D Henry Fenton
Clotho's Web (1971, 38.42/58.34) ***½/T½
Fire Water Earth & Air
Beside the Still Fjord
The Ballad Of San Andreas
Hills of May
The Lean Years
Summer on Fire
A Rumbling in the Land
The Lost Children
|We Better Talk This Over
Father of Night
Clotho's Web (alternate)]
Julie Felix is most often thought of as British, but is actually American, having come over to Europe in the early '60s. Her career kicked off soon after and by 1967, after several successful albums, she had a regular gig singing on The Frost Report (I'm sure she's over it now); she even had her own show towards the end the end of the decade, in that '60s 'variety' kind of way, featuring Jimmy Page (does this footage still exist?), amongst many others. Clotho's Web (variously credited as released in 1971 or 72) was her ninth album in under a decade, and definitely sounds more '70s than '60s, largely due to the arrangements, which forego the cheesy orchestral accompaniment that ruin so many '60s singer-songwriter albums. Musically, it's pretty much what you'd expect; folky singer-songwriter stuff, with several tracks being solo Felix, nothing particularly outstanding, but perfectly good at what it does, particularly the title track.
Released on Mickie Most's RAK label, the album features various RAK alumni (Cozy Powell) and the ubiquitous Danny Thompson and John "Rabbit" Bundrick. Rabbit plays Mellotron as well as other 'boards (big surprise there, then), with background strings on Fire Water Earth & Air and a much more upfront part on Clickety Clack. A few string chords on Happiness finishes off the album's 'Tron input, with nothing on the CD's bonus tracks, although there's a synth part on Felix's beautiful take on Scarborough Fair. Speaking of bonus tracks, Father Of Night is the same Dylan song that Manfred Mann's Earth Band progged up on Solar Fire a year or two later.
So; if you go for that Joan Baez/Judy Collins style of folk/singer-songwriter (delete according to taste) and you haven't heard Julie Felix, you probably need to. I don't know if Clotho's Web is an ideal starting point - I suppose that depends on what you're looking for - but it's a good album in its own right, particularly the CD with the extra tracks. Not that much 'Tron, but it's hardly the album's defining feature anyway.
Before the Next Teardrop Falls (1974, 30.46) **½/TT½
|Roses Are Red
I'm Not a Fool Anymore
Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends
You Can't Get Here From There
I Love My Rancho Grande
Wasted Days and Wasted Nights
I Almost Called Your Name
Before the Next Teardrop Falls
|Wild Side of Life
After the Fire is Gone
Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
Baldemar Garza "Freddy Fender" Huerta began his career in 1947, aged ten, changing his name a decade later, allegedly because it would 'sell better with Gringos!' (thanks to Wikipedia for that little gem). After 1959's Wasted Days And Wasted Nights, Fender ran into trouble with the law, eventually putting his recording career on hold for fifteen years. He returned in 1974, recording no fewer than twenty-one country hits over the succeeding eight years, several crossing over into the pop charts. Before the Next Teardrop Falls was his first album, although he was known more as a singles artist, which might explain why it's no longer in print. It eventually coughed up three hits, the bulk of its contents being schmaltzy country ballads, although I Love My Rancho Grande is more Tex-Mex, while several tracks feature Fender singing different verses in English and Spanish.
Leo O'Neil plays Mellotron, with strings on all highlighted tracks above, generally arranged to ape orchestral ones, the best example being You Can't Get Here From There. I suspect a low budget. I can't honestly recommend this album to you, unless you happen to have a yen for cheesy country ballads, although at least he avoids the worst Nashville trappings of the era. A reasonable Mellotronic presence, although not exactly in a prog kind of way. Sadly, Fender died in 2006, after a few years of rock'n'roll lifestyle-related ill health, aged 69.
See: Los Super Seven
Lane Changer (1974, 39.47) ***/T
Touch My Soul
Won't You Please Do That
Over My Dead Body
Easy to Love
Shine a Light
Give Me Your Money
Michael Fennelly was apparently one of legendary '60s producer Curt Boettcher's studio musos, also fronting turn-of-the-'70s hopefuls Crabby Appleton, before going solo and moving to the UK. His first solo effort, Lane Changer, is, at heart, a hard rock album, in that rather unexciting way in which many '70s artists felt compelled to play, although every other track is in a more acoustic vein; 'something for everyone', no doubt. Touch My Soul is vaguely country rock, Over My Dead Body is 3/4 time balladry, Easy To Love is an acoustic blues... You get the picture. Not a bad album, yet also not an especially good one. I think this is the dictionary definition of 'mediocre'.
Guest Rod Argent plays Mellotron strings on Dark Night, with a reasonable but slightly inessential string part. Rumoured other 'Tronnisms from Casey Foutz, although there's nothing obvious to be heard. This isn't something you should rush out and track down, to be honest; it has its moments, but they're few and far between, and with one minor 'Tron track, we're not exactly talking 'essential'.
See: The Millennium
Autumn Sweet (2002, 42.41) ***/T½
Over n Over
I'm Not Ready for You
Love Only Lies Half Naked
Next to Me
|Slow Down Dixie
New York Song
Only Angels Can Fly
The Many Faces of Esther
Aussie D Henry Fenton relocated to the States in 2000, so it's not so surprising that Autumn Sweet has an Americana streak a mile wide, although elements of intelligent pop (notably on Sad Hotel) creep in here and there, too. While diversity is good, the mish-mash of styles on the album can be confusing; just as you think you've got Fenton labelled, he steps one pace to the left and switches genre. Unfortunately, his Americana leanings are more of the Ryan Adams variety than the Beachwood Sparks one, although at least he beats the tedious Dave Matthews into the ground.
Fenton and producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M.) both play Chamberlin on the album, with the standout track being opener Trouble Comes, with nice, upfront flutes and high-end cellos. The only other obvious Chamby track is The Many Faces Of Esther, with a high string part, while Over N Over can only manage almost non-existent flutes, and there's nothing audible on Sad Hotel at all.
So; those of you who can still see something romantic about America may well like this album. In fairness, it's not actually bad, but didn't engage me either, and with only one decent tape-replay track, you're probably best off looking elsewhere.
Le Showbusiness (1975, 29.28) ***/TTT
Maman, Ton Fils Passe un Mauvais Moment
Swingnez Votre Compagnie
Une Peine d'Amour
Le Système Métrique
Une Femme Extraordinaire
La Soucoupe Volante
Ferland had been around since the late '50s, and by the mid-'70s seems to have settled into a comfortable musical middle age of mainstream folky pop/rock, with a country edge in places. Le Showbusiness, confusingly sometimes referred to as L'Autobus du Showbusiness (I haven't been able to source a cover image to prove it one way or the other) typifies his approach, with, like some many of his Québecois contemporaries, a distinct nod towards the French chanson tradition.
Plenty of Mellotron here, played by Mario Provençal, with flutes all over the title track, and more of the same on Maman, Ton Fils Passe Un Mauvais Moment. Une Peine d'Amour and Ce Soir-là... have some orchestrally-arranged 'Tron strings, along with the flutes, and is that Mellotron cello I can hear on the latter? More of the same on the last two highlighted tracks, with probably the best use being the slightly menacing chords under the spoken-word section at the beginning of the weird-synth laden La Soucoupe Volante, with what sounds suspiciously like backwards 'Tron flutes further into the song.
So; this isn't an album for the progressive fan or, indeed, anyone who doesn't have a soft spot for French pop. It has, however, got quite a bit of Mellotron scattered throughout its grooves (or micro-pits in an aluminium sheet), so you may wish to dabble anyway.
Métronomie (1971, 32.12) ***/TTT
Homo-Modernicus Contre Flying Dutchman
Les Enfants de la Patrie
La Maison Près de la Fontaine
Pour Oublier Qu'on S'est Aimes
Nino & Radiah (1974, 40.33) ***/TSouth
Looking for You
Nino "Ferrer" Ferrari was one of France's better-known singers, if not top-echelon, starting his career in the early '60s, already in his late twenties. He was already famous when he released Métronomie in 1971, which almost certainly confused his legions of fans by being a bizarre cross between the ye-ye style in which he'd previously worked and... progressive rock. Admittedly, most of its tracks fall into one camp or the other (mostly the other), the nine-minute, three-part title track obviously being the flag-bearer for his new passion, while second track in, Les Enfants De La Patrie is the worst thing here, children's chorus and all. Métronomie II is jazz/prog, Cannabis is jazzy blues, while closer Pour Oublier Qu'on S'est Aimes is more blues/prog, making the album sound more of a blues experiment than anything, which it isn't.
(Presumably) Brit keyboard player Allan Reeves adds Mellotron to several tracks, model unknown, although an M300 is a distinct possibility. We get a single, long string chord and what sounds like muted brass on the title track, flutes, strings and brass on Les Enfants De La Patrie (that children's chorus is real...), ethereal strings on La Maison Près De La Fontaine and Freak and strings and brass on Pour Oublier Qu'on S'est Aimes. Overall, this is one for the Prog Fan With Everything, happy to spend money on an album containing only one or two satisfying tracks, with far more Mellotron than expected, to the point where some of you lot may feel like getting hold of this for that alone.
Luckily, Allmusic gives such a good rundown on 1974's Nino & Radiah that I don't have to do any other research on the album. Ferrer opted to collaborate with African-American actress/singer Radiah Frye, the end result, Nino & Radiah (complete with exceedingly rude sleeve, replaced on later editions), being closer to New Orleans funk than anything especially French. However, its lead-off track, South, was (to Ferrer's fury) reworked into French as Le Sud (added to later editions of the record), becoming a huge hit in the process. Difficult to pick out highlights, unless you're into the album's overall vibe, in which case, it's all good. Maybe Looking For You? Anyway, discrete Mellotron on two tracks from keys man Franck Abel, with background strings on Hot Toddy and closer New York, occasionally giving themselves away when playing chords. Is it that phantom M300 again, I wonder? Thanks to Gilles for pointing me at this one, by the way.
Ferrer's follow-up to Métronomie, '73's Nino Ferrer & Leggs (Leggs being his faithful backing band) has rumoured Mellotron, but it's not only not credited, but hidden away to the point of inaudibility if so. Sadly, Ferrer, always unpredictable, shot himself in 1998, ending a career with more ups and downs than the French Alps. R.I.P.
Another Time, Another Place (1974, 42.07) ***/T
|The 'In' Crowd
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Walk a Mile in My Shoes
Funny How Time Slips Away
You Are My Sunshine
(What a) Wonderful World
It Ain't Me Babe
|Help Me Make it Through the Night
Another Time, Another Place
Frantic (2002, 46.56) ***/½
|It's All Over Now Baby Blue
Goddess of Love
Don't Think Twice it's Alright
Nobody Loves Me
Ja Nun Hons Pris
Fool for Love
Hiroshima (Ash Howes Mix)
One Way Love
Bryan Ferry wasted no time in running a solo career in parallel with his rise to fame with Roxy Music, following 1973's These Foolish Things with the following year's Another Time, Another Place. Another covers set, better tracks include his Roxyfication of Dobie Gray's The 'In' Crowd, Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe and Ferry's only composition here, the closing title track, although we could really have done without the near-seven minute take on the dreary You Are My Sunshine. Someone (most likely Ferry himself) plays uncredited Mellotron on It Ain't Me Babe, with strings in Ferry-approved fifths appearing around two-thirds of the way through the song. That seems to be it for early solo Ferry Mellotron, as there's nothing on either These Foolish Things or 1976's Let's Stick Together.
Nearly thirty years later... The original lounge lizard finally gets around to a new album and would you believe, it actually isn't at all bad? Ferry has a deserved reputation for ultra-smoothness, but Frantic features a decent selection of songs new and old and a dry, upfront vocal sound that the Ferry of old would never have contemplated using. Two Dylan covers and a Leadbelly song (Goodnight Irene) sit amongst co-writes with the likes of (evil) Dave Stewart and Eno, although all are moulded to fit the Ferry Sound, as are instrumental contributions from the likes of Chris Spedding and old Roxy compatriot Paul Thompson. There's allegedly a Mellotron part on Nobody Loves Me from Colin Good, but I have to say I can't hear anything especially Mellotronic, unless the voices running through the track are yer classic Mellotron choir stuck through some effects. That aside, I was expecting to dislike this album strongly and am pleasantly surprised to find it very listenable, if not actually something I'll play on a regular basis. Older persons' music, but then, we're all getting older, aren't we?
See: Roxy Music
Trois Petits Tours (2008, 40.05) ***/T
Ce qu'il Me Dit
Embarque Dans Ma Valise
Thomas Fersen is a French singer-songwriter, apparently immensely clever with his use of language, which, of course, is as much use to those of us who speak anywhere from little to none of it as a chocolate fireguard. Then again, Fersen isn't making albums for the non-French market, so he should care. 2008's Trois Petits Tours (Three Times Round) is something like his seventh studio album, actually a very listenable record in a jazzy French folk style, most tracks consisting of little more than guitar or ukelele, piano and occasional percussion under Fersen's high-in-the-mix voice.
Daniel Thouin plays exceedingly faint background Mellotron strings on Ukulélé, while Thouin and François Lafontaine add faint choirs and slightly more audible (and wobbly enough to be real) strings to Ce Qu'Il Me Dit, just scraping one T overall. This is an excellent album within its ouevre, although not something all of you will go a bundle on; hardly any Mellotron, either, so probably best left to Gallic singer-songwriter enthusiasts.
Univers (1980, 37.31) ***½/TT½The Garden of Fables
Le Château De Feuilles
Seasons of Life (1981, 39.37) ***/T½Origins
Thierry Fervant's an experimental Swiss musician, whose first album (to my knowledge), L'Aube Ne S'est Pas Encore Levée, was released as far back as 1972. Also to my knowledge, he didn't follow it up until 1980, for whatever reason(s), with an instrumental electronic effort titled Univers, with unusual acoustic instruments (including a crumhorn) thrown into the mix. There's a distinct Jean Michel Jarre influence in places, particularly during the more rhythmic parts (notably on the title track and particularly Night Ring), although the more contemplative pieces are more original, not really sounding like any of the genre's leading lights.
Best tracks? Entirely down to personal taste, of course, but I especially like classical-ish opener The Garden Of Fables, Empyrée and closer In Fine. Although there are no instrumental credits on the sleeve, a very specific online reference leads me to believe that the album was recorded using principally a modular synth, a Mellotron and a Prophet 10, new out at the time. Mellotronically (from Fervant), we get faint choirs and upfront church organ on The Garden Of Fables, choir and strings on the title track, choir on Night Ring and Spiral and church organ and choir again on In Fine, although the church organ's the only sound that's used in any kind of upfront way.
Seasons of Life appeared the following year, utilising real strings, although the overall effect seems rather lesser than on Univers (and rather more Jarre), better tracks including Premices, Initiation and lengthy closer Epode. The only Mellotron use this time round is the background choirs on opener Origins, Perigree and (particularly) on Epode, although I presume the long, drawn-out choir chord at the end of Zenith is something (although I've no idea what) else. Univers is the more inventive of these two albums and also contains more Mellotron, but both of them are worth hearing for the EM fan who has everything.
Cow Island Hop (2008, 41.44) ***½/½
Cow Island Hop
Blues de Dix Ans
Chère Bébé Créole
Femme l'a Dit
Sur le Bord de l'Eau
Je M'En Vas dans le Chemin
Louisianans Feufollet would appear to have a mission to drag Cajun music into the 21st century, kicking and screaming if need be. 2008's Cow Island Hop is an album of mad, electrified Creole folk with a rock'n'roll attitude, interspersed with accordion-fuelled swampland balladry and French-language lyrics, although I doubt whether the Parisian Délégation Générale à la Langue Française et Aux Langues de France would be too happy at the mangling handed out to their beloved tongue. Top tracks include jaunty opener Prends Courage, complete with distorted organ backing, the title track's hoedown and the jazz-inflected Femme L'a Dit, but not a single thing here actually disappoints.
Ivan Klisanin plays Mellotron on Chère Bébé Créole, with a distant, er, something (choir?), that could all too easily have nothing to do with a real machine, although I'll leave this here until/if I should find out any more. Overall, then, an excellent updating of an old musical tradition, guaranteed to get audiences dancing; don't try this at home unless you can cope with neighbours' complaints. Little obvious Mellotron, but an album-full of great music.
Fi-Bo-Na-Chez (1982, 19.15) ****/TTTSergio Leone
The Ordinary Women
Tumor EP (1983, 9.29) ****/TTT½Tumor
Slow Beautiful Sex
TerrorVision (1986, 15.03) ***/T½TerrorVision
The Friends of Crime
Sack of Suit Suite
Advice to a Mutant
He Can't Stop Laughing
Civilization and its Discotheques (1987, 40.25) ***½/TTT½
|March to Heaven
Had it With Girls
Old Mean Ed Gein
Romp of the Meiji Sycophants
Repressed: the Best of the Fibonaccis, 1981-1987 (1992, 79.33) ****/TTTT½
Had it With Girls
Old Mean Ed Gein
Dancing With the Bears
March to Heaven
Romp of the Meiji Sycophants
Slam Dance (1987) ***½/T[The Fibonaccis contribute]
The Fibonaccis were an early-'80s US band who stubbornly resisted categorisation, but who can probably be placed at the weird end of 'New Wave', whatever you take that to mean. Their first EP's title, Fi-Bo-Na-Chez, amusingly told their countrymen how to pronounce their name, not to mention showing them how to be weirder than the weirdest band they could think of, all the while avoiding 'wacky'. Apart from the originality of the music, with a strange cabaret-cum-fairground feel, there's some excellent Mellotron to be heard, with cellos and strings on The Ordinary Women, flutes on The Genius and a creepy string part on Second Coming. A high-speed flute run on Maculae shouldn't be possible on the machine, with more of the same and those creepy strings again on Rice Song, making this something of an obscure Mellotron gem. It was quickly followed by the following year's three-track EP, Tumor, which deals with that very subject in its title track. More 'Tron, especially good on the notorious Psycho theme (a live favourite, apparently), with its discordant strings.
In 1986, the band contributed a handful of tracks to schlock-horror effort TerrorVision, a Z-movie about alien invasion, their songs sharing the soundtrack album with Richard Band's actual soundtrack work. None of their contributions are that jaw-dropping, although the title track and He Can't Stop Laughing are worth hearing. Mellotronically speaking, TerrorVision itself has a choppy choir part, there's a few seconds of something (cellos?) at the end of Advice To A Mutant, with a murky choir part on He Can't Stop Laughing. While not the band's finest hour, I still suspect their contributions are easily the best thing about the film.
Never the most prolific of bands, it took The Fibonaccis five years to produce a full-length album; the wittily-titled Civilization and its Discotheques doesn't disappoint, although they had (slightly) curbed the weirdness by this time. Saying that, there are some superb lyrics to be heard, particularly on the sardonic Old Mean Ed Gein. I have to say, it's good to hear an American band, particularly from the '80s with such a well-developed sense of humour (is that patronising? Sorry). Again, plenty of Mellotron to be heard, along with some more straightforward instruments, including a rare sighting of someone doing something interesting with a DX7. Apparently keys man John Dentino used to change his 'Tron tapes several times during gigs in an effort to replicate his studio sound as closely as possible, although he admits "There were maybe two people in the audience who really cared". Strangely, he sold it after the album's release, later regretting his decision.
I rarely review compilations, for the obvious reasons, but in this case it's quite relevant. A few years after their untimely split (never a band for the awful '80s, those Fibonaccis), a CD appeared titled Repressed, as in 're-pressed', no doubt. Six of Fi-Bo-Na-Chez's seven tracks (including all but one of the 'Tron ones) and two of Tumor's three are present and correct (both 'Tron tracks this time), plus nine of Civilization and its Discotheques' twelve, with live radio session versions of two more and two compilation appearances, including their, er, 'breathtaking' version of Purple Haze. This leaves five entirely unreleased pieces, plus the two different versions of the Civilization tracks, making this CD worth reviewing, not to mention that it's also the easiest way to get hold of the bulk of the band's back-catalogue, and even appears to still be in print. On the 'Tron front, TerrorVision has the choir part referred to above, their bonkers take on Purple Haze manages a few piercing string chords, while of the previously unreleased stuff, the choirs on Anti-Oedipus and strings on Lisbon and Leroy prove that they dragged their 'Tron into KPFK's studios in 1982.
My good friend Mark Medley has put me onto the band's contribution to Mitchell Froom's soundtrack to '87's Slam Dance flick, a brief effort entitled Art Life. Very typically Fibonaccian, its angular weirdness fails to conceal a brief, choppy Mellotron flute part repeated a couple of times. Shame this didn't make Repressed, but I imagine copyright issues intervened.
Anyway, don't expect an easy ride with this music, but it's worth hearing, both for its musical content and its 'Tron use. Incidentally (and I have to include this), the guy who wrote the long review of the album on Amazon commented that he'd heard a snippet of the Fibonaccis on a 'Star Trek TNG' episode, representing an alien culture's music, which just about says it all. In the nicest possible way, of course.
¡Vuka Vuka! (2000, 46.02) ***/TT½
|Right Out and Forced
Better Gaze Than Fear
Glass Faced Warrior
Difference of Me
For What I Love
Norwich's Fiel Garvie have been compared to PJ Harvey, Tricky and even Björk, but to my ears they strongly resemble a more electronic version of yer typical UK indie thing, at least on debut ¡Vuka Vuka!. Online reviews seem split on whether or not they're any good, with one notably dismissing them as goth-wannabee rubbish, and others praising their ethereality and Anne Reekie's downbeat vocal stylings. What do I think? Dunno, mate - this sort of thing really isn't my department, but what I will say is that despite their playing a style with which I'm pretty unfamiliar and in no way a fan, the album didn't distress or even especially bore me at all, which you can probably read as some sort of recommendation.
Reekie also plays guitar and keys, with a specific 'Mellotron' credit, and she's as good as her word, getting it onto five of the album's twelve tracks. Better Gaze Than Fear has cellos stuck through an effect (tremolo? Synth modulation?), with more cellos on Glass Faced Warrior and Dress Down, plus an upfront string part on the latter. Cellos again on Deliberately Alright and For What I Love, with extra flutes on the former, making for a reasonably fulfilling Mellotronic experience, particularly if you're into (for once) very audible cellos. So; not exactly one for the prog fan, or indeed, anyone into rock as against pop, but not a bad listen, and some very nice (and seemingly genuine) 'Tron work.
Fields (1971, 40.16) ***½/½
|A Friend of Mine
While the Sun Still Shines
Not So Good
Over and Over Again
|A Place to Lay My Head
Fields consisted of keyboardist Graham Field, ex-Rare Bird (of Sympathy fame), drummer Andrew McCulloch, ex-King Crimson and future Greenslade member, and Alan Barry, who covered vocals, guitar, bass and Mellotron, so God alone knows how they reproduced their material live. I've always been under the impression that Fields' sole album was going to be a rather laid-back dated effort, and indeed, some of it is, but opener A Friend Of Mine powers along very nicely indeed, with some unusual (for the time) double-kick drumming, and several other tracks confound expectations by being far more dynamic than expected.
Despite Barry's 'Mellotron' credit, unless I'm very mistaken, there are about two string chords near the beginning of The Eagle, and that's yer lot, so not exactly a 'Tron album, then. Fields is a varied and interesting record, though, and I'm surprised it doesn't have a higher profile amongst progressive fans, so try to hear it anyway.
Everything Last Winter (2007, 49.11) ***/T
|Song for the Fields
Charming the Flames
You Don't Need This Song
(to Fix Your Broken Heart)
You Brought This on Yourself
|Skulls and Flesh and More
If You Fail We All Fail
How do you describe Fields? Transcendent indie? Folk electronica? All of the above? There was apparently a great deal of hype surrounding their debut album, 2007's Everything Last Winter, after a run of lauded singles; opinion seems divided on whether or not it lives up to it. As a neutral outsider, I can say that at its best (Song For The Fields, Charming The Flames), it really is quite transcendent, but at its worst (The Death, Skulls And Flesh And More), it merely bores the casual observer.
You Don't Need This Song (To Fix Your Broken Heart) features some very real-sounding 'Tron flutes, key-click and all, from either Nick Peill or Icelander Þórunn Antonía, and despite some other 'Tronlike sounds here and there, I believe that's it on the tape-replay front. Generally speaking, this isn't worth buying for one 'Tron track, but those who like some folk with their indie (or vice versa) may well go for this.
Widow City (2007, 59.05) ***/TTTTT
|The Philadelphia Grand Jury
Duplexes of the Dead
Clear Signal From Cairo
My Egyptian Grammar
The Old Hag is Sleeping
Right By Conquest
Cabaret of the Seven Devils
Pricked in the Heart
I've been aware of indie darlings the Fiery Furnaces for some time, but I've been caught on the hop with their sixth album, Widow City. For some unknown (though far from unwelcome) reason, the 'musician half' of the brother/sister duo, Matthew Friedberger, has opted to slap Chamberlin all over the album, and I mean ALL OVER. I will admit to not being so keen on the music; in all honesty, I really don't understand where they're coming from, to the point where I couldn't even name their influences, although the music press seem to be all over them like a rash. The 'singer half', Friedberger's younger sister Eleanor, makes up for a less-than-arresting voice by half-speaking many of the lyrics, although she copes admirably well with her brother's offbeat compositional twists. Is this the New Prog? (Pt.96). I can see how this grabs people, although I'm afraid it's failed to grab me; my fault, I'm sure, but I just can't warm to this record.
Although I've seen references to Friedberger Major playing both Mellotron and Chamberlin on the record, I've seen others, including an official record company one, that only mention the Chamby, so who knows? Whatever it is, or they are, it's/they're on almost every damn' track, and unlike so many supposedly Chamby-heavy albums, it's never lost in the mix. Several near-solo sections, too, like the brass on Automatic Husband or the beautifully clunky string intro to Restorative Beer, but to be honest, it's only ever a brief wait before another woodwind or string line appears. Do you want to know what a Chamberlin actually sounds like? Buy this album; like a tiny handful of others I've heard, it's practically a demo record for the instrument. And who knows? It may yet grow on me.
See: Matthew Friedberger
Skipper (1994, 39.22) ***/½
My Poor Little House Without Me in it
The Please Front
Egg & Anchor
Lucky's Bad Day
Unsurprisingly, I've seen Daniel Figgis described as a 'film soundtrack composer'. His first album, 1994's Skipper, picked up press accolades along the lines of 'like a collaboration between Claude Debussy and Peter Gabriel', 'an aural kaleidoscope' and 'flush with melody yet tirelessly inventive'. In précis, it takes traditional Irish sources and combines them with elements of '90s electronica, jangly indie and others, creating a fascinating soundscape in the process. I can't honestly say it's something I'll return to in a hurry, but that says more about my taste than it does about this strangely timeless music.
Figgis is credited with Mellotron on Glimmerer; given when this was recorded, sample use seems rather less likely than from even a year or two later, so perhaps it's real? The album was partially recorded in London (I don't believe there are any Mellotrons in Ireland), so they may well've hired one in. Anyway, occasional, near-dissonant flutes on the track, clearly not the actual credited flute, in a 'don't go out of your way on that account' kind of way. So; good at what it does, if you like what it does. If you get my drift.
Low-fi at Society High (1994, 45.38) ***/T
|Step Back Let's Go Pop
|Cherry Blow Pop
Waltz for Bob
Banda Macho (1996, 44.30) ***/T
|Blame it All Senseless
Bad Luck Sammie
Hey! Mr. Moonman
Girl, Kill Your Boyfriend
Red Bank Queen
This Copy's Mine
Dandruff (You've Got a Lot of Friends)
Kiss Off Baby
Sucking in Stereo (2000, 31.10) ***/½
The Daylight Strong
Set the Stage
The Wrong Chord
Gonna Get Out
|Running in Place
Do the Bounce
Low-fi at Society High was The Figgs' first non-cassette release, showcasing their passable take on pop-punk, apparently sounding not a million miles away from The Replacements (I really must listen to them one day). This really is the kind of stuff you need to be into to appreciate, I suspect, as I like some of their forbears, not least The Buzzcocks, but this doesn't really grab me. Jump Start is more appealing than the bulk of the record, which is too long for the style, despite still being 'vinyl length', and far too samey to hold the attention of anyone not heavily attuned to the genre. Mellotron on two tracks from Pete Donnelly, with a brief string part, mixed far too low, on Wasted Pretty, and flute and string parts on Waltz For Bob, again, too low in the mix.
Two years on, and their only major-label album, Banda Macho, is more of the same, basically, albeit with a slightly wider influence base, with little bursts of near-country making themselves apparent here and there. Mellotron from Donnelly and Mike Gent this time round, with (presumably) Donnelly playing a handful of flute notes on Girl, Kill Your Boyfriend and Gent adding high flutes to FTMU, though that would appear to be your lot.
Four years and three albums later, Sucking in Stereo appeared. What impulse makes bands give albums titles that are so easy to deliberately misinterpret? OK, this doesn't actually suck, but the pun is too obvious for words. The Figgs seem to have developed their pop sensibilities a little in the intervening years; the album's certainly more melodic than its predecessors, although it isn't much more interesting, unfortunately. Just Gent on 'Tron this time, with flutes and strings on The Wrong Chord, and that's your lot.
So; a slightly superior pop-punk band that use a smattering of 'Tron. Nothing to get too worked up about really, eh?