Rick Treviño (Trevino for his English-language releases) is a Texan singer-songwriter, who has found himself manoeuvred into the Spanish-language Tejano bracket for much of his career, despite not being a native speaker. 2001's Mi Son is his fifth solo release, apparently seen as almost a side-project of the supergroup with which he was involved, Los Super Seven, with many of the same musicians participating. As you'd expect, it mostly consists of upbeat Tex-Mex material, highlights including the gentle, jazzy Vuelvo Al Sur, perhaps surprisingly and English-language closer Long Goodbye. Steve Berlin and Alberto Salas are both credited with Mellotron, but I'm mystified as to where. I've picked up the information from some long-forgotten-and-now-untraceable source that Berlin plays it on Ojos, but apart from the brass on the track, I genuinely can't imagine what it might be doing. Vague background flutes? Certainly not the vibes...
Trezmil's Lost in Manchuca consists of a smorgasbord of various Mitteleuropan musics, not least klezmer and gypsy jazz, the end result sounding a lot like what we tend to think of as 'circus music', probably at its best on the ripping Holy Frikkin' Mowgli. Ivan Vertongen's Mellotron? No idea.
Tribe of Gypsies describe themselves as a 'heavy rock band with Latin influences', although their general lack of heaviosity with extra added percussion reminds me of Santana more than anyone, although the band must be getting sick of the comparison. 1998's Revolucion 13 was their second album and, while it's a more than pleasant listen, it does little you haven't already heard on those early Santana records, two extra percussionists and all. There's certainly very little of the riffing guitar work that you'd expect of an outfit describing themselves as 'heavy', particularly given that guitarist/mainman Roy Z has worked on several Bruce Dickinson albums, although the odd ripping solo is unlike anything old Carlos would've come out with back then. Greg Schultz is one of three guest keyboard players, adding background samplotron strings to Summer Rain and more upfront ones to Collapse and Mother's Cry.
Tribe of Gypsies III was apparently released in Japan under the title Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, but before it came out around the world, the useless Oasis announced their rather singularly misquoted Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, forcing the Tribe guys to find a quick'n'easy replacement. There are a couple of heavier tracks than on its predecessor, chiefly What Cha Want, which sounds like Santana crossed with Thin Lizzy, but we're not exactly talking Metallica territory here, but then, the band don't describe themselves as 'metal', anyway. It's actually a very pleasant album, little like I'd expected; I suspect it'll take a few plays for the better tracks to make themselves known, although the guitar line in Puro Party has probably lodged itself in my brain for the foreseeable future. For a guitarist's band, Tribe of Gypsies have a remarkably cohesive sound, with no one instrument dominating, making a welcome change from the serried ranks of guitar wank outfits plaguing the scene. Z (no, I don't know his full name) plays samplotron on a couple of tracks, with cellos and strings on Better Days and strings on Dreams.
Although Tribulation are generally thought of as a death metal band, their third album, 2015's The Children of the Night, features a considerably broader influence base than that description might suggest. Yes, Johannes Andersson's vocals are the fairly standard throaty growl, but the music, while still very much metal, is a great deal more melodic than the uninformed listener might expect, early (pre-leather'n'studs) Judas Priest being invoked in places, along with a loose 'goth' feel to much of the rhythm guitar work and even elements of psychedelia. Best tracks? Opener Strange Gateways Beckon, er, opens with a splendid keyboard intro, followed by some neat octave-guitar work, In The Dreams Of The Dead takes the pace down a little, while losing none of the band's power, while Själaflykt is barely metal at all throughout much of its length. Incidentally, bonus track One Hundred Years gives the goth game away fairly comprehensively, being a Cure cover. Gotcha! Martin Borgh guests on Mellotron, with cellos on the album intro, before it all kicks off and strings on quiet, doomy instrumental Cauda Pavonis, plus other background parts here and there. However, I'd be most surprised if it turned out to be genuine, frankly. Given that most modern metal is indescribably awful, this is a very pleasant surprise.
Canadian Tim Karr moved to LA at some point, releasing a solo album as far back as 1989, although I've no idea what he's done in the interim before forming Triggerdaddy. They're something of an LA supergroup, featuring not only our old friend Gilby Clarke, but members of Guns N'Roses (and associated outfits), Alice Cooper's band and Love/Hate, amongst others. What I believe is their sole album to date, 2005's Stereosonic Meltdown, is a neat amalgam of '70s glam (notably T.Rex, who they cover) and the glam/powerpop crossover of some years earlier, typified by the storming pop/punk of Gimme Sum Skin and Can't Get High, although their pointless take on 20th Century Boy and a handful of lesser tracks (on an album barely over half an hour long) whisper, "Lack of material" in my shell-like. Clarke is credited with Mellotron on Shape Of Things 2 Come, but are we seriously supposed to believe that the vaguely flutey sound on the track has anything to do with a real Mellotron? Just because Clarke's used one on several of his own albums doesn't mean that this one's necessarily real and indeed, it isn't. This actually isn't a bad effort at all - Gimme Sum Skin is a minor classic of the genre - but with too much filler, it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this.
Trinket's second album is one of those irritating efforts that appeared under one title (Trinket, in this case, in 1999), only to be reissued, sometimes in amended form/retitled (Set to Explode, 2000), usually due to commercial failure first time round. I'm reviewing the reissue here (beggars can't be choosers, eh?), which drops two tracks from the original (Bruise-Violet Days and Draw The Line) and adds three (opener/hit Boom, Shedding My Skin and Superhuman), although I can't say the additions exactly make the album. The awful Matchbox Twenty are a common comparison, which seems pretty harsh; oh, it's a compliment? It's all a bit academic, anyway; this is the worst kind of 'alt.' rubbish, typified by the breezy Unbehaved and the flaccid Haunt Pallenberg. Less bad (as against 'better') tracks include poppy opener Boom (apparently used on a film soundtrack) and the brassy To Be A Star, but they're unable to rescue this album from complete mediocrity. J. Christopher Arrison plays samplotron, with murky flute and cello parts on Burgundy Shine that do little (read: nothing) to improve a pretty crummy ballad, although, shockingly, it's by no means the worst thing here.
There's been quite a bit of fuss about Netherlanders Trion ever since the release of their 2003 debut, Tortoise. The band (Their name is a conglomeration of 'trio' and Mellotron') is actually a side project (guitarist Eddie Mulder and keyboardist Edo Spanninga usually play in Flamborough Head, while drummer Menno Boomsma hails from Odyssice), formed as a deliberate attempt to play 'seventies' styled progressive music', according to their site, in which they're largely successful. The trouble is, it all seems a bit... ersatz. The all-instrumental material's perfectly good, within its limitations, but the band have no obvious character of their own; the opening title track has a two-chord 'Mellotron' sequence that is one note away from ripping Watcher Of The Skies, before shifting into a solo Hackett feel, although the rest of the album is less openly derivative. The sleeve art is even more derivative than most of the music, unless it's a deliberate joke? It's a dead-ringer for Gentle Giant's Octopus, only with a... tortoise. Oh, it's got to be a joke. Please.
In fairness, the band are perfectly open about their use of samples; their website credits Spanninga with "Flute, Oboe, Strings, Organ, Cello, Vibe and Choir Mellotron samples". See, told you. I like to think I'd have spotted it without help; the chief giveaway is the overly-smooth strings, often shoved right to the front of the mix, although the flutes almost convince, except when they're played slightly faster. No key-click, no hiss, no... grit. Hey, that's Mellotron samples for you. Spanninga oddly chooses to use Mellotron organ samples rather than an actual fake ('actual fake?') Hammond, giving the sounds a rather dull uniformity, to no particular purpose, as they're not even from an actual Mellotron. Anyway, massive use of all seven sounds, particularly the strings and flute, although he holds back on the choirs, making a nice change for a modern prog outfit.
Although Trion had never been intended as anything more than a one-off project, the trio recorded and released Pilgrim in 2007. To be searingly honest, it's not as good as their debut, too many of its tracks veering towards the insipid end of the progressive spectrum, the rather cheesy Reveal The Mystery being an obvious example. Originality isn't at the forefront of the band's concerns, either; a couple of tracks have a distinct 'Canterbury' feel to them, while Blue Shadows sounds like Führs & Fröhling with a hint of The Doors' Riders On The Storm thrown in for good measure. Spanninga expands his sound palette to encompass pseudo-versions of several other vintage 'boards this time round, although those Mellotron samples (chiefly strings with a smattering of flute) still crop up on most tracks, with particularly bad strings on Reveal The Mystery.
Incidentally, I feel I must quote a section from Spanninga's sleevenotes on the subject of Mellotron samples:
|"Proggers expressed their doubts about our use of mellotron samples (instead of using the original mellotron tapes) which is quite hilarious as the mellotron itself is a sampler".|
Er... Isn't that missing the point by a country mile? Or is it just me? No, the Mellotron (note capitalised 'M') is not a sampler; at best it's a sample player (a very different beast). An A/B comparison between a real machine and perfect samples made from that same machine will be pretty much indistinguishable while playing single notes, but as soon as two or more are played together, the samples suddenly sound flat and lifeless, as the sampler reproduces them exactly, rather than with the unintentional imperfections of a real Mellotron that give the machine its 'character'. So no, Edo, it's not the same at all. Also incidentally, the album 'proper' is actually just under fifty minutes long, but the band have included two 'bonus tracks': Out There Somewhere, from The Cyclops Sampler No. 6 and Frank, seemingly a new version of their contribution to Musea/Colossus's The Spaghetti Epic: Six Modern Prog Bands for Six '70s Prog Suites and the best thing here by some way.
After an even longer wait, 2013's Funfair Fantasy is an improvement on its predecessor, although, despite being over twenty minutes shorter than that release, still slightly outstays its welcome. Nothing here offends, although rather too many of its ten pieces have something of that strange beast, the neo-prog instrumental, about them, while Pilgrim's Canterbury influence rears its head on a few tracks, too. Best material? Opener Ampelmännchen, parts of the eleven-minute Scotland, acoustic guitar piece Wandering and the gentle Sealth, perhaps. The samplotron turns up on pretty much every track except Wandering, mostly strings and flutes, although it's possible the considerable vibraphone use is pseudo-Mellotronic, too.
Triosphere started as a three-piece (there's a surprise), releasing their debut, Onwards, in 2006. They're very clearly in thrall to Queensrÿche, despite the occasional bursts of rather needless double-kick work, copying that outfit's patented riffage perfectly. You really can't tell they've got a female vocalist most of the time; Ida Haukland's contralto sounds like your typical prog-metal male tenor for the bulk of the album, thankfully steering well clear of the more typical shrieky female metal vocal clichés, or, indeed, that tedious mock-operatic thing that seems to be so inexplicably popular at the moment. Lumsk's Espen (W.) Godø is credited with Mellotron, but even more than on that band's Det Vilde Kor, its couple of brief appearances here sound fake. Incidentally, I know they've supported them, but covering W.A.S.P.'s Mean Man as a bonus track was a mistake.
Three years on and the band have expanded to a quartet for The Road Less Travelled (UK spelling! Yes!), adding another guitarist to perfect their Queensrÿche twin-lead-and-harmony moves. The material's slightly more mature than before, but at the end of the day, it's a prog metal album and is never going to sound particularly innovative, although there's no denying it's a highly competent recording within its genre. More of Godø's 'Mellotron', particularly the strings on opening instrumental Ignition and at the end of the title track, although it doesn't really sound any more real than before.
Jeff Trott's Dig Up the Astroturf is a rather unexciting singer-songwriter album, 'featuring' various hideously dated production tricks of the looped-rhythm variety, at its least dull on Atomic Halo. Trott is credited with Chamberlin, with vague orchestral sounds here and there and what sounds more like Mellotron choirs on Dalai Lama, while the strings on The Few That Remain aren't striking me as especially authentic.
Troya's sole album is a very typical German progressive release of its time, competent, yet uninspired, with a dearth of either memorable melodies or any great level of complexity. Opener She might be the best thing here, if only for its unusual approach to vocal melodies. Peter Savelsberg is credited with 'Melotron', which is quite clearly a cheap string synth, heard in all its solo glory on Chromatik and Festival, amongst others.
Sérgio Benchimol is one of Brazil's more active progressive musicians, releasing albums as True Illusion and Semente, as well as under his own name. 2000's True Illusion II is a passable release, switching between a rather laid-back progressive feel (opener Maré, Indispensável) and a slightly more aggressive jazz approach (everything else), although I'm afraid to say that it all palls somewhat after half an hour or so. Benchimol adds very obviously sampled 'Mellotron' strings to Indispensável; on the offchance that the word translates as 'indispensible', I can fully assure you it's not. I've heard vastly worse albums than True Illusion II, but then, I've heard vastly better ones, too. It has its moments and as it's available for free, there's nothing to stop you having a listen for yourself, but unless you're big on jazz, you may not wish to bother.
Although most of Americana outfit The Truth & Salvage Co. hail from the East Coast, they coalesced in LA in 2005, releasing their eponymous debut five years later. Truth & Salvage Co. is a good, if not outstanding album, top tracks including Old Piano (perfectly straddling the sincerity/corn divide), Jump The Ship and Rise Up, although nothing here appals. Adam Grace supposedly plays Mellotron, but the overly-smooth strings on Jump The Ship really aren't convincing me, I'm afraid. A good album, then, but not one obviously sporting any real Mellotron.
What to make of Tsuki no Wa (who appear to be almost synonymous with Japanese improv artist Natsume)'s debut, 2000's Ninth Elegy? Its overall feel is sparse and jazzy, typified by opener On Mother's Day and Oka No Ue De (although the two pieces have little else in common), although Yoake No Coffee's ethno-fusion and Festive In Borotanyo's creaky strings rather buck the trend. Best tracks? Hard to say, frankly; closer Going Home's layered vocals are possibly one of the album's most successful experiments, but approaching this record expecting to hear anything even remotely close to the mainstream, even in the jazz world, is to precipitate disappointment. Tetuzi Akiyama allegedly plays Mellotron strings on Festive In Borotanyo, but the samples are so poor (wildly obvious looping and all) that I'm wondering whether they're being ironic. So; not one for R&B fans, then. In fact, not one for non-fans of the avant-garde, end of.
Colin Lloyd-Tucker (with or without the hyphen) is one of British music's nearly-men, having worked with Kate Bush and played in several bands who almost made it, but didn't. 1995's Songs of Life, Love & Liquid could be loosely described as 'psych', which really comes nowhere near covering the range of styles it encompasses. It's at its possible best on opener Song Of Life, Obviously Beautiful, Out Of The Blue and beautiful closer The Last Time I Saw My Dad His Head Was Full Of Dreams, but the omission of a handful of lesser tracks would've improved the end result, I suspect. Lloyd Tucker is credited with Mellotron on Another You, but the two (2) swelling string chords halfway through (plus more in the deep background?) don't really ring true.
White Horses is the kind of Americana album that starts well, then quickly becomes bogged down in overlong material and turgid arrangements, not helped by Kate Tucker's pleasant, yet rather wispy voice. Any highlights? Possibly opener Blue December and the title track, but it's all so relentlessly mid-paced that attention quickly wanders. Blake Wescott is credited with Mellotron, by which I presume they mean the sampled flutes on Where Are You (I Am Already Gone), as the strings on New Orleans and elsewhere couldn't even realistically be described as Mellotron samples.
Named for the 1930s film, Tugboat Annie were yer typical '90s indie band, upbeat, major-key songs with a hint of jangle, heartfelt, lovelorn lyrics... Horrible. Actually, although they don't appear to've had any obvious links with Christianity, their last album (hurrah!), 2000's The Space Around You, sounds like one of those vile, 'transcendent' CCM albums I've felt compelled to play for review rather too often. It has no, make that NO good points. Jon Sulkow plays samplotron, with a string part on Tell Me.
Ronan "Emmanuel Tugny" Prigent is probably better-known for his writing than his music, although he's released several albums over the last few years. Une Fille Pop is the third of these; it isn't hard to see Tugny's literature background, many of its unassuming pop/rock tracks being spoken, rather than sung. I can't say it interested me overmuch; it's probably at its best on the gentle, medieval-flavoured Rusalka (Mermaid). Fred Woff is credited with Mellotron on around half the album, but the strings and occasional flutes are obviously sampled.
Michelle Tumes' debut album was called Listen. Listen. Yes, listen. Listen to me. Do. Not. Buy. This. Album. There, was that clear enough? Imagine an overtly Christian Enya. From Australia. Get the picture? This is really pretty horrible, though it would be less offensive without all the usual God-bothering claptrap. And she's wearing virginal white on the sleeve. Yuck. So why am I even listening to the bloody thing? Usual reason, of course. Supposed Mellotron from Charlie Peacock and guess what? Nope, not 'Strawberry Fields' flutes. Nothing. Nothing audible, anyway. And I sat through this drivel for nothing? Piss off.
KT Tunstall's second album, the appallingly-titled Drastic Fantastic (also let down by its terrible sleeve design) is an acceptable, if rather dull, indie singer-songwriter effort, currently available at a charity shop near you. It's passable for a few tracks, but quickly palls, despite its relatively short length. Best tracks? Probably Beauty Of Uncertainty and closer Paper Aeroplane. Steve Osborne's credited with Mellotron on closer Paper Aeroplane, but I smell samples.
Turin Brakes are sometimes referred to as 'folk', which makes me wonder: just what kind of 'folk' do said referrers listen to themselves? 2007's Dark on Fire is the worst kind of dreary, self-obsessed, whiny British indie you can imagine, wussing along on a road of wuss, emoting frantically, just in case no-one had noticed how sensitive they are. Ugh. Although Gale Paridjanian (one of the band's two full-time members) is credited with Mellotron, although the short flute part at the end of Bye Pod clearly isn't. This is the kind of song that's so achingly contemporary that it'll sound obscenely dated in about two years. Oh, hang on, it's already two years since the album's release, isn't it? Point proven. This is unmitigated shite. Just don't. We Were Here is less offensive, merely very dull, which has to count as an improvement, I suppose. Lyrically, however... "It takes me a light year to move half a mile". D'OH! Ali Staton's 'Mellotron'? What, the flutish sound on Erase Everything?
Old Etonian (on a scholarship, though, so that's OK, apparently) Frank Turner made his name as vocalist with London-based hardcore crew Million Dead before going solo in 2005. 2011's England Keep My Bones is his fourth release, deserving Turner's 'punk/folk' appellation, his shouty vocals reminding me of a vastly better version of the awful New Model Army's more acoustic material. Best tracks? Opener Eulogy sets Turner's stall out with aplomb, the a capella English Curse, followed directly by the punky One Foot Before The Other, while 'secular hymn' Glory Hallelujah succeeds despite featuring the determinedly-ungrammatical line, "There never was no God". Matt Nasir plays supposed Mellotron flutes on Peggy Sang The Blues, but I seriously doubt their veracity. Tape Deck Heart is more of the same, basically; irritatingly, Turner's songs largely revolve around a single subject: how he fucks up relationships (his words, not mine), except when he's writing about his tattoos (yawn). Trouble is, they all merge into each other, like a musical monoculture, although Wherefore Art Thou Gene Simmons and the one where he namechecks Mötley Crüe are at least amusing. Nasir's credited with Mellotron again, but the background flutes and strings on The Way I Tend To Be and the same, plus cellos, on Oh Brother really aren't doing it for me. Be warned, kids: this is what happens when you grow up listening to The Levellers.
Nik Turner really shouldn't need any introduction: an original member of Hawkwind (he allegedly named them), he flitted in and out of the lineup for years before a catastrophic falling-out with chief Hawk Dave Brock, leading to some tiresome legal action regarding band monikers. Hawkwind aside, Nik's already appeared on this site with his other project, the Hawkalike Space Ritual, but his latest solo effort, 2013's Space Gypsy, goes all-out on the space rock front, coming across as a lost Hawkwind album from the mid-'80s. Unfortunately, most of its tracks fall into the 'like Hawkwind, but not as good' category (see: any number of second-rate space rock outfits, not to mention, er, modern Hawkwind), better contributions including opener (and single) Fallen Angel STS-51-L, complete with a bonkers Turner sax solo and Joker's Song. On the acoustic front, Galaxy Rise and Eternity are Demented Man-style offerings, the former featuring a rather odd flute solo that seems to be in a different key to the rest of the song, while The Visitor is more of a Hurry On Sundown-type busk; nothing startling, but at least they break up the potential monotony.
Jurgen Engler and Chris Leitz are credited with Mellotron, with Litmus-style slow, single-note or octave runs on pretty much every track, but I'm having trouble believing that the overly-smooth strings actually emanate from a real machine, to be honest. Whatever produced the sound, it's rather overused, too; less really CAN be more, chaps. All in all, an album for Hawkwind stalwarts who can't get enough psychedelic biker boogie, but with little standout material, it's unlikely to challenge the original band's ten-year run of great albums in many people's opinions.
Despite being a Texan, Steve Turner was intimately involved in the formation of various Seattle-area bands, notably Mudhoney. 2003's disingenuously-titled Searching for Melody sounds nothing like any of them, being Turner's take on traditional folk, unsurprisingly with a punk edge, particularly in the vocal department; think: 'modern Seattle Bob Dylan'. A very listenable album, its best tracks include Living Through The Mistakes, the title track, Smart Operator and a capella closer Last Call. Johnny Sangster plays samplotron on Instro #1, with a reverbed flute part dipping in and out of the mix.
I'm not sure how to describe Tussilago (named for the plant better known as coltsfoot): maudlin indie? Updated goth? Whatever you call it, we get very little harmonic movement within tracks, making five-minute opener Lovesong #1 quite interminable. Samuel Lundin is credited with Mellotron on closer Farewell, but the vague flutes clearly have little to do with a real machine.
On the Mend is a dull, Americana-tinged singer-songwriter effort, with no obvious highlights. Evan Brubaker's Mellotron credit? No idea.
Toronto's Max "Slim Twig" Turnbull apparently recorded A Hound at the Hem in 2010, but sidelined it until 2014. It's a frequently exhilarating ride through decades of pop history, not least ELO's very particular take on the genre, sadly almost ruined by its programmed percussion. Turnbull's occasional not-that-Mellotronic strings and flutes (the latter clearly audible at the end of All The Wanting) consign this to samples, however.
The Twigs play (played?) rather wispy, dual-female-fronted indie, with no obvious highlights on their You Say Ah EP. Linda Good plays obviously sampled Mellotron flutes and strings on Ivy, choirs on Oh Mary and strings on Happiness.
After a 2004 release under their own names, Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury became Twilight Hotel, 2008's Highway Prayer being their second album under their joint moniker. It artfully combines traditional folk with a modern sensibility, particularly in the lyric department, better tracks including rock'n'roll opener Viva La Vinyl, the title track, Shadow Of A Man and The Critic. Richard Bell on supposotron, with more Chamberlin-sounding (mixed?) string parts on If It Won't Kill You and an instrumental take on the same track, closer Best Buds.
The oddly-named Twilight Singers, led by ex-Afghan Whig Greg Dulli, specialise in laid-back melancholia, although, to my ears, they're too 'indie' to be especially interesting. I've seen a reference to trip-hop in a review of Twilight as Played By the Twilight Singers and I can see where the reviewer's coming from, although I'll stick with 'slightly miserablist indie', I think. I'm finding it difficult to come up with anything constructive to say about this album and I'm sure there's plenty of online reviews from people who know what they're talking about, so maybe I'll just stick to commenting on its alleged Mellotron use. Dulli plays it here, with strings all round, pretty upfront on The Twilite Kid and a short part at the end of Love that slips into the next track. More strings on Last Temptation and Railroad Lullaby, all sampled. The Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair EP appeared the week before their next album, featuring a reworking of the old folk tune via Nina Simone. The EP's other two tracks, Domani and Son Of The Morning Star both have a reasonable samplotronic presence, presumably from Dulli, with string parts on both. It's also definitely on said album, Blackberry Belle, which isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although the songs seem more... focussed, somehow. Less irritating, anyway. Better samplotron use, too, from Dulli and Mathias Schneeberger this time, with pretty upfront strings on The Killer, Decatur St. and Papillon, although not so much on Fat City (Slight Return).
I'm afraid to say that after two plays, 2006's Powder Burns just ended up irritating me. I really don't get this 'overwrought indie' thing, I suppose, which describes the Twilight Singers to a T. Speaking of Ts, the samplotron's only actually properly audible on half its credited tracks, with Dulli playing strings on brief opening instrumental Toward The Waves, strings that could have come from almost anything on Bonnie Brae, possible flutes on The Conversation (not very audible here) and strings (alongside real ones) on the title track. Pete Adams plays the album's most audible samplotron part on My Time (Has Come), with a string part that actually stands out from the morass of instrumentation, but nothing here makes you go, "Wow! Mellotron!" (should you be prone to making such announcements). Funnily enough, the same year's A Stitch in Time EP is a far more listenable proposition all round, condensing everything the band do best into twenty-odd minutes, particularly on the incandescent They Ride. One samplotron track, with a rather unexciting background string part on closer The Lure Would Prove Too Much, proving that actually, you can't have it all. After a lengthy break, 2011's Dynamite Steps is their best album since Blackberry Belle, with the proviso that if you can't enter Greg Dulli's world, you're probably not going to get it. Like me. Anyway, better material than on Powder Burns, if less samplotron, with a mere two tracks this time round. Opener Last Night In Town builds up to a crescendo, strings bursting in at the peak, while On The Corner features background string stabs, both from Dulli.
Twin Age produced three albums in the mid- to late '90s, but seem to have gone very quiet lately. Going by the second, Lialim High, unlike several other Swedish bands of that era, they're quite firmly members of the neo-prog camp, with relatively simple song structures, few key changes and a vocalist who seems to aspire to be IQ's Peter Nicholls (who in turn, of course, aspires to be Peter Gabriel...). 1996's Month of the Year (***½), funnily enough, is slightly more adventurous than its follow-up, although there aren't even any Mellotron samples on board, never mind the real thing. The material on Lialim High's not actually bad, better than several similar I've heard lately, but its lack of musical challenge wears me down after a while. Not that I've got a 'thing' about it; I'll quite happily listen to any number of more straightforward acts, but if one aspires to be 'prog', then please BE prog and don't sit on the fence. Jörgen Hanson plays 'Mellotron', although I strongly suspect he's using samples. It's slathered all over every track, although Hanson's use is far from innovative, to be honest; loads of string pads, while the choirs sound strangely muted. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it's samples; the album opens with stately solo Mellotron strings, but it all sounds too... clean. Anyway, if you haven't got a problem with 'neo' stuff, or the possibility that the Mellotron may be fake, you may well like this more than I did.
Wild Onion is Twin Peaks' first full-lengther (their twenty-minute debut really isn't an album, is it?), veering between a kind of heartfelt indie/powerpop hybrid and a punkier version of the style, at its peak (sorry) on Fade Away. Colin Croom and Cadien James are both credited with Mellotron, but the extremely dodgy flutes that open Mirror Of Time and the indifferent cellos and choirs on Ordinary People are clearly nothing of the sort.
Twinklehead's second, eponymous album has a distinct '70s pop vibe to it, with progressive touches in places, surprisingly, highlights including Avenue, Above The Sky and epic closer Forensic Detectives. Vidar Ersfjord (and Henrik Moy Askildsen?) play samplotron strings and flutes across much of the album, particularly upfront on opener After and Above The Sky.
Two Fires. What kind of band would use a name like that? I genuinely didn't have a clue until I pressed 'play', only to hear a '70s-ish hard rock guitar intro that didn't sound too unpleasant. Until... thirty seconds in, the drums kick in and... it's AOR. No! Not a modern AOR album! Please! Not another grab-bag collection of glossy 'commercial' rock clichés thrown together willy-nilly! Please! What is the fascination with this stuff? Given that Aussie AOR god Jimmy Barnes (wasn't he good in the '70s? Maybe not) made an album called Two Fires in 1990, I think we have to assume that this lot are named in honour of. To recap for a moment... As I'm sure you know, the once-behemoth of AOR has contracted to a worldwide huddle of enthusiasts, tied together by the proverbial World Wide Web. The genre always had a plethora of small-time bands hoping to break through from the mid-'70s on, the difference now being that, apart from the handful of giants still left touring the world's arenas, the little guys are all that's left. Sound familiar? Exactly the same thing as progressive rock, of course, although that genre's era was over a decade earlier. Despite the glut of pointless copycat prog (South Americans are particularly culpable here), there is one important difference between the genres: prog was always supposed to be about innovation and at least some modern practitioners still adhere to this principle; AOR was about producing the most commercial rock possible, without tipping over into pop, although, of course, there was always a huge crossover. So; some modern prog still strives to do something new. No AOR, new or otherwise, does anything but copy its predecessors, leaving new AOR albums sounding like nothing more than a pale copy of Foreigner, Journey, et al. and, believe me, Two Fires are no exception.
It turns out they actually have a Journey connection, although the band that springs to mind first is the underrated New England, without their high points. The sense of despair that crept over me as the album progressed (term used very loosely) would have been palpable had anyone else been unlucky enough to be in the room at the same time; this is glossy, superficial fluff of the highest/lowest order. And these qualities are highly regarded in the genre? It's a sick world, brothers and sisters... As if their forbears' albums weren't bad enough, this drivel also goes on seemingly forever, as the band attempts to fill the entire disc up with aural candyfloss, finally grinding to a halt at slightly over an hour. But is there any Mellotron, I hear you cry? (Finally). Joe Marquez is credited and, indeed, there are some distant flutes to be heard on I Believe In You, one of the album's slushier ballads, clearly sampled.
Matthew Tyas? No idea, squire. What I can tell you is that Tribute to Mellotron [sic] is precisely that, an album seemingly recorded using nothing but Mellotron sounds, presumably (given its release date) from the M-Tron. Rhythmically, this is all a bit hard to take, frankly, Folkloric Stuff and Shame On Shame's cha-cha-cha being particularly nasty, the end result sounding like a warped version of something that might've exuded from a sleazy nightclub in 1962. Tyas' MO is to construct a backing track using the rhythm 'tapes', then solo over it using the 'lead' sounds, as you would've done on an actual MkII at the time, more notable parts including the vibes and strings all over Early Night, mandolins and sax on Easy Way Out and flutes and church bell FX on Goths Day Out (OK, the guy's got a sense of humour), while Spotty's Drink ends with the legendary Bill Fransen "Yeah!" and the clunky Mellotron piano turns up on The Man who Walks. Do you need to hear this? Obsessives only, I'd say.
I've always had a bit of a soft (rock) spot for Judie Tzuke; she had quite a way with a tune on her first several albums and her first live release, Road Noise, is well worth hearing. I have to admit, however, that I'd lost interest some years before her tenth studio release, 1996's Under the Angels... Hearing it over fifteen years on and a rather scary thirty since I first saw her live, I can say that it's a very pleasant, inoffensive album of, well, soft rock, I suppose, similar to her early work, although without its obvious highs. Better tracks include typically Tzukian opener Two Mountains, the title track, which could easily be an outtake from one of her early releases, Without Love and mini-epic Joan Of Arc, although the record as a whole bears a distinct air of treading water. Someone plays a murky Mellotron string sample solo on the title track, but it's hardly anything to write home about. Those who, like me, lost faith in Judie over the years will, in Under the Angels, find an album that's probably best described as 'another Judie Tzuke record'; you know what you're going to get, up to you whether you want it.