Life on a String (2001, 44.12) ***/½
|One White Whale
The Island Where I Come From
Pieces and Parts
Here With You
Statue of Liberty
One Beautiful Evening
Life on a String
Laurie Anderson entered the public consciousness, of course, with 1981's very strange O Superman, one of the oddest songs ever to've almost hit the top spot on the UK charts. Her status as performance artist par excellence was sealed many years ago, her innovations including a violin fitted with a tape head instead of strings and a bow strung with a length of tape, making 2001's Life on a String sound fairly normal in comparison. It could be described as avant-garde jazz classical, for want of a better phrase, although none of those sobriquets really fit tracks like My Compensation or Dark Angel.
Mitchell Froom plays Mellotron on three tracks, with near-inaudible flutes on Pieces And Parts, and completely inaudible somethings on Broken and One Beautiful Evening, making you wonder why anyone bothered, really. So; a reasonable Laurie Anderson album, but a fairly useless Mellotron one.
Coloursound (2001, 40.50) ***½/T
|Sitting on a Cloud
Blackboard of Your Mind
Mind Meld Mud
Feet of the Guru
Hole in the Sky
So in Love With You Girl
Poppies Pansies and Tea
Red Chalk Hill
|Never Stop Being '67
The Coke Jingle
The first time I saw Anderson Council's name I laughed out loud; for those at the back, The Pink Floyd (as they were originally known) named themselves after the forenames of two otherwise utterly obscure bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. For the three of you who didn't know the story...
Coloursound (note British spelling, probably from the FX pedal manufacturer) is an utter magpie of an album, copping ideas right, left and centre (note British spelling) from the original UK psych scene, with a few later powerpop tricks thrown in for good measure. The trouble is, as other online reviewers have pointed out, it's so slavishly copyist that the band forgot to put anything of themselves in it. Leslie'd vocal? Check. References to drinking tea? Check. Fake British accents? Check. It's a good album, but it's never going to be in any danger of being a great one. The two fake period-piece Coke commercials are amusing, but for how many times?
Beautifully full-on, very real-sounding Mellotron flutes on Mind Meld Mud, from Peter Horvath, although that's it on the 'Tron front. I suppose the Floyd didn't use one on Piper..., so getting one on here at all is a bit heretical. Anyway, definitely a fun listen, but you probably won't be digging this one out every week. File behind The Dukes of Stratosphear. Definitely behind.
See: Pink Floyd
Writer of Songs (1972, 43.12) ***/T½
In the Darkness
Gift of a Brand New Day
Anna (My Love)
Born on the Breeze
When I am Old One Day
Writer of Songs
Harvey Andrews is a Birmingham-born singer-songwriter, of the kind all-too often lazily and inaccurately described as 'folk'. His second album, 1972's Writer of Songs, features guest spots from a host of 'names', not least Danny Thompson, Daves Pegg and Mattacks (Fairport Convention), Ralph McTell, Cozy Powell and Rick Wakeman (on piano). It does exactly what it says on the tin, highlights including Hey! Sandy (written for a victim of the recent Kent State U. shootings), the excellent Unaccompanied (which also does what it says on the tin) and the harrowing Soldier (apparently the subject of a ludicrous unofficial BBC ban), although fans of the style will have little to complain about with anything here. Criticism? Although I've heard far worse offenders, the album suffers a little from that late '60s/early '70s insistence on 'smoothing over' singer-songwriter material with extraneous arrangement, sometimes affecting the songs' ability to breathe.
Ted Taylor (he of 'awful sixteen-voice Mellotron choir recording' fame) plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks, with lush MkII strings on Boothferry Bridge and more of the same plus a flute solo on Born On The Breeze. To be honest, you're probably not going to bother with this for its Mellotron use, but it's a good example of a folky singer-songwriter album of its day.
Verfallen (2011, 52.55) ***½/TT
Alpha Centauri Stone
Baritøne Stepsøne (reprise)
Anechoic are led by Peter Scartabello, also of Sky Shadow Obelisk, although that outfit's full-on doom is replaced on 2011's Verfallen by an intriguing mixture of progressive, darkwave, psych and (the slightly inevitable) doom, to name but four of the genres it mines. The album (their third) shifts between the psychedelia of The Keep, the suitably avant-proto-prog of Cluster, the experimentation of Heeyoum and the progressive hard rock of Alpha Centauri Stone, although its most impressive track is possibly the solo Mellotron frenzy of Yuggothian Landscape.
David McNally plays an upfront Mellotron flute part on The Keep, while Yuggothian Landscape has cellos grinding away on the intro, joined by strings and flutes later on, all sounding wobbly enough to be genuine. Those of you who were put off by Sky Shadow Obelisk's heavily metallic overtones may find Anechoic more to your liking, although the album's stylistic variety conspires to make it a little uneven.
Official Peter Scartabello site
See: Sky Shadow Obelisk
Anekdoten (Sweden) see:
Ange (France) see:
Angel (US) see:
Stars Below (2000, 42.40) ****/TTT
|Je Suis Partie Pour ne Pas Revenir
Cloud Street (2003, 38.59) ***½/TT½
In the Tall Grass
Pipes of Pan
She Was Here
Angel Provocateur are part of the Ventricle Records interlinked group of darkwave outfits, along with the better-known (relatively speaking) Mauve Sideshow, concentrating on 'ethereal female vocals', not to mention a goodly helping of the mighty 'Tron. Their second release, Stars Below, is most certainly ethereal, with no discernable rhythms, and the only credited instruments being 'voice, Mellotron and electronics'. Dusty Lee's Mellotron takes a while to come in, but after the title track's faint cellos, Angelhaze consists almost entirely of voice and 'Tron strings, heavily reverbed, setting the pattern for the rest of the album's Mellotron use, although there's also a short burst of flutes on Je Suis Partie Pour Ne Pas Revenir. I have to say this is, while largely formless, quite beautiful in places; I expect it's meant to be listened to by candlelight, and that sounds like the best listening environment for this drifting, almost elegiac music.
Three years on, its follow-up, Cloud Street, is effectively more of the same; I found it just marginally less engaging, although I've no idea why. Maybe because I'm beginning to feel I've heard it all before? There's little obvious difference between these two albums, and you feel Ventricle could go on churning these out until the sun goes cold, although I suppose that's a little uncharitable. Anyway, although there's a touche of background 'Tron strings (from Lee again, of course) on In The Tall Grass, the first major use occurs in Rapunzel, with full-on strings and flutes, right at the front of the mix, with more strings on Her Window. However, the album's real 'Tron track is also its longest, the eight minutes-plus Castle Walls, with stacks of strings and flutes; very nice.
So; if slightly experimental stuff's your bag, Angel Provocateur shouldn't disappoint, although they're considerably less 'out there' than Mauve Sideshow. Nice 'Tron, too, on both albums. Buy.
See: Kangaroo Kourt | Mauve Sideshow | Steeple of Fyre | Torn Curtain
Änglagård (Sweden) see:
Flukt (2008, 34.24) ***½/TU.F.O. (Intro)
Silent Light, Alien Night
A Song to the Sky
The Astroid Haemorhoids and the Drunken Sailor
Slaves of Mental Distortion
Angst Skvadron are comprised of members of various other Norwegian bands playing under initials, chiefly T.B., a.k.a. Thondr Nefas (so not T.N.?) on vocals, guitar and bass, and L.F.F., a.k.a. Lars Fredrik Frøislie, known to us for his sterling analogue work with Wobbler, White Willow and a host of other Norwegian outfits. Frøislie actually plays drums here, unexpectedly, also playing the more typical MiniMoog, ARP Axxe, Clavinet, Korg Polysix and, of course, M400. I've seen Flukt described as 'melodic black metal', which strikes the non-believer as a bit silly; it's a relatively melodic metal album, never mind the sub-sub-sub-genre, with rather growly vocals that stop short of the full death-grunt.
Frøislie's keyboard work crops up here and there, though is far from ubiquitous, with sequenced ARP on U.F.O. (Intro), modulated Mini on A Song To The Sky, Polysix parts on a couple of tracks and what's with the 'Close Encounters' theme that opens the stupendously-titled The Astroid Haemorhoids And The Drunken Sailor? He only obviously uses his 'Tron once, with cellos and strings in the quiet end section in The Astroid Haemorhoids (etc.), although it's possible it's elsewhere, using an unusual sound, buried away in the mix.
So; modern metal that doesn't actually aurally crush the listener to an untimely death. Having just been subjected to a weekend of such things, I can say that this is a joy to listen to in comparison (I mean, have you ever HEARD Machine Head?), although it's unlikely to appeal to the average old-school hard rock fan. Only slightly over a minute of Mellotron on the whole record, too, but it's a good minute.
See: Wobbler | White Willow
The Nightmare Becomes Reality (2011, 47.21) ****/TTTT
|Voices From Beyond
Corridor of Blood
Passage of Darkness
Feast of Feralia
|The Nightmare Becomes Reality
Things to Come
The Dead Will Walk the Earth
Upon Darkened Stains (2014, 60.54) ****/TTT½
|Blessing of the Dead
Illusion is the Catalyst
Fear Will Pass Over Your Mind
The Darkest Pattern
The Carrion Crow
|Echoing the Red
First Snow on the Last Ashes
Halls of Death
Anima Morte (which I suspect is the Latin for 'zombie') are led by multi-instrumentalist Fredrik Klingwall (Rising Shadows), whose raison d'être seems to be to recreate Goblin's horror flick soundtrack/prog approach, updating it with heavier guitars and modern production techniques. After a sample-using debut, 2011's The Nightmare Becomes Reality is a triumph of doomy key changes and analogue keyboards, although I'm not fully convinced by the cod-Dario Argento sleeve imagery. Best tracks? This is a 'listen to in one go'-type album; attempting to pick out highlights is futile, as is resistance. A cursory glance at the album's credits will inform you that none other than Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, a million others) plays on the album, albeit in his traditional 'percussives' role, although it's obviously his Mellotron(s) we're hearing. Klingwall plays male voice choir on all but one track, adding strings to Contamination, Feast Of Feralia and Things To Come and flutes to Solemn Graves and Delirious, the title track being the lone (seemingly) Mellotron-free effort. So why only four Ts? Most of the choir work is a tad unimaginative, merely block chords layered over whatever else is going on, but when there's this much Mellotron to be heard, who's complaining?
Album no.3, 2014's Upon Darkened Stains, follows on more obviously from its predecessor than their debut (unsurprisingly), although the extra fifteen minutes' length (longer tracks, not more of them) doesn't really do it many favours. Because? Although only two of its twelve tracks top the six- (in fact, the seven-) minute barrier, much of the material outstays its welcome by a minute or more. Not that it's any of my business, but some editing might have improved the end result. Top tracks? Piano-led opener Blessing Of The Dead, Interruption and The Darkest Pattern, perhaps, making me think I might prefer their less full-on material. Mellotron across the board, although my mild complaint from Nightmare... crops up again: too much block-chordal male choir, thus the lower-than-it-might-have-been rating.
Overall, then, if you like the sound of dark, soundtracky prog (think: Morte Macabre), you really can't go too far wrong with these.
See: Samples etc. | Rising Shadows
Anka (1974, 32.35) **/TTT
|Bring the Wine
One Man Woman/One Woman Man
Something About You
(You're) Having My Baby
Let Me Get to Know You
Love is a Lonely Song
How Can Anything Be Beautiful (After You)
I Gave a Little and Lost a Lot
It Doesn't Matter Anymore
Feelings (1975, 33.49) **/T
|Anytime (I'll Be There)
I Don't Like to Sleep Alone
Out of My Mind in Love
It's So Sad to See the Old Hometown Again
(I Believe) There's Nothing Stronger
Than Our Love
Today, I Became a Fool
|Girl, You Turn Me on
Water Runs Deep
Paul Anka remains best-known for his early work, including Diana, Oh Carol and the English lyrics to My Way (he didn't actually write the song, contrary to popular opinion), although he remains musically active to the present day. In the mid-'70s, he was making soft pop albums, very much in contemporary style and still having hits, not least his doubtless unintentionally creepy US no.1, (You're) Having My Baby. Its parent album, '74's Anka, is actually a perfectly good album of its type, assuming you like its type, balancing on a knife-edge between mainstream pop and loungey MOR, including another major hit, his paean to 'playing away', One Man Woman/One Woman Man. What was that I was saying about creepy lyrics? Anyway, most unexpectedly, the album's stuffed with Mellotron, presumably played by either John Harris or Anka himself. The funny thing is, a few tracks have real strings, so it wasn't as if they didn't have the budget; maybe they actually, y'know, liked the sound? Anyway, we get flutes and strings on opener Bring The Wine and I Gave A Little And Lost A Lot, strings on Something About You, including a brief solo, a semi-infamous flute part on (You're) Having My Baby, with more strings on Love Is A Lonely Song and Papa, making for a remarkably 'Tron-heavy album in the field.
The following year's Feelings takes a backwards step, being even more traditionally balladic than its predecessor, most tracks smothered in real strings. There's nothing here as creepy as the hits from Anka, but then, nothing catches the ear like them, either, making for a bland, faceless album from someone who should've been able to do better. The album's worst crime isn't leaving you feeling vaguely soiled, just vaguely bored, exacerbated by a severe lack of Anka's Mellotron use, with nowt but a melodic flute part on closer Water Runs Deep, probably played by Barry Beckett.
Well, do you want to hear loads of Mellotron, well-played and recorded? Yup? Get hold of a copy of Anka, then, if you can bear it, although Feelings is pretty much a no-hoper on the 'Tron front.
Lost in the Woods (2007, 23.06) ***½/TTLost in the Woods
Sailing on the River Styx
The Dark Lord
Leviathan (2014, 48.32) ****/TTTT
i) The Traveller, part I
ii) The Sailors, part I
iii) In Limbo at 5000 Fathoms
iv) Maybe They Sailed Out Too Far?
v) Between Scylla and Charybdis
vi) The Sailors, part II
vii) Interstellar Foe
The Colour Out of Space
The Mountains of Madness
i) The Elder Ones
ii) 47°9 S 126°43 W
iii) Every Man for Himself
iv) In the Wake of Cthulhu
v) The Traveller, part II
Annot Rhül are, essentially, Sigurd Lühr Tonna's solo project. His/their first release, 2006's Who Needs Planes or Time Machines, When There's Music & Daydreams? (reviewed here) uses Mellotron samples, but the following year's Lost in the Woods, while far less eclectic than its predecessor (more dark psychedelia, I suppose), is, for this reviewer at least, a more satisfying listen. While several tracks are almost darkwave-influenced, closer The Dark Lord suddenly goes all sort of Scandinavian prog/metal on us, moving away from the ever-present Saucerful of Secrets/Ummagumma Floyd vibe of the rest of the EP. Real and sampled Mellotron this time round (thanks to Sigurd for the info), played by him, with a brief flute part and choirs in the opening title track, cellos on the outro to Ghost Children and strings and choir on The Dark Lord. All other Mellotron parts (and it's pretty much all over every track, especially Deadly Nightshade) are from the M-Tron, for technical reasons. So, Mellotron, anyone? That's more like it.
Seven years on, Tonna finally produces a new Annot Rhül album, 2014's heavily Lovecraft-inspired Leviathan. Highlights include the stately The Mountains Of Madness and the epic R'Lyeh, while psych fans may prefer The Colour Out Of Space, but with no obvious filler, this is a distinct improvement on its distant predecessor. I believe not only Tonna, but Lars (surname unknown) from Seid and the ubiquitous Lars Fredrik Frøislie all play (Frøislie's?) Mellotron, with considerable string use on Leviathan Suite and The Colour Out Of Space, flutes and choirs on Surya, vibes on Distant Star, strings all over The Mountains Of Madness, along with what sound like Mellotron tubular bells and brass on R'Lyeh, amongst other use. I'd be lying if I said that the Floyd aren't an ever-present influence, but the sheer quality of the music on offer here transcends minor quibbles such as who influenced whom.
The Who Needs Planes.../Lost in the Woods twofer is worth a flutter, despite its minor inconsistencies, but Leviathan's the Annot Rhül album to go for. Excellent.
See: Samples etc.
Electronic Church Muzik (2011, 64.05) ****/TT
The Language of the Body
Eye of Agamoto
The Guff (Hall of Souls)
Mallard Flies Towards Heaven
Ant-Bee's Sunday Supper
The Wrath - Part One
Secrets of the Dead
Pennies From Heaven
|The Wrath - Part Two
The Lord's Prayer
Don't You Ever Learn
Berklee graduate Billy "The Ant-Bee" James is a current psychedelic explorer whose career kicked off in the late '80s, although 2011's Electronic Church Muzik is only his fourth release in two decades. James has pulled together a stellar cast, contributors including Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth (Gong), Michael Bruce (the original Alice Cooper Group), Peter Banks (Yes), Jan Akkerman (Focus), the late Bruce Cameron and several members of his beloved Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. It's hard to say for sure, but the album seems to have some kind of religious connection, not only in its title, but in the choral parts on several tracks, not to mention the disc's dedication 'to God'. It couldn't be further from your typical CCM horror, though, more an updating of David Axelrod's work on The Electric Prunes' Mass in F Minor.
So what does it sound like? True psychedelia, is the answer, in that every track sounds different to every other, sound effects are practically obligatory and nothing here could even remotely be described as 'normal'. Individual examples include Eye Of Agamoto, which sounds like Gentle Giant channelling Zappa, Sunday Supper credits 'Michael Bruce (vocal), Chickens (chickens)' and he ain't kiddin', Mannah is effectively a jaw-dropping Akkerman solo acoustic guitar piece, while Psalm 23 and Hallelujah form a two-for-the-price-of-one psychedelic church experience. So what does James himself do? Apart from composing, it seems he's overall co-ordinator, playing percussion on most tracks, plus tape manipulation, the occasional guitar part and... Mellotron.
Billy plays his M400 on four tracks, with flutes and cellos all over the gentle Flutter-Bye, Butter-Flye, flutes on Mannah and The Wrath - Part One and strings on Don't You Ever Learn. All in all, Electronic Church Muzik is a roller-coaster ride of an album, endlessly inventive, deeply eccentric and more than worthy of your attention. Incidentally, James plays Mellotron on 1994's With My Favorite "Vegetables" & Other Bizarre Muzik; review forthcoming when I get to hear a copy.