Diez & Bischof
I Dik Dik
Dice (1978, 45.47) ****½/TTTT½Alea Iacta Est
The Utopian Suntan
The Venetian Bargain
At the Gate of Entrudivore
The Four Riders of the Apocalypse (1992, recorded 1977, 38.54) ****½/TTTT½
|Dance of the Devils
Dice were a superb, if little-known Swedish band from the late '70s; they only released one album in their lifetime, and neither of the above are easily available, even now. Four Riders was a mono demo recorded around 1977, remixed for stereo in the '90s. All instrumental, it is a superb piece of work; full-blown symphonic progressive, the material is melodic and memorable, unlike many of their more highly-rated contemporaries. I spent most of the album wondering where I'd heard the style before, until it suddenly hit me: Focus. Dice were the natural inheritors of the slightly jazzy, complex symphonic sound of Focus at their best, which is the sort of recommendation it's difficult to ignore. The album's themes move through all the expected moods given the subject matter; stirring martial stuff in War and a rather doomy feel to the other three tracks, with much Mellotron throughout from Leif Larsson.
Their self-titled official debut is every bit as good as their early demo, although the vocals are a tad unnecessary in places. If anything, there's even more Mellotron on Dice than Four Riders, with some excellent material to boot, with The Utopian Suntan being a sardonic reflection on the subject of the destruction of the ozone layer, some years ahead of the general public's perception of the issue. As the sleeve notes say, "This is a catchy tune about epithelial cancer". Follies appears to be about schizophrenia, so you can hardly accuse Dice of not tackling the issues of the (or any) day. Its long drawn-out coda consists of probably the slowest 'speed-up' I've ever heard, taking several minutes from the first perceptible pitch shift to the final high-speed squeak.
So, I recommend both albums highly, assuming you can find them. There's also a live album, Live Dice (****), recorded in 1979, but upon close scrutiny, it would appear to be entirely Mellotron-free. As for their two studio albums, however; buy? BUY OR DIE!
Dawn of the Dickies (1979, 29.35/34.16) ***½/½
|Where Did His Eye Go?
Manny, Moe and Jack
I'm a Chollo
Nights in White Satin
(I'm Stuck in a Pagoda With) Tricia Toyota
I've Got a Splitting Hedachi
|Attack of the Mole Men
She Loves Me Not
Bowling With Bedrock Barney]
The Dickies burst onto the moribund punk scene in 1979, spreading a little Californian sunshine with ridiculous covers of some of rock's sacred cows: Eve Of Destruction, Paranoid, The Sound Of Silence, Nights In White Satin, fer Chrissakes! Their debut album, The Incredible Shrinking Dickies, kept everything short and simple, despite having a keyboardist/saxophonist in the band in the form of Bob "Chuck Wagon" Davis, who tragically committed suicide a mere two years later. They followed up later the same year with Dawn of the Dickies, breaking the three-minute barrier on most tracks and allowing themselves a bit of leeway on the arrangement front, although the pace is largely still frantic throughout. Several tracks are clearly L.A. in-jokes - I mean, who outside Southern California knows what a chollo is? (A male of Hispanic descent, for what it's worth), but I think it's fair to say they're neither the first nor last band to write about their surroundings.
Chuck Wagon and possibly vocalist Leonard Graves Phillips are credited with Mellotron, amongst other keys, but you need bat-ears to hear it, to be honest. It could be mixed right in the background on a few tracks, but the only place I can even possibly spot it is on the album's, er, 'epic', Attack Of The Mole Men, with some background choirs, just about audible reverbing away as the track ends, but I'm really clutching at straws here. Not even anything on Nights In White Satin. Seriously, if it wasn't credited I'd have chucked this out (figuratively speaking) already; not a 'Tron classic, then...
An amusing album that defines a time and a place for many old punkers, as Brits would NEVER call them. Just don't even remotely think about getting this for any spurious Mellotron content. Just in case.
Mike Dickson (UK) see:
Daybreak (1975, 37.57) **½/½
Out of My Mind
The Day Looks Good
I Just Killed a Stranger
Time Passed By
Stealing the Show
Stars in My Eyes
To my knowledge, Frank Diez and Peter Bischof-Fallenstein only recorded the one album together, 1975's Daybreak, for which we should probably all be thankful. Given that this is sometimes labelled 'krautrock' (note 'current availability'), it's actually soft-rock hell, not even remotely progressive, let alone experimental. I won't deny it has its moments, not least the opening title track, the rock-ish Out Of My Mind and the quiet bits of Skyman, while gentle instrumental Salon Imaginaire isn't too bad, but the likes of The Day Looks Good and closer Stars in My Eyes drag the whole thing down.
Diez plays Mellotron choirs on Turnaround (doubled with real voices?), although the mawkish I Just Killed A Stranger features a fairly obvious string synth. Seriously, this barely scrapes that extra half star.
Affinity (1995, 62.50) ***/0
|The Frankenhooker's Just Alive
You Don't Know...
How Can I Get Breakthrough?
All Along the Night I Fly
You Don't Know (Flash Back)
The interestingly-spelled Differance were one of Masashi Kitamura's post-Ybo² projects, although I believe their last release predated his untimely death in 2006 by some years. Probably unsurprisingly, 1995's Affinity combines prog, avant-prog, funk, fucked-up rock'n'roll and a dozen other genres, to the point where every track sounds pretty much different to every other. Opener The Frankenhooker's Just Alive gives the impression that we're going to get an album of jamming hard rock, sort-of continued on You Don't Know..., but C'mon Everybody is Eddie Cochran as you've never heard him before, while You Don't Know (Flash Back) consists of no more than an insanely flanged guitar and psychedelic vocal effects and the closing title track sounds like something from side four of Physical Graffiti. And that's just half the LP...
Kitamura supposedly plays Mellotron on the last two tracks, but I'm not exaggerating when I say I'd love to know what and where. The faintest of faint strings on both? Who knows? Not me. One for fans of semi- (but only semi-) 'out there' Japanese psych-informed music, then, but not one for anyone wishing to hear some Mellotron.
Knuckle Down (2005, 57.14) ***/T½
Seeing Eye Dog
Angela "Ani" DiFranco (pron. 'Arnie') has been making records for twenty years now, 2005's Knuckle Down being something like her fourteenth. It hasn't exactly garnered universal praise from her fans, but then, these are probably the same people who berated the bisexual DiFranco for marrying (THE HORROR!) a man in 1998. To the uninitiated, it comes across as a slightly jazzy, slightly off-kilter modern singer-songwriter effort where, as is usual in this ragbag genre, the lyrics often take precedence over the music, although DiFranco's acoustic guitar work is one of the album's highlights, pushing genre boundaries harder than most of her contemporaries.
The ubiquitous Patrick Warren does his Chamberlin thing here, with subtle string interjections on Sunday Morning and Lag Time, plus flutes on Modulation, although you'd hardly call it one of the album's lodestones. Overall, then, a decent enough effort, assuming DiFranco's feminist message and unusual stylistic quirks are to your taste, although you're probably not going to bother for Warren's Chamby use.
See: Samples etc.
God's Empty Chair (2001, 48.54) ***½/T
|Find Your Own Way
Cats in the Aviary
Bathe My Heart
One Robe One Bowl
God's Empty Chair
Cats in the Aviary (acoustic)
Just for once, with regard to Santa Cruz native Becki DiGregorio, I agree with the online hagiographers; going by her second album, 2001's God's Empty Chair (a Kerouac quote), she really is at the superior end of the singer-songwriter spectrum. Album highlights include the stomping Cats In The Aviary, the powerpopish Love Can and the instrumental title track, but, if truth be told, there isn't a bad track here. What's her secret? I suspect the touch of psychedelia that pervades many of its tracks, lifting them well above the average. Would I be right in thinking she's never played Lilith Fair?
XTC's Dave Gregory plays (his own?) M400, with relatively unobtrusive strings on One Robe One Bowl, which still manage to leave their mark. I'm not trying to claim Joni Mitchell-esque greatness for Ms. DiGregorio, but this is a fine album. Worth hearing.
Suite Per Una Donna Assolutamente Relativa (1972, 40.55) ***½/TT
La Cattedrale dell'Amore
Monti e Valli
I Dik Dik are yet another of the legions of early-'70s progressive bands in Italy, many of who released just one or maybe two poorly-selling albums. Like many others, they came from the '60s beat scene, later descending back into commercialism, leaving (deep breath) Suite Per Una Donna Assolutamente Relativa as their sole progressive legacy. It appears to be a concept album, although I've no idea what the concept may actually be; whether the cleaning lady (Donna?) on the cover is involved can only be a matter for conjecture, until someone enlightens me. The music is the usual highly melodic, keyboard-driven prog, probably somewhere in the middle of the quality range, so 'good, without being outstanding'.
Difficult to say precisely, but I believe the Mellotron was played by longstanding keys man Mario Totaro (or Todaro?); sounds like a MkII, though it's hard to tell. Mostly, he used it for background strings, though there's a 'Tron flute intro on Il Cuore, and a more upfront strings part on La Cattedrale Dell'Amore, although it has to be said, some of the string parts sound more like a string section than a Mellotron.
Anyway, yet another entrant in the 'good early-'70s Italian prog' stakes, loosely comparable to Latte e Miele, say, rather than the further out-there antics of Osanna et al. Worth hearing, though the 'Tron work rarely rises above 'ordinary'.
101 Tambourines (2007, 47.51) ***/TT
|Ready to Go
Brightly Lit New Dark Ages
Don't You Ever Fall
The Whole World
You're Gonna Need More Time
Never Go Without
Kiss & Run
What Were You Thinking?
In 101 Tambourines, The Dilettantes, 'partly led' by The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Joel Gion, have produced an album of two halves, excellent, powerpop-into-psych stuff like opener Ready To Go, the Byrdsian Brightly Lit New Dark Ages and Like Crazy being held back by the likes of You're Gonna Need More Time or the dreary, overlong Never Go Without.
Ben Ipekjian plays real-sounding Mellotron on three tracks, clustered together in the middle of the album, with reverbed-to-fuck strings opening Like Crazy, also appearing later in the track, with more of the same on Marzipan and Never Go Without; note the distinctive 'choked off' note on the last-named. I don't believe the band recorded again; a shame, as they could have produced a classic if they'd had another try.
See: Joel Gion
Don't Lie to the Band (1976, 44.38) ***/T½Two Time Love
It's Not All Mine
I don't know if Dillinger suffered comparisons with the contemporaneous reggae singer, but I've always confused them with Derringer, although the names aren't that similar. Their eponymous debut album sounds like it could be quite interesting, featuring a side-long piece, but their second and last effort, Don't Lie to the Band, despite frequently being referred to as 'progressive', is a rather middling, straightforward rock album with only slight progressive leanings. The best tracks tend to be the longest (big surprise there), with top marks going to Munchkin Men, despite the rather unfortunate 'Munchkin chorus' that crops up halfway through, and Coming Home.
Vocalist/keys man Jacques Harrison adds Mellotron to a handful of tracks, with not especially forceful string parts on their cover of Spooky Tooth's Two Time Love, Munchkin Men and Coming Home, plus cellos on the latter. Overall, an OK album, but is 'OK' good enough? With so much great music out there, you probably don't need to put this too high on your 'wants' list. Incidentally, the band eventually morphed into hard rock crew The Hunt, although no members played on their 'Mellotron Album', Back on the Hunt.
See: The Hunt
Nobody's Sweetheart (2003, 53.10) ***½/T
|Feel the Way I Do
It Must Be Love
Let's Go for a Drive
A Girl Like Me
The Silent You
Now You're Mine
Can't Make You Stay
Don't Blame You Now
Sandy Dillon's an American singer-songwriter who relocated to the UK after recording two unreleased albums. She married a British guitarist, Steve Bywater and made several albums with him before his untimely death in 2001. 2003's Nobody's Sweetheart is her first subsequent album and is, unsurprisingly, full of songs of regret and longing. So far, so what? What lifts her above her contemporaries, however, is a refusal to play the game and make bland, pointless music to which lonely young women can relate, opting instead for a more individual vision and abrasive sound; even the quieter tracks sound somewhat on the tortured side (note: this is a good thing...).
Dillon herself plays Mellotron on two tracks, with (sorry) ethereal strings on Let's Go For A Drive and something completely inaudible on Can't Make You Stay. So; an unusual, individual album to which you could still loosely attach the 'singer-songwriter' tag, although its Mellotronic input is fairly low. Worth hearing anyway.
Dimmornas Bro (1977, 38.19) ***½/TLåt det Inte Gå ut Över Mig
Fängelset Skolan Alltså
Och Sen Då.....
Dimmornas Bro (named for what appears to be the Swedish title for the 1940 film Waterloo Bridge) were a late '70s Swedish pop/prog outfit, whose eponymous debut is actually rather better than that sounds. Admittedly, material such as opener Låt Det Inte Gå Ut Över Mig, Grisflykten and Fängelset Skolan Alltså have rather too much of the sub-Kayaks about them, but acoustic guitar instrumental Gullänget and the two (relatively) full-on prog numbers, Romeo and Nånting Sällsamt, are well worth hearing. The overall effect should be irritating, but the band manage to transcend their commercial inclinations well enough to make for a decent listen several decades later.
Staffan Hellstrand's string synth provides most of the album's strings work, but we're definitely hearing a Mellotron on a couple of tracks, with flutes on Romeo, a high string line and flutes on Och Sen Då..... and a barely-audible strings pitchbend at the end of Nånting Sällsamt to close the album. This doesn't seem to be on CD (not prog enough for Mellotronen or Record Heaven?), but the whole album's up on YouTube. A (very) cautious recommendation, then.
Pat DiNizio (2007, 29.31) ***½/T½
|Since You Went Away
Night Without Sleep
Any Other Way
I Need You
Don't Look Now
Pat DiNizio is mainman of New Jersey's Smithereens, concurrently running a sporadic solo career, 2007's ludicrously short eponymous release being his third in a decade. When I say 'short', I mean (as you can see) 'under half an hour', some tracks actually fading before you feel they're done, which makes for an unusual turnaround from the more typical scenario. Unlike DiNizio's previous solo efforts, apparently, this is not dissimilar to his work with his main outfit, top tracks including opener Since You Went Away, the raucous Wonderful, Any Other Way and closer Don't Look Now, but not only does he appear to be incapable of writing a bad song, but the album's short enough to suggest self-editing, so maybe we're simply not getting to hear the second-rate stuff.
Kurt Reil plays Mellotron (as he does with The Smithereens), with strings on Since You Went Away and Sometimes, presumably from a real M400. Pat DiNizio is a fine album, fearlessly melodic and uncompromisingly powerpop; if you just can't get enough jangle for your jingle (huh?), apply here.
The Great Pretender (1974, 38.06) **½/T
|The Great Pretender
Yellow Rose Express
Sunday Morning Fool
Last Dance in Salinas
Tattooed Man From Chelsea
Woman of Aran
Although the intriguingly-named Michael Dinner began his career as a country singer, he subsequently moved into film production, finally finding success in that area. His first album (of two), 1974's The Great Pretender, is a proper, trad country release, of the kind that can sell millions with the right promotion. However, given that he was signed to the same label as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that this record effectively sank without trace. It occasionally deviates from the country template, notably on the rocking Tattooed Man From Chelsea and the country/blues of Woman Of Aran, its best tracks probably being the aforementioned Tattooed Man... and epic country closer Texas Knights.
John Boylan plays Mellotron on two tracks, with string parts on Icarus and Texas Knight, that sound, although the album features names of the calibre of Linda Ronstadt, Andrew Gold and pedal-steel god "Sneaky Pete" Kleinow, like an attempt to substitute for a real string section. Anyway, if you don't like mainstream country, you're probably not going to want to hear this, but it does what it does well and avoids most of the horrid Nashville clichés of the era.
Green Mind (1991, 41.33) ***½/TWagon
Puke + Cry
How'd You Pin That One on Me
Blowing it/I Live for That Look
Without a Sound (1994, 45.58) ***/½
|Feel The Pain
I Don't Think So
Get Out of This
|On the Brink
Seemed Like the Thing to Do
Over Your Shoulder
I Bet on Sky (2012, 47.03) ***/T
|Don't Pretend You Didn't Know
Watch the Corners
Stick a Toe in
I Know it Oh So Well
Pierce the Morning Rain
What Was That
See it on Your Side
1991's Green Mind was Dinosaur Jr's first album after the major schism within the band, bassist Lou Barlow (Sebadoh) now history and drummer Murph only making a minor contribution to the record. It was also their first for a major, but you could hardly accuse them of selling out as it kicks off with the furious Feel The Pain, mixing pop and punk in a way wholly different to then-new acts such as Green Day or The Offspring, but strangely rather akin to Hüsker Dü, already several years gone. Mellotron credited on two tracks, from Sean Slade, although whatever might be on Water is completely inaudible. Thumb is another matter, however... It opens with an unaccompanied Mellotron flute part, which then keeps up all the way through the song, mixed high enough to be clearly audible over the band. Marvellous!
'94's Without a Sound, not dissimilar to Green Mind, finds J. Mascis still channelling Neil Young. it's another set of melodic post-hardcore, although the then-prevalent grunge movement should have worked more to their advantage than it did. Its sole Mellotron track is the album's first ballad, Outta Hand, with some distant strings cropping up here and there, but it's far from essential, particularly when compared to Thumb.
After Mascis' sample use on '97's Hand it Over (here), it was another fifteen years before the reformed original lineup used anything Mellotronic again. 2012's I Bet on Sky is a decent enough release, perfectly matching the description that titled a 2001 compilation: 'ear-bleeding country'. Better tracks include opener Don't Pretend You Didn't Know, the slower Stick A Toe In and Pierce The Morning Rain, while Recognition stands out for its herky-jerky chorus rhythm. Even more than on their early albums, it's really noticeable what a massive debt they owe to Neil Young, without whom, quite simply, they wouldn't have a career. Mascis plays what sounds quite like real Mellotron strings on Don't Pretend You Didn't Know, but they're hardly a defining feature of the album.
So; if you're reading this, you probably already know what Dinosaur Jr sound like and probably own these albums. For the rest of you, they're far more melodic than you might expect, but Green Mind's Thumb is the only Mellotron 'must have' here.
See: Samples etc. | Mike Johnson | Sebadoh