Ethereal Norwegian folkie Tirill Mohn took eight years to follow her debut, 2003's A Dance With the Shadows (reissued as Tales From Tranquil August Gardens) with 2011's Nine & Fifty Swans. To coin a phrase, it's an album of quiet beauty, its lyrics based on W.B. Yeats' poetry, Tirill's vocals and guitar enhanced by male vocals, violin and sundry other instrumentation. Best tracks? Difficult to say, since nothing here lowers the overall standard in any meaningful way, but opener O Do Not Love Too Long, He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven and string-driven closer The Wild Swans At Coole particularly caught this listener's ear. Tirill is credited with Mellotron, although the distant flutes on Parting, The Song Of The Old Mother and The Wild Swans At Coole are, I'm afraid to say, quite clearly sampled. When push comes to shove, though, does it really matter? A real Mellotron might (OK, would) sound better, but this is a lovely album, whose charms are reduced not a jot by some minor sample use. Beautiful.
Largely inoffensive Italian-language pop/rock of no especial originality, only moving out of its comfort zone occsaionally, as with the hip-hop dude employed on Quanto Ancora and the metal guitars on Migrantes. Alessandro Canini and Arlan Schierbaum are both credited with Mellotron, bemusingly, as the closest anything here gets to one is the vaguely Mellotronic strings on Se Tutte Le Avventure and flutes on Le Mie Notti.
Liam Titcomb's second album, 2007's Can't Let Go, merges indie, pop, Americana and electronica in unequal measures, with different styles taking precedence on different tracks. To be brutally honest, the rather good, mournful, closing title track aside, this is pretty tedious fare; given that Titcomb grew up playing folk, couldn't he include a little more of it in his work? Please? Giles Reaves is credited with Mellotron; what the strings on Love Can? Really? I mean, REALLY? No, not really, eh? If Liam Titcomb made an album full of material like Can't Let Go itself, I'd buy it, but this is nine-tenths dullsville, I'm afraid.
After an abortive effort in 1997 to follow their '94 debut, Rubberneck, Texans Toadies finally released a reworked version of the sessions, Hell Below/Stars Above, in 2001, making this listener wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. A desperately unexciting alt.rock effort, it bores and irritates in roughly equal quantities, its one-dimensional songwriting copping elements of several other crummy bands from the era, particularly apparent on punky opener Plane Crash, the vaguely Chilis-esque Little Sin, Sweetness and closer Doll Skin (U2 with a distortion pedal). Someone adds what sounds like background samplotron strings towards the end of Jigsaw Girl, to no great effect, unless it's real, in which case, it's still to no great effect. This is terrible. Avoid. Incidentally, the sainted Elliott Smith guests on piano on the title track. Why?
Brazilian-by-way-of-the-UK Amon Tobin began as a Brighton-based DJ, electronica/remixer-type and trip-hop pioneer under the name Cujo, reverting to his own name in 1996. 2005's Chaos Theory: The Soundtrack to Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is exactly what it says on the tin and is surprisingly listenable in its own right, given that it's designed to make an unholy racket to soundtrack teenagers' gaming pursuits. It actually features a full band, including the Modugno brothers, who apparently hadn't spoken in some years. What does it sound like? It sounds like a game soundtrack, basically, but those of you who appreciate the further-out realms of electronic music may well go for it. Umberto Modugno is credited with Mellotron (his no-longer estranged brother Massimo plays Hammond, very audibly on one track), but the cello part on Hokkaido sounds little like one.
Toby "TobyMac" McKeehan is that most appalling of things, a Christian rapper and former member of dcTalk, whose Renovating→Diverse City is a remix version of his second solo release, 2004's Welcome to Diverse City. And it's... shit. Is there anything worse than a Christian rap album? Yes, a Christian remix album. To be honest, it sounds like just about every other remix album I've had the displeasure to hear, but with vaguely devotional lyrics, just to add to the pain. Christopher Stevens is credited with Mellotron on the Long Gone remix of Gone, but when you hear what sounds like MkII 'moving strings' and murky M400 choir on the same track, you know you're talking samples. Very, very poor. Avoid.
Mia Doi Todd's Cosmic Ocean Ship is a perfectly 'normal' release, featuring ten quiet, introspective songs, all perfectly good, although none really stand out. Maybe I should concentrate harder on the lyrics? Jonathan Wilson is credited with Mellotron, but the only 'possible' is a faint flute part on the CD-only Gracias A La Vida, so that's a 'no', then.
Stay Awhile is a horrible, mainstream indie/singer-songwriter album, at its least awful on the title track, not that there's much in it. Todd Simko's 'Mellotron': what, the strings on opener Pride? Fuck off.
Sleepy Joe Tomato: band or Joan Ter Maten's nom de plume? His/their second album, A Bumpy Ride, gets off to a bad start with the cheesy soul/blues of Just In Time, but picks up on Bedroom Fights, She Turned Into A Stranger's powerpop and Love On The Side's rock'n'roll, although the album struggles to sustain material of that quality. Marc Capelle plays what sound like various MkII Mellotron samples on Nightmares.
Tomten, named for a variety of Scandinavian folkloric elf, play a variety of indie-influenced powerpop. As a result, Wednesday's Children's better moments are fatally overshadowed by a dreary, well, indie-ness, while Brian Noyes-Watkins' 'Mellotron' flute and cello parts on Lofty sound more like generic samples. The Farewell Party is marginally better, particularly the jaunty Thomasina and the gentle She'll Pass Me By, but Noyes-Watkins sticks to samples, with barely-Mellotronic strings in You Won't Be On My Mind.
David Toop is best-known musically for his membership of The Flying Lizards and journalistically, for his contributions to The Face and The Wire. All of which (OK, not The Face) make it no surprise whatsoever that his tenth solo album (including collaborations), 2003's Black Chamber, is a deeply experimental work, comparable to, say, the weirdest end of the Julian Cope spectrum. I'm not sure that Toop would be particularly happy at the comparison, but who knows? Er, he does, I'd imagine. Most tracks combine fragments of found sound and other samples with largely atonal instrumentation, although Plume, Preceded By Far Off Inside features a relatively normal jazz saxophone solo, while snippets of vocal, guitar and other 'mainstream' elements make themselves apparent every now and again. Toop supposedly plays Mellotron, but the strings on The Slapping Gun, while loosely 'Mellotronic', are most unlikely to emanate from a real instrument, I suspect, while the strings on the title track sound more like regular samples than ones from a Mellotron. So; not one for neo-prog fans, I think it's safe to say.
The Tories (terrible name, given its British political connotations) are an L.A.-based powerpop outfit frequently compared to Jellyfish (and not just by me, for once), their 1997 debut, Wonderful Life, being stuffed with joyous songs of the quality of Gladys Kravitz, Not What It Appears, Greenhill and Don't Be Long. Actually, although the album's rather overlong for the style (yeah, I know: value for money), there isn't a bad track here, just some that are less essential than others. Steve Bertrand and James Guffee are both credited with Mellotron; if the only audible evidence were the brief flute part on Might Be Late and the cellos and strings on Strange, this would be in this site's 'regular' section, but the strings on Gladys Kravitz are the sample giveaway, especially the high notes. Overall, then, a powerpop 'must', if not quite up to the quality of their forebears. Most worthwhile.
La Torre Dell'Alchimista set out their stall on their self-titled debut immediately, as Eclisse starts with the modulated roar of a full-throated Leslie cabinet as its speed races up and down, before they lurch into the track. The rest of the album covers a variety of progressive styles, which, while admirable, can sound a little disjointed at times, although there isn't actually a bad track to be heard, so despite a slight lack of musical cohesion, La Torre Dell'Alchimista is a most worthwhile release. Michele Mutti's 'Mellotron' work can only really be heard on a couple of tracks, although there are several 'possible sightings' that probably aren't, principally the male voices on Eclisse. La Torre Dell'Alchimista itself (their 'theme' song?) opens with a solo samplotron string part (its closing string chord is held just a little too long) and Delirio (In Do Minore) has some more muted strings, but that appears to be it.
Six years on, 2007's Neo isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although the band go for more of a 'multi-part extravaganza' this time round. They also throw little bursts of fusion into the mix here and there, while highlights include Mutti's solo piano piece, Idra and grandiose closer Risveglio, Procreazione E Dubbio Pt. II. More samplotron this time round, with string parts on most tracks, sounding surprisingly real in some places, then the precise opposite in others. Incidentally, is it just me, or are the band's two releases exactly the same length? Odd.
Torrez (clearly named after vocalist Kim Torres) have a particularly dreary post-rock/indie sound on The Evening Drag, at its least tedious on The Evening Sun. Sidney Alexis plays obviously sampled Mellotron flutes on Forage Your Way and strings on All The Riders.
Despite her Italian name, Emilíana Torrini is Icelandic, Tookah being an album of vaguely electro-ish singer-songwriter pop, harmless and occasionally inventive. Dan Carey's 'Mellotron' on Speed Of Dark? Y'wot?
Erik Torsten "Totta" Näslund's eponymous debut is either laid-back or dull, depending on your viewpoint, typified by his cheesy cover of Always On My Mind (Alltid Inom Mig) and probably at its best on closer När Du Kommer Hem Till Mig. I can only assume Dan Hyland's Mellotron credit on opener Det Blåser En Vind is for the vague cello-y sound on the track.
The Toy Hearts hail from Birmingham; that's Birmingham, once in Warwickshire, not Birmingham, Alabama, despite their authentic bluegrass and western swing moves. Fronted by the Johnson sisters, Hannah and Sophia, with their dad Stewart backing them on banjo, the only thing about their third album, 2011's Femme Fatale (recorded in Nashville), that fails to fool the ear is a less-than-total vocal commitment to the correct accent, an omission with which I think we can live. There isn't actually a duff track here, the witty lyrics supported by authentic instrumentation and arrangements, highlights including Tequila And High Heels, Tear Stained Letter (not the Richard Thompson song) and the instrumental Creek Bluff Drive, amongst others. David Mayfield supposedly plays Mellotron, but I'm afraid the flutes, occasional choirs and strings on the title track do little to convince, not least the opening flute note that breaks the eight-second rule. A minor criticism, however, of an otherwise excellent album. One for the more adventurous Americana fan.
4th of July's a pretty decent alt.rock effort, at its best on All Day Long, Tin Star Blues and Disaster Flick, I'd say. Coby Carlucci plays what I think are sampled Mellotron strings on Disaster Flick, although I'm willing to be proven wrong.
The Tractors are essentially a country-rock pick-up band based around the talents of Steve Ripley, whose fifth album, 2002's The Big Night is, amazingly their second release aimed at what Americans quaintly call 'the holiday season'; hey, whad'about calling it 'Christmas', eh? It's nowhere near as bad as many similar, due mainly to a) an appreciation of ye olde art of rock'n'roll and b) a refreshing (relative) lack of gloopy Christian sentiment. Better efforts include I Was A Bad Boy This Year and Bo Diddley Santa Claus, but frankly, I can't imagine why I'd ever want to hear this again. Ripley plays background samplotron string chords on the title track.
Train's Save Me San Francisco starts well, the title track returning to that Counting Crows sound, but it all quickly lapses back into their usual schtick. I have to say, this is particularly notable for the terrible, terrible lyrics, all the more obvious due to the ridiculously high-in-the-mix vocals (a typical pop production, actually). Painful. Claes Björklund plays samplotron, with strings on Parachute and flutes on closer Marry Me which, despite their 'authentic' wobble, don't cut the mustard.
Tram were the British 'slowcore' duo of Paul Anderson and Nick Avery, noted for their, er, 'downbeat' approach; to quote AllMusic's Tim Sendra's dry commentary, "Words like desperation, despair, bleakness and Radiohead come to mind", although I'd say Tram have got Thom's boys beaten hands-down on the gloom front. A Kind of Closure was their third and last album before they
killed themselves split, full of the kind of wrist-slashing gaiety for which us Brits are well known. Aside from the occasional slightly discordant trumpet part, pretty much everything here sounds like pretty much everything else, although The Hope Has Been Taken Away (now just stop it, lads) stands out, due to its overall intensity. The Cocteau Twins' Simon Raymonde plays piano, Rhodes and samplotron, with flutes on Fools.
Mike "Tramp" Trempenau (or similar; sources vary) is actually Danish and played in a dodgy hard rock act there called Mabel in the late '70s before migrating to the States and forming White Lion. Their brand of commercial hard rock held them in good stead for some years, before falling foul of early '90s grunge, leading Tramp to get himself a couple of armfuls of tattoos and a solo career via the grunge-lite of Freaks of Nature. Capricorn is considerably better than I'd expected, sounding more like a heavier version of Bruce Springsteen crossed with any Americana act you'd care to name than his former band, for which we should all be truly grateful. Don't get me wrong, it's hardly the most exciting stuff you're ever going to hear, but that awful glossy AOR-style production is notable by its absence, with plenty of acoustic guitar and Hammond in its place. Kim Bullard is credited with Hammond/Wurly/Mellotron and cello, although the latter two can only be heard on Love Will Come And Go, with some very overt flutes and what I take to be strings, all sampled.
The aptly-named Transatlantic are a prog 'supergroup' consisting of Spock's Beard main man Neal Morse, Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings, Marillion's Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater and the end results, at least on their debut, were vastly better than might be expected from such a potential clash of egos. The wittily-titled SMPTe (in case you don't know, 'smpte' is a studio MIDI/video conversion protocol and the four members' initials, of course, pronounced 'simpty') comes across as an amalgam of the 'Beard and various '70s bands, with very little of the other three members' outfits in there at all, although I suppose we should be grateful for that in at least two cases, if not all three.
All Of The Above is an overblown half-hour epic, but you know what? It works really well, although it could probably have been trimmed down a little. It opens with a chord sequence straight out of the Neal Morse songbook and carries on in fine form, moving through all the various twists and turns you'd expect, although it ends up being rather predictable in its unpredictability, or something. However, its saving grace is its strong use of melody, without slipping into the AORisms of which the 'Beard are sometimes guilty and which could be levelled against track two, We All Need Some Light. I personally really like it, but I can see why some critics have lambasted it for its near-'soft rock balladry' approach. Less sure about Mystery Train (not the Elvis number), but My New World's another grand epic and the album closes in fine style with a cover of Procol Harum's In Held Twas In I; the original was named after the first word of the lyric in each of its five parts and Transatlantic left out the 'Twas' section, thus the brackets, just in case you were wondering. Roine Stolt is credited with 'Mellotron', alongside his usual guitar and vocal duties, but however good it sounds, I know for a fact that The Flower Kings neither own nor use a real Mellotron, relying on high-quality samples taken direct from a real machine, so it seems a fair assumption that these are what are being used here. Shame, really, as a real Mellotron always lifts anything on which it's used (well, usually) and it shouldn't be that difficult to find a working one, especially in Sweden, land of the Mellotron revival, but there you go. 'Trad' prog fans might not like this album, but in my book, it's well worth owning.
In 2001, the band released a double live CD, Live in America, with unseemly haste (can you smell the distinctive pong of a quick buck being made?), seemingly from their first ever gig. Of course, with a mere one album to promote (and they don't even attempt In Held (Twas) in I), much padding is needed, including covers good (a proggy Strawberry Fields Forever) and less good (a slightly pointless Watcher Of The Skies/Firth Of Fifth medley), while the grand finale is a medley of excerpts from material by all four members' parent bands, finishing with a prog take on the stupendous end section of The Beatles' She's So Heavy. As a document of Transatlantic's early live work, Live in America works reasonably well, but as a hundred-minute listening experience, it drags in places; judicious editing would've made for a less complete but more listenable product.
Later the same year, they rattled off what turned out to be their last album for nearly a decade, Bridge Across Forever. To be honest, it captures none of the manic joy of their debut; 26-minute opener Duel With The Devil feels far longer than that and not in a good way, while Suite Charlotte Pike is a bit of a disjointed mess. The title track is a by now typically schlocky Morse ballad and by far the shortest song on the album, leaving Stranger In Your Soul as the most cohesive piece here, though it says a lot that the best track here isn't much better than the worst on SMPTe. With hindsight, Morse's forthcoming breakdown/religious conversion/whatever is quite apparent in his lyrics, too; well, doesn't Duel With The Devil say it all? The 'Mellotron' is used more sparingly this time round, with the only real highlights being an unaccompanied string part in Duel With The Devil and some flutes at the beginning of Stranger In Your Soul. Disappointing, though the album's relative musical failure made their God-induced split less painful. Incidentally, in case you still feel the need to obtain this, don't go out of your way to get the 'Special Edition'; apart from a vaguely interesting take on Floyd's Shine On blah-di-blah and a genuinely good Morse demo of what became Duel With The Devil, most of it consists of tedious studio dicking about. Pointless.
Transatlantic were stunningly dull the one time I saw them live, insisting on playing just about all of Bridge Across Forever and then, for some unknown reason, the whole of side two of The Beatles' Abbey Road, boring many of us into a bad prog-induced stupor, while Morse had the gall to berate us for not enjoying it! They then misjudged the audience enough to encore with All Of The Above, rather than something a little snappier, all this on top of lining all four members up along the front of the stage, Portnoy included. Egomania. The tour is documented on 2003's Live in Europe, recorded in November '01 in the Netherlands, the band augmented by Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlöw, who stood at the back; what I remember as 'the whole of side two of Abbey Road' is actually some (all?) of it intercut with the Suite Charlotte Pike Medley (or probably vice versa), but it's no more interesting on a second listen, ditto most of the rest of the set, the honourable exception being We All Need Some Light, still a great song.
The following year, of course, Morse got God, leaving both the 'Beard and Transatlantic to concentrate on his Christian solo career. Yawn. The original version of the band bowed out with one of the most pointless releases it's been my displeasure to plough through for a while: SMPTe (The Roine Stolt Mixes). Er... why? I believe that this is actually the original mix, but was the released version that bad, Roine? Without exhaustively listening to both versions, minute by minute, all I can tell you is that the odd intro/outro has been left in and there's more guitar (big surprise there). Do you need to hear this? No, you do not. If anyone thinks they can convince me that this is any more than Stolt's total vanity project, good luck to you.
As the late 2000s approached, Morse obviously decided that his Christian principles (barf) would allow him to work with Transatlantic again. The other three (and Gildenlöw live) all came along for the ride, the end result being 2009's The Whirlwind. Were you expecting something as good as SMPTe? Dream on, dude... Essentially one near-eighty minute track, this is every bit as utterly overblown as you could wish for/feared (delete according to taste), stretched out to that unfeasible length by vast acres of musical padding and remarkably light on real ideas. Surprised? Nor me. The best twenty minutes would make a decent Spock's piece (once again, Morse is clearly the main writer), but this just goes on and on and on... I know some of you love it that way, but since when did quantity outweigh quality? Oh, hang on, one of these guys is in Dream Theater... Actually, Portnoy left his band around this time, then had the gall to berate them for carrying on (in fairness, he'd apparently suggested a hiatus, then found himself replaced), but given that Transatlantic are just one of many side-projects with which he's been involved over the years, I doubt whether he'll find himself at a loose end any time soon. The inevitable special edition's bonus disc contains another four yawnsome Transatlantic pieces (none wholly by Morse) and four covers, three of which (Genesis' Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Procol Harum's A Salty Dog and Santana's Soul Sacrifice) are worth hearing. Actually, the best track on the entire set is the hidden ukelele/barber shop ditty stuck on the end of disc two. Well, I think so, anyway. Er, samplotron? Here and there throughout the title piece, here and there on disc two, notably extra parts on Hogweed and the strings on A Salty Dog.
The best thing about the following year's three-CD/two-DVD Whirld Tour 2010: Live From Shepherd's Bush Empire, London is the tour name; very witty, chaps. Now, a quick piece of disarming honesty from yours truly. I didn't listen to this all the way through. There. I've said it. Why not? Couldn't bloody face it, frankly. I mean, three bloody hours of this overblown drivel? It's actually getting to the point where hearing multiple versions of their first album material is beginning to put me off it, which would be a shame. Never mind the band's exhaustion at the end of a marathon like that, what about the audience? Oh, I'm sure they loved it. I wasn't there, as you might've guessed and after hearing (well, skimming) this, I'm extremely glad I was somewhere (anywhere!) else. Now, you think this is bad? 2011 brought another fucking three-CD/two-DVD live set, More Never is Enough: Live in Manchester & Tilburg 2010. Holy Mary, Mother of God, spare us. For the first time on this site, I actually point-blank refuse to attempt to review this. The Manchester audio's essentially the same as the Shepherd's Bush gig and no, I'm not interested in minor variations which I wouldn't spot anyway. So; I'm on strike. OK, back off strike, but I'm still not reviewing it. Yes, more really is more than fucking enough. Now just stop it.
To my great surprise, 2014's Kaleidoscope, while quite clearly a Transatlantic album, raises the bar somewhat after its tiresome predecessor, opening epic Into The Blue actually being, well, not bad, if nowhere near 'classic'. Black As The Sky and the even more epic title track are quite listenable, all things considered, although both ballads, Shine and Beyond The Sun are eminently disposable. Disc two's by now usual covers are a mixed bag, ELO and Elton tracks somewhat giving the game away on Morse's soft rock influences, although decent takes on The Small Faces' Tin Soldier, Focus' immortal Sylvia and (startlingly) King Crimson's skronky Indiscipline redeem matters slightly. Samplotron? All over the shop, of course, even finding its way onto several disc two tracks, although I remain unconvinced by the choirs on their otherwise excellent take on Yes's And You And I.
The most shocking thing about Transatlantic is that they market their grotesque excess as a plus point. Then again, it's what they unashamedly do, so they're hardly going to apologise for it, are they? Not with two (possibly three) major egos on board, anyway (I'm assuming Pete's 'the quiet one'). Anyway, ignore albums two and three and everything live, but buy SMPTe, even with fake Mellotron.
As you may have just read above, TransChamps are one of two Trans Am/Fucking Champs collaborations, the other superbly named (you guessed it) The Fucking Am. Their Double Exposure EP combines the two bands' sounds with aplomb, mixing heavy synths and heavy guitars in equal measures in what seems to be more a send-up of/homage to their different influences, with the arena metal of Give It To You contrasting sharply with The Big Machine's synths and clattering drums, while Then Comes Saturday Night coming across as more of an Allmans/Bad Co. cross. Tim Green plays samplotron, but not a lot, with nowt but a string part (under real violin) in The Big Machine.
Transience are (or, more likely, were) Lands End keys man Fred Hunter's occasional side-project, collaborators including Brazilian guitarist Francisco "Kiko" Neto and vocalist Jeff McFarland. Unfortunately, 1999's Sliding is a thorough bore of an album, insipid, dreary neo-prog with only the occasional 'symphonic' section to leaven the tedium, McFarland's wispy vocals being particularly deserving of criticism. It's also (here's a surprise) vastly overlong, the nineteen-minute The Seven Pools being entirely unnecessary. I suppose hardened neo- fans might describe this album as having 'a quiet beauty', or somesuch; 'very boring' seems a more appropriate description. For what it's worth, Hunter plays fairly obviously sampled Mellotron strings on the Latin/prog (no, really) title track, Desert Falls, Captiva Island and The Seven Pools.
Hunter began work on what ended up as 2003's Primordial after the release of Sliding, but for various personal reasons, it took him over three years to finish it. Was it worth it? Well, it's a better album, the 'insipid' factor being slightly reduced, although McFarland's vocal contributions are just as irritating. As for the actual material, piano-and-synths piece Hollow Gardens is genuinely excellent, although nothing else stands out in any way. Unusually, Hunter has filled some of the disc's empty space with half a dozen MP3 tracks of material that didn't make the cut, for one reason or another, including the absurdly overlong Aquadream (half an hour) and the eighteen-minute original mix of the dullsville A Stones Throw From Nowhere, bringing the album's total length to over two hours; a great idea for actual fans, but rather gruelling for the rest of us. Hunter plays samplotron strings on opener Heaven & Earth and possibly one or two tracks elsewhere, but this isn't even a major player on the sample front, frankly.
Blues Saraceno (real name, apparently) is one of those 'guitarist's guitarists'; already playing with top names in his teens, his 'played with' list includes two thirds of Cream, Cher and, er, Poison. He formed Transmission OK in 2000, quickly releasing their sole album, The Sky, the Stars & the Great Beyond... It's a funky, bluesy hard rock effort, not dissimilar to the more groove-based end of King's X's catalogue, or some of Glenn Hughes' work, at its best on The Reason Why and closer Low. Saraceno's credited with Mellotron, but the overly-smooth flute and string parts on Supermodel tell another story.
Transmissionary Six are yet another alt.country/slowcore crossover outfit, although the lack of variety on their third album, the ironically-titled Get Down, makes for a rather monotonous listening experience, if truth be told. Terri Moeller's voice is great for a few tracks, but her relentless melancholy ends up depressing rather than uplifting, as it can for true masters of misery (see: Richard Thompson). The duo (completed by guitarist Paul Austin) have put two instrumentals on the album, one of which (Johnny & Waldo) is probably the most interesting thing here, but I'm afraid the bulk of the album just... drags. Samplotron on one track, from Steve Moore, with a beautiful string part on My New Namethat almost had me fooled, until the low notes at the end of the song. Cosmonautical is, I'm afraid, not just more of the same, but less, not only in its length, but its interest value. I'm sure the band have legions of fans who swoon over their every utterance, but this bored me stupid, not helped one jot by the country feel on a few tracks. Graig Markel plays background samplotron strings on Landslide and I Want To Deprogram You, but they're as bland as the rest of the album.
Traumhaus (Dream House/House of Dreams) are a superior German-language neo-prog outfit, whose eponymous 2001 release mixes'n'matches from various progressive eras, coming up with an amalgam of early '80s neo- (they cop some IQ moves in several places), prog metal and '70s symphonic. Sounds appalling? This could so easily be terrible, but the band's knack with a melody carries them through a potential musical train-wreck, examples being the album's Saga-esque opener, Aufwärts, parts of the lengthy Ausgeliefert, the bit that rips off '80s Yes (specifically 90125's Changes) in Peter Und Der Wolf and the triumphal major-key round that ends closer Am Abgrund. Most of the album's string sounds are either string synth copies or generic, leaving the only actual Mellotron samples as the strings on Am Abgrund.
I don't know why it's taken the band seven years to follow their debut, although I'd hazard a guess that an almost complete lineup change could have been involved. Sadly, the end result is that 2008's Die Andere Seite is a far more generic, mainstream prog metal album, far less appealing than its predecessor. The instrumental work is frantic, should you be into that kind of thing, not least the ridiculously busy drummer; calm down, man, calm down! Stacks of Mellotron samples this time round, with strings, watery choirs and flutes all over opener Die Andere Seite (Part 1), carrying on in similar fashion throughout, in a 'don't know when we're overusing it' kind of way.
Traumpfad are a German prog-metal outfit who, at least on 2011's Aufbruch, also appear to have been listening to not only the more recent variety of neo-prog (Arena and their ilk), but also their own countrymen from the '70s, distinct hints of the likes of Novalis and Ramses cropping up here and there. Unfortunately, in Planet Mellotron's humble opinion, neither of these influences are particularly welcome ones, the best thing here being 'bonus' track (what makes it a 'bonus', if it's on every edition?) Octopussy Äther, a lengthy instrumental that largely sidesteps the album's shortcomings. Keys man Matthias Unterhuber adds samplotron to several tracks, with strings on opener Sol, a major string part on Auf Unserer Reise and here and there elsewhere, plus choirs on Octopussy Äther. I hate to be so negative - no, really - but this album not only says nothing new, but takes an awfully long time to do so.
Travis really have to be one of the nastiest things to happen to British music in a couple of decades and I don't say that lightly. Their utterly insipid stadium-MOR is fantastically popular, picking up the kind of fan that Simply Red got in the '80s; "Music for people who don't like music", as a friend of mine once put it. Their mainman is called Fran Healy; now I'm sorry, maybe Fran is an acceptable male abbreviation in Scotland, but where I come from, it's a girl's name. What's wrong with Frank? Anyway... The Invisible Band (though sadly not inaudible) was their third album and if anything, was even blander than its predecessor, 1999's fairly nasty The Man Who (*½), although it lacks the true horror of that album's chief hit, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? Because God hates you, Frannie, that's why. God hates you and so do I. I've been told this horrible, turgid mess has some Mellotron on it, but close listening only reveals one potential track, Dear Diary. The high strings are far too 'clean' to be a real Mellotron, but a few notes towards the end of the song have that Mellotronness about them, although I'm certain they're samples. I paid 50p for this abortion of an album (and the same for its predecessor) and I feel ripped off. I won't even be able to flog them to one of London's handful of remaining second-hand shops, as they're flooded with the fucking things. Down the chazza, then and wave goodbye to a quid.
Chandler Travis' Ivan in Paris is a kind of indie/singer-songwriter album with occasional jazzy touches, songs such as opener (You & Me) Pushin' Up Daisies and Haircut like a less quirky They Might Be Giants, maybe. Although Gregory Wachter's credited with Mellotron on Something Right About It, all I can hear is sampled flutes on the following track, Ball The Wall. You Must Come Over To-Night is an improvement, highlights including breezy opener When She Smiles At Me and Workin' Weekends, the latter as much for lyrics as music, although Travis retains his unfortunate on/off propensity for jazz. Wachter may very well be credited with Mellotron again, but I've no idea why.
New York's Travis Pickle, fronted by Carla Capretto, were a pop-end-of-indie outfit on their eponymous (sole?) album, notwithstanding the occasional punchier track, not least Cheesehead, contender for 'best track' award You Always and One More Time. Sadly, most of its material is as bland as it comes, to the point where I almost wish opener Motorcycle Man were a cover of Saxon's gumby metal anthem. But only almost. This seems to be yet another entrant in the 'used to be an online reference to Mellotron use' albums, even listing a track, Mr. Boyfriend, pretty good flute samples presumably played by Capretto.
Glaswegians Trembling Bells collaborated with Will "Bonnie Prince Billy" on New Trip On The Old Wine, a suitably Americana-esque effort, although Joe Kane's Mellotron... isn't.
The Barcelona-based Très Bien Ensemble are clearly total Francophiles, most of their members having French names, although whether they're culturally French Spaniards or émigrés Françoise is uncertain. Anyway, the combo coalesced out of a related group, Los Fresones Rebeldes, releasing Doux-Amer in 2005, immediately drawing comparisons with all the classic chansonniers, not least Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and, of course, the ubiquitous Serge Gainsbourg. For most English-speaking listeners, however, their sound will conjure up images of that strain of 'we're so French' British bands that appeared at the beginning of the '90s, delighting and infuriating the general public in equal measures with their lightweight faux-Gallic pop. Yes, Stereolab, I blame you. Oh and Saint Etienne. As far as the album's material goes, it's largely as you'd expect; cheesy attempts to sound Parisienne, accordions, muted trumpet and male/female vocals to the fore, the only let-ups being the slightly more energetic (though rather out of place) Des Mysteres and the almost-psych-lite of Toi Et Moi. Lucien Bulles plays samplotron, though not a lot, with flutes on Sous Le Soleil, seemingly combined with a real one.
Sweden's Trettioåriga Kriget (Thirty Years War), after an initial burst of Mellotronic activity in the mid-'70s, reformed in the early 2000s, initially recording with Mellotronen boss Stefan Dimle (Paatos, ex-Landberk)'s Mellotron. However, by 2007's I Början och Slutet (The Beginning and End) I'm reliably informed they'd started using samples. The album itself is every bit as good as its predecessor, not so much 'progressive' as mainstream rock with a progressive edge, although the greater use of keyboards over their '70s work increases the 'progressiveness' of some of the material. Highlights include both parts of I Krigets Tid, Ungdom and the gentle Lovsång, despite its unusual use of digital synth textures. Samplotron strings on most tracks, plus flutes on Benke. If anything, 2011's Efter Efter (er, After After) is even better than its immediate predecessor, material of the quality of Barnet (The Child, not a paean to the North London borough, funnily enough), The Dance and the utterly magnificent Glorious War lifting the band to new heights, almost unbelievably, at this late stage in their career. Perhaps with nothing to lose, they've realised they've got everything to win. Or something. Plenty of samplotron, with flute and string parts on Mannen På Bänken, strings all over Barnet, Tavlan and The Dance, plus flutes on the lengthy title track.
After (efter?) another several-year gap, 2016's Seaside Air is another 'inventive mainstream rock with a progressive tinge' album, opening well with the melodic The Photograph, while Dreaming Of Vermeer is a beautiful guitar/vocal piece, starting with two minutes of solo guitar and closer Behold The Pilot pulls out all the stops on the vocal front. Samplotron on all but one track, with a tricky flute melody and chordal strings on opener The Photograph, flutes and strings on the title track, Forgotten Garden, Billy and Behold The Pilot and strings on Snow, although the strings on Dreaming Of Vermeer are real. Not typical progressive rock and all the better for it.
Gloria Trevi's Spanish-language Latin-flavoured pop/rock seems to be pretty typical of the Mexican mainstream, going by what I've heard. Harmless enough, but nothing that's going to do a lot for anyone much outside her home market. Good old Armando Avila is credited with Mellotron on both releases, but, as with all his other credits, the best we get is occasional samples on Una Rosa Blu and nothing obvious at all on Gloria.