some kind of musical sense, but the 34-minute Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture really is only for hardened fans of Gira's unique worldview, I feel, which isn't to denigrate the music, merely to state that I don't understand it. Since Gira collaborator and supposed Mellotron player Bill Rieflin plays keys on the album, it seems likely that he provides the Mellotronic choirs to be heard on the closing title track. However... Not only are Rieflin's previous 'Mellotron' credits potentially bogus, but it really doesn't sound like a real machine's been employed here. Correct me if I'm wrong... Anyway, one for Swans fans of the old school, but probably few others.
Boston-based Brandan Sweeney's solo debut, Stranger Than You, is a rather tedious indie/singer-songwriter effort, infused with irritating electronica inflections. Sweeney's credited with Mellotron; what, the strings on I Am New At This (So Bear With Me)?
Canadian Andrew Sweeny and Americans Everything is Fine both fit the 'acid folk' tag pretty well, at least going by the tracks they've contributed to this virtual split single on Hinah, officially credited as Andrew Sweeny vs. Everything is Fine on the 'A' and the reverse on the 'B'. Two good songs that probably sound better late at night than driving along with the top down; a compliment, as only The Beach Boys can get away with that without being shit. Marrakesh is the gentler of the two, boding well for a full album, while In The Black is more ghostly, not to mention more out of tune, not that it seems to matter that much. Samplotron cellos on In The Black from the mysteriously-named Burzinski, decent enough but ultimately not adding that much to the track. Given that these are freebies, you might just as well download them to see what you think, if modern psych/folk's your cup of tea in any way at all.
Michael Sweet: ring any bells? Nope, nothing to do with the vastly more talented Matthew, or Mikey (below). Remember Stryper? Yeah, 'course you do; ludicrous Christian hair-metal buffoons? Threw bibles out into the audience? Yeah, you remember. Well, our mate Mikey was the singer. He's toned his image down a little, but it seems the message remains the same. Truth (yawn) is a Christian rock album, sounding pretty contemporary for 2000, not unlike reluctant god-botherers King's X in places, but without everything that makes that band the phenomenon they were and are. Most of the material chugs along well enough, apart from bilious ballad Stone that closes proceedings, but it's all rather uninspired, to be honest, in a 'modern rock' kind of way; y'know, a bit downtuned, a bit riffless metal (see: Alter Bridge et al.), a bit... well, dull, really. Bob Marlette (is that a small Bob Marley?) allegedly plays Mellotron on a track or two, with near-inaudible strings on the album's most King's X-ish track, Lift My Head (er, Over My Head?) and more upfront ones on Achilles Heel, though whether it's real will have to remain a mystery, no doubt like God's love etc. etc. I think we'll say 'samples'.
Nothing to do with ex-Stryper buffoon Michael Sweet (above), Mikey Sweet's The North King is a very acceptable country-rock release, probably at its best on the breezy Americana of Bethany and closer Guitar Mike Robenson. Paul McNamara plays obvious samplotron flutes on opener Let It Go.
Chris "Breeze" Barczynski's Sweet Brother Rush's Welcome to Your Life is a singer-songwriter-plays-pop/rock album (think: a less stylised Springsteen), highlights including the title track, Fighting Gravity and Something About You (Dress), amongst others. It doesn't all work well, but such are the vagaries of songwriting, I suppose. Benjy King plays samplotron flutes on closer This Is Love.
Hamilton, Ontario native Tomi Swick's Stalled Out in the Doorway isn't so much 'Coldplay influenced' as 'sounds exactly like Coldplay'. This is Not A Good Thing. There are no best tracks. Ron Lopata is credited with Mellotron, presumably for the vaguely Mellotronic strings that crop up here and there.
Richard Swift was briefly a member of US indie types Starflyer 59, playing samplotron on their 2003 album, Old, before leaving to record his debut solo album, 2005's Walking Without Effort. How to describe this? Melancholy, almost 'old-time' music, maybe, with waltz times abounding, faint hints of old country here and there, though nowhere near enough to fit this neatly into the 'Americana' bracket, although I can imagine listeners of that style finding things to interest them here. Since Swift played samplotron with Starflyer 59, it seems reasonable to suppose he plays it here, too. In places, it's difficult to tell where it's being used; is that muted brass on Mexico (1977)? Is it a Chamberlin? Has it anything to do with tape-replay at all? Definite fake-replay on several tracks, with muted brass and cellos on Walking Without Effort Theme, strings on In The Air, a poly flute part on Above And Beneath and strings elsewhere. By 2009's The Atlantic Ocean, Swift's shifted into a kind of quirky singer-songwriter style, mixing folk, indie, big band stylings and synthpop into something that's a lot more interesting than yer usual nonsense, but less likely to sell in any quantity as a result. I can't honestly say this appeals to me very much personally, but at least it's well-crafted and (relatively) original, a quality at a premium in most music (most art forms?) these days. Samplotron from Swift and Pat Sansone, with strings on R.I.P., more obvious ones on Hallelujah, Goodnight! and The First Time, the latter sounding as if it's doubled with a real violin, plus a descending flute line on A Song For Milton Feher.
Speaking as A Man Of A Certain Age, Taylor Swift means very little to me, unsurprisingly. Turns out she began as a country singer, quickly shifting into a country-inflected R&B/pop area, which, combined with her 'confessional' lyrics, has made her a superstar, largely amongst young women. Red (is she aware of King Crimson, I wonder?) is her fourth album, a typical mainstream pop release, with occasional oddities thrown in, chiefly the ukulele-driven Stay Stay Stay; super-pro, yet near-unlistenable to anyone used to music with more substance. Still, it isn't aimed at us, is it? Once again (see: The Starfolk), someone else called Andy Thompson is credited with Mellotron. Unlike my good self, however, he's clearly happy to use samples, particularly shitty flute ones in this case, on the Ed Sheeran (aargh!) collaboration Everything Has Changed.
Atlanta, GA's The Swimming Pool Q's formed in the late '70s, described by Wikipedia as 'new wave/jangle pop', releasing four albums before their split in the early '90s. 2003's Royal Academy of Reality is the sole legacy of their late '90s reformation, an overlong, double album's-worth of, well, really rather ordinary, indie-inflected pop/rock, to be honest, probably at its best on brief instrumental Nocturnal Transmission, For No Reason and Pharoah's Rocket. Phil Hadaway and Marty Kearns are credited with Mellotron, presumably the vaguely Mellotronic strings on a few tracks.
Swirlies are apparently often compared to the UK's My Bloody Valentine, but going by their first full album, 1993's Blonder Tongue Audio Baton, they're nothing more exciting than rowdy indie, occasionally descending into noise. I know this kind of stuff's popular in certain quarters, but they're not the quarters I inhabit, so I don't mind saying, 'I don't get it'. Although both the band's guitarists, Damon Tutunjian and Seana Carmody, are credited with 'Moog synthesizer and Mellotron', I can quite honestly say that I didn't hear a note of Mellotron across the entire album. I'm not saying it isn't there, only that I couldn't hear it. It may well be buried in some of the album's washes of noise, but it could just be Moog, feedback or something else entirely.
Going by their third (and last) album, Heart Tuned to D.E.A.D. (a.k.a. Lay Down the Law, also the title of their first single, two years earlier), Switches sat in the middle ground between indie, powerpop, Britpop and psych, amongst other related genres. Stuffed with songs of the quality of opener Drama Queen, Coming Down, with its irresistible synth hook, Every Second Counts and Stepkids In Love, the album still managed to fail commercially. Too good, chaps... You didn't dumb down enough, did you? Vocalist/guitarist Matt Bishop plays samplotron, with, er, something (distorted flutes?) on The Need To Be Needed and are those single choir notes on Every Second Counts? Anyway, one for those who always thought Supergrass were better than Oasis and melody beats moaning.
Syd Matters (named for a loose cross between The Floyd's Syd Barrett and Roger Waters) are based around Jonathan Morali, a French singer-songwriter who sings in English, also sometimes personally known as his band's name. His/their third album, 2005's Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles, is a perfectly pleasant, folky effort, although few of its songs especially stand out, better tracks including gentle opener City Talks, Flow Backwards and English Way. Someone irritatingly calling themselves Funky Chicken plays samplotron, with uncredited flutes on Someday Sometimes, although whatever's credited on the amusingly-titled Watcher (it's a Genesis/Mellotron joke) is inaudible, leading me to think that it's a mis-credit.
Jesse Sykes plays a particularly spooky kind of alt.country, haunted by the ghosts of failed relationships and death. Her debut album, Reckless Burning is a minor triumph of the genre, filled with mournful songs like the banjo-driven (at 0 m.p.h.) Doralee or Lullaby and an overall 'late-nite' vibe, to use a well-worn cliché. It's one of those albums that's actually going to take more listens than I can currently find time to give it to describe it properly; suffice to say, if you're intrigued by the more downbeat end of the Americana spectrum, you're almost certain to like this. Steve Moore guests on piano and samplotron, with strings on Lonely Still and strings and flutes on Drinking With Strangers and, while there may be cellos on another song or two, there also may not; it's rather hard to tell.
Which comes first, chicken or egg? David T. Dewdney is best known 'round these parts for running an EM label and for kindly reviewing Edgar Froese's Mellotronic output for this site some years ago. However, it turns out that he's a renowned synthesist himself, releasing albums as Syn (ho ho), mostly solidly in the 'Berlin School' style (i.e. heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream), the first of which is 2002's Soundwave Traveller. And it sounds like... a Berlin School album. Sorry, Dave, but I think I've exceeded my limit with mainstream EM; it's almost all good, but except to the hardcore fan, it's essentially all the same, which is why I give most albums ***½. Good, but entirely generic. As the sole musician, Dewdney plays (or sequences) the clearly sampled Mellotron himself, with the usual heavily echoed and/or reverbed strings, choirs and flutes across all three tracks, a choir chord on Freefall holding for a rather unfeasible several minutes, but there you go. The only 'unusual' (if unMellotronic) sound on the album comes nineteen minutes into Sonus (Part 3), where he suddenly uses the 'Leslied piano' effect from Pink Floyd's Echoes (you know the one), the difference being that it's s sampled piano and a Leslie emulator. Oh and Pink Floyd did it first.
The following year's Thru the Syngate (Syngate being his new label) is, er, another Berlin School EM album, its one 'non-standard' track being Heart Of Orion (Edit), complete with ungeneric, quite startling crashes and overwhelming synth leads. Plenty of samplotron, natch, some of the choir chords again held forever, nice to hear but exceedingly inauthentic. Later the same year, however, Synphära is a minor revelation, plus points including the programmed percussion, the ghostly, spectral voices on Utopia Planitia and the Yamaha CP70 piano (or reasonable facsimile) on Olympus Mons, plus the usual samplotron. Very listenable indeed, sir. 2004's Sonus is a more reflective six-part single track, not actually rhythmless but never really breaking sweat, much of it sounding a little like the intro to Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond extended to full-disc length. Surprisingly little samplotron, too, the most overt part being the strings on the relatively short Part 6.
2005's Skyline is, essentially, another EM album, albeit one absolutely stuffed with sampled Mellotron. It'll come as no surprise that lengthy opener Mellotropica is a total sample-fest, led by strings - certainly Dewdney's most samplotron-heavy piece - while the other four tracks are no slackers, either. Nothing particularly new on the musical front, then, but an awful lot of samplotron. The following year's The Glass Bridge is an album of quiet beauty, at least on two of its three tracks. The title track is the most rhythmic thing here (also the track with the most samplotron use), while the half-hour Shadowfall is, as you might expect from its title, a dark, reflective piece (although never tipping over into discord), leaving the drifting Heart Of Orion as the album's best evocation of the interstellar reaches. Why is this man not soundtracking SF films, I ask?
2007's 61 Cygnus-Alpha offers a more reflective view, more Klaus than Edgar, with startlingly little samplotron. I haven't heard any of Syn's subsequent releases, but, as far as the above go, Dewdney refuses to disappoint on the pure Berlin School front. Although I've rated two of his albums slightly more highly than the rest, they're all quality releases. Worth hearing. Incidentally, at the time of writing, Dewdney's still making these albums, all available at his Bandcamp page.
The Syn were originally the otherwise little-known '60s outfit who gifted Chris Squire to Yes. They reformed in the early 2000s, initially with Squire, although, by their third release, 2009's Big Sky, they had, bizarrely, teamed up with Francis Dunnery. I hate to say this, but this is no more than mainstream pop/rock of a couple of decades back, like, I dunno, something by Sting? Or all the filler tracks from a modern Yes album, fittingly? A good (or, at least, representative) example is New Reality, which drags on for an excruciating seven minutes-plus, having outstayed its welcome after three. With three keyboard players credited, no idea who plays the samplotron. Tom Brislin? Anyway, background strings all over the opening title track, possible ones on Devils And Demons, flutes and strings on Mile and string section on the title track's closing reprise.
Danny Budts, a.k.a. Syndromeda, is a Belgian EM artist who crosses over into the New Age realm at time; his website has a section entitled 'relaxation with crystal singing bowls'. Hmmm. 2006's Last Days on Earth, is something like his tenth album (well, you know how it is with EM artists), mostly rhythm-free, although the sequencers kick in during closer Too Hot In Hell and do I detect a techno influence here and there? Budts adds a powerful fakeotron string part to The Sense and more background ones to Too Hot In Hell, but, as usual with samples, it's just another sound source, rather than a timbre that really stands out. One for genre fans then, but nothing that's likely to convert the unbeliever.
'System 7' is the answer to the question, 'what did Steve Hillage do next?' Actually, it isn't exactly; he spent most of the '80s working as a producer, forming his new project with long-term partner Miquette Giraudy in the early '90s, their name probably inspired by Apple's then-current OS. I was bemused at this turn of events at the time, although, in retrospect, it's blindingly obvious; the whole 'hippy' thing was always about hedonism, really, including ecstatic dancing. How much more ecstatic can it get than the early '90s dance scene? 1994's Limited Addition (ho ho) EP seems to be a variation on that year's Sirènes four-track 12", both containing the same two mixes of the title track before diverging. It's... well, it's trance, I suppose; if you like the style, it seems to typify it, conversely... Carl Craig plays samplotron on Sirènes (System 7.1), although were it not credited, you really wouldn't know that the background strings on the track had anything to do with fake-replay.