Fiske & Herrera
Fit & Limo
Five Day Rain
Five Horse Johnson
Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble
Rushes (1998, 61.21) ***½/TTWatercolour Guitars
Appletree Cinnabar Amber
Electric Arguments (2008, 63.54) **½/T½
|Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight
Sing the Changes
Light From Your Lighthouse
Sun is Shining
|Dance 'Til We're High
Is This Love?
Lovers in a Dream
Universal Here, Everlasting Now
Don't Stop Running
The Fireman is an ambient/electronica project consisting anonymously of Paul McCartney and Youth (Killing Joke). 1994's Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest and Rushes, from four years later, are similar in concept and, while not actually dance music, may not appeal to those who dislike cut-up techniques, disembodied dialogue etc. I actually find both albums perfectly pleasant, though they're definitely more background listening than something you'd actually concentrate on to any great extent. It's difficult to pinpoint 'standout' tracks on Rushes, as most of it's a large wash of sound, but Bison, with its almost-dub intro, stands out as doing something a little different to the rest of the album.
Paul's Mellotron use isn't the most obvious you'll ever hear, but if you listen closely you can detect vibes and MkII rhythms on the lengthy Palo Verde, with reverbed strings on the even lengthier Auraveda. The nearest his use gets to 'upfront' is on the Bison/7 a.m./Watercolour Rush segue, with both regular strings and left-hand manual moving strings (a 'preset', if you haven't heard them before). So; less 'Tronless than I'd previously thought, but not the greatest test of the instrument's potential you'll ever hear. Top marks for the moving strings, though - don't think I've heard them on an album before.
After a ten-year gap, the pair opted to record a third Fireman album, Electric Arguments, in 2008, dropping their anonymity along with their previous style. This is more a mainstream pop/rock album, frankly; I can only imagine Youth's involved 'because it's Paul', or is that overly cynical? Anyway, it's an album of stunning averageness, I'm sorry to report, sounding far, far more like a Paul album than a Youth one, and nothing like one by The Fireman. It moves slowly towards something resembling originality towards the end of the overlong disc, but it's a bad case of too little, too late. More of that MkII, of course, with a flute melody on Travelling Light, less of the same on Dance 'Til We're High, alongside real strings and a final, subdued burst of flutes on closer Don't Stop Running.
So; Rushes, while not that original, is by McCartney's standards and is probably worth hearing, if only for its rare MkII use. Electric Arguments is not.
See: Paul McCartney
Psychopharmacology (2001, 39.43) ***/T
|Woke Up Down
Fell Off the Face of the Earth
Get Out of My Head
7th Avenue Static
Car Crash Collaborator
Bad, Bad World
The Man With the Blurry Face
|Black Box Recording
She's the Mistake
The Man on the Burning Tightrope (2003, 46.50) ***½/TT½
Anything at All
Too Much (is Never Enough)
Too Many Angels
Dark Days Indeed
The Man on the Burning Tightrope
The Truth Hurts
|The Vegas Strip
Don't Make It Stop
The Notorious & Legendary Dog & Pony Show
The Song That Saved My Life
Dark Days Revisited
Before the Fall
Songs We Should Have Written (2004, 45.14) ***½/T
|The Beat Goes on
Diamonds and Gold
Folsom Prison Blues
Some Velvet Morning
This Little Light of Mine
|Paint it Black
Is That All There is?
I Often Dream of Trains
Firewater are the current project of ex-Cop Shoot Cop bassist/vocalist Tod A(shley), operating in the indie area, albeit in a rather more acceptable part of it than an awful lot of crud I can think of. He throws all sorts of stuff into the pot, not least rockabilly, jazz, ska and a myriad of other musical forms, although, going by the three albums reviewed here, he/they shift style on a regular (and random) basis.
2001's Psychopharmacology is their third album, but I get the feeling it's fairly normal compared to much of their other work. You've sort of got to be into what they're doing to really get it, I supsect, but it has its moments for the non-fan. I particularly like Black Box Recording, with its cabaret-esque piano part that manages to sound almost prog, which probably says more about the roots of that genre than most of its fans would like to admit. As far as the Mellotron goes, from 'A', there's a near-orchestrated string part on Get Out Of My Head, and despite other vaguely 'Tron-like moments (what makes those voices in Fell Off The Face Of The Earth? Voices?), that seems to be it.
The Man on the Burning Tightrope followed two years later, opening in a distinctly cabaret-esque manner on the brief Fanfare. The title track and The Notorious & Legendary Dog & Pony Show could have been written by Tom Waits, while a '30s feel pervades much of the record, sounding like the bastard offspring of German oompah music and twisted, slowed-down jazz, which probably isn't a bad description of that sleazy cabaret style itself, I suppose. Full instrumental credits this time round, which helps matters considerably. Plenty of Mellotron, all from 'A', with string and wobbly choir parts on Anything At All and slightly tortured-sounding strings and block flute chords on the klezmer-esque Too Many Angels, although the strings on Secret are real. Woozy 'Tron strings on The Song That Saved My Life and while it's credited on Before The Fall, there's nothing audible. This is a vastly more entertaining album than its predecessor, sounding like a completely different band. Maybe it is a completely different band...
The title of Songs We Should Have Written gives its contents away; it's the dreaded covers album, only this time it's far from dreaded, with some excellent takes on familiar material, not least Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues and a deathlike crawl through The Stones' Paint It Black. Two 'Tron players this time round, though you're hard-pushed to hear the thing at all on most credited tracks. Tod A does the bulk of the work again, with, well, nothing that audible on This Town, maybe some flute chords, with a similar problem on Diamonds And Gold. Viola? Sounds dry and dusty enough... (Is a pattern starting to form here?) Faint background strings from Tamir Muskat on their killer version of The Beatles' Hey Bulldog, with nothing I can hear on Lee Hazlewood's Some Velvet Morning, Paint It Black or Is That All There Is? So, er, IS that all there is? Thankfully not quite, as closer I Often Dream Of Trains finally features the 'Tron, with a flute melody running throughout.
So; an eclectic bunch, Firewater. Can't say I got Psychopharmacology, but the other two here are both good in their own ways, although The Man on the Burning Tightrope's the only one anywhere near worth it on the 'Tron front.
Give a Monkey a Brain... & He'll Swear He's the Center of the Universe (1993, 64.45) ***½/T
Properties of Propaganda (Fuk This Shit on Up)
The Warmth of Your Breath
They All Have Abandoned Their Hopes
|End the Reign
Fishbone had been doing their funk/rock/whatever thing for some years by the time they released their fifth album, Give a Monkey a Brain... & He'll Swear He's the Center of the Universe, which followed the excellent The Reality of My Surroundings (****). Give a Monkey... was a worthy successor, laying its card on the table at the outset with the genre-defying Swim. Is it funk? Rock? Rap? All the above and more? This ethos is maintained over the entire album, with no one track sounding that much like any other, but somehow it all hangs together and all sounds like the same band.
It's difficult to pinpoint 'best tracks', as that's heavily subjective on an album as diverse as this, with the frequently brass-driven material tending to work better live than on record, while I'm not wholly convinced by their various takes on reggae. My personal favourite, though, has to be the tense, moody Black Flowers, which opens with a Mellotron flute melody, with a 'Tron cello part later in the song, although that honestly isn't my reason for liking it. No, really.
So; a good album, sounding very distinctly different from Faith No More, the Chili Peppers etc., but not a Mellotron Album, not that I imagine you were exactly expecting one. Incidentally, Fishbone received a heavy blow after the album's release as founding member, guitarist Kendall Jones, left to join some nutjob cult at his father's instigation. They're still going now, ten years on, but sadly, they lost much of their momentum after this album.
Till the Sea Disappears (2010, 46.56) ***/½
|Tricky Little Fingers
Saint Patrick's Day
My Little Fish
He Said She Said
Warm My Bones
New England couple Jared Fiske and Amy Herrera admit to two chief influences: Joni Mitchell and Radiohead. Suffice to say, both make themselves apparent on their third release, 2010's Till the Sea Disappears, on which they sound like an updated take on that Laurel Canyon thing crossed with the occasional modernism, notably Lorne Entress' programming on Saint Patrick's Day and He Said She Said. Herrera takes more leads than Fiske, while they often harmonise; I keep expecting Neil Young's plangent tones to interrupt in full-on Harvest mode, which should give you a good idea of the duo's sound. Best tracks? Broken Man, Crazy Amy ((auto)biographical? Fiske vocal) and beautiful closer Warm My Bones, amongst others. So why not a higher rating? It has to be said that the album is infused with a level of tweeness (case in point: My Little Fish) that may put potential listeners off, to the point where forty-five minutes of it in one sitting can be a bit much.
Entress plays muted Mellotron strings on Steady Hands, although it's impossible to tell whether or not it's real, largely due to a sympathetic arrangement and careful placing in the mix. Overall, then, one for Joni fans who don't object to a soupçon of electronica intruding into an otherwise pseudo-early '70s idyll.
Indian Worm Moon (2006, 19.42) ***/T½Powwowopsy
Is it True?
Take Me to That Place
Astralis (2007, 52.02) ****/TTT
|Dem Neuen Jahr
The Moon Shines Bright
Sing the Forest Temple
Around the Fount
The Snow it Melts the Soonest
|Been on the Road So Long
With the River
Down in Yon Forest
A Swamp Room Lullabye
German cosmic folk/psych male-female duo Fit & Limo (or Fit + Limo, a.k.a. Petra and Stefan Lienemann) have been making music since the late '70s, putting out several cassette-only releases in the early '80s, the best moments of which were compiled onto their first LP, 1988's Retrospective 1983-1988. A dozen or more intermediate releases later under various aliases and they're still doing it today. 2005's Indian Worm Moon is a bit of an oddity, being the last (no.13) in the Hand/Eye label's Folklore of the Moon series of highly-limited EPs; one hundred, in this case. As such, it might not be a typical release, although I get the impression that ten-minute drone-fest Take Me To That Place isn't exactly unique in their catalogue. Fit plays Mellotron flutes (briefly) on Powwowopsy and strings right through the short Is It True?, although it's hard to tell whether or not they're real.
Come 2007 and they offer up the quintessential Astralis, a beautiful album of muttered invocations, slightly out-of-tune harmonies (but in a good way), sitars, deeply cosmic lyrics and, er, some tape-replay. Best tracks? I enjoyed the banjo-fest of Wind Whispers, drone anthem Drift Away and the medieval-esque The Moon Shines Bright and The Snow It Melts The Soonest, but truth be told, there isn't a bad track here. But what, precisely, are they singing about on A Swamp Room Lullabye?
|"Europe's biggest '60s garage, psychedelic,
Acid, punk, mod, stoner, underground,
But not folk festival...
See the creatures from the swamp,
Live and non-stop, from dusk till dawn..."
A protest song about a shit festival? Anyway, they both play just about everything, including Mellotron and Chamberlin (where did they source one in Germany?), with (presumably) Mellotron strings on opener Dem Neuen Jahr, Sweet Imagination, Drift Away and Sing The Forest Temple, with Chamberlin ones (?) on Down In Yon Forest and possibly both on Perlenglanz, with a touch of flutes thrown in for good measure. This is a gorgeous album, highly recommended to anyone who likes things to get a little... hazy every once in a while. Plenty of (real?) tape-replay, too; what's not to like? Incidentally, they've made at least one other Mellotron album, 2004's Terra Incognita; review to follow when I track a copy down.
Mouseproof (1970, 33.26) ***/T
It Takes More Than a Clear Day to See it
Ashes of an Empire/The End
Under and Over the Waterfall
A Movement Lost in Twilight Stone
Opal Pyramid Drifting Over Time
G(erry) F. Fitz-Gerald is an improvisational musician whose vision was captured on long-playing vinyl on 1970's strangely-titled Mouseproof. Apparently highly regarded in the world of obscure psych and prog collectors, the album starts off sounding like it's going to be one of those folky acoustic singalong records that were popular at the time, albeit with a psychedelic edge. However, it quickly takes a sharp left turn, venturing into country (er, Country Mouse), raga-rock (Ashes Of An Empire/The End), jazz-rock (Under And Over The Waterfall, the quite deranged Political Machine), minimalism (A Movement Lost In Twilight Stone) and full-on psych madness (closer Opal Pyramid Drifting Over Time), somewhat justifying its reputation.
Ian Andrews plays what sounds like one of the MkII 'Tron's less intrusive brass settings, running slightly flat on Ashes Of An Empire/The End, to reasonable effect, although it's hardly the album's defining feature. Anyway, those nice people at Sunbeam have issued this on CD, so you can easily hear it for yourselves, minimal Mellotron and all.
The Sparrow & the Crow (2009, 43.32) *½/½
I Don't Feel it Anymore (Song of
We Feel Alone
If You Would Come Back Home
Please Forgive Me (Song of the Crow)
Further From You
Just Not Each Other
You Still Hurt Me
They'll Never Take the Good Years
Find Me to Forgive
[Some versions add:
Maybe Be Alright]
Discovering that William Fitzsimmons' music has been used on a plethora of American TV series along the lines of Grey's Anatomy alerted my crap detector, but after reading that he's been compared to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and the much-missed Elliott Smith, I relaxed. Of course, in all good thrillers, that's the point at which you leap out of your seat as the axe-wielding maniac breaks the door down, or something non-credulous and supernatural happens. Well, I wouldn't go that far, but his third album, 2008's The Sparrow & the Crow, had a similar effect on me (well, sort of), albeit in slow motion, as the realisation that it's a pile of mainstream poo sinks in; I gave his wispy voice and the overall weediness of the record the benefit of the doubt for a couple of songs before giving in to the inevitable: it's shit. 'Heartfelt' my arse, even if it is his 'divorce album'.
Eric Robinson plays Mellotron, with a flute part on Further From You and that's yer lot. I'm sorry, I tried. I really did. This is horrible.
Five Day Rain [a.k.a. Rough Marmalade] (2004, reissued 2007, recorded 1970, 60.41) ***½/T
|Marie's a Woman
Don't Be Misled
Leave it at That
The Reason Why
Rough Cut Marmalade
|Lay Me Down
Too Much of Nothing
So Don't Worry
Wanna Make Love to You
Five Day Rain were one of those studio-based bands that every era seems to cough up; session guys who would rather work in the backroom than get out and gig, and in many ways, who can blame them? Think of all the hassle they avoid... In this case, they consisted of engineers Brian Carroll and Damon Lyon Shaw, with keys man Graham Maitland plus a guitarist, bassist and drummer, with Carroll and Lyon Shaw acting as engineers and general factotums (factota?), as far as I can work out. A dozen or more tracks were recorded for a projected album, but only 25 test pressings were ever made, most of which now no longer exist, making it impossibly rare. A handful of these tracks were originally released in 1978 on an album called Time is Right, by One Way Ticket: essentially a compilation of various Carroll/Lyon Shaw productions, I believe most of them are now available on properly themed releases. Nine of the above tracks were originally issued on Hi-Note as Rough Marmalade in 2004, but are now available in the 2007 14-track configuration above, on the Nightwings label. Just to confuse the issue further, ten of these tracks can also be found on Factory/Five Day Rain, on the Japanese Evangel imprint, alongside eight tracks by Factory, another Carroll/Lyon Shaw project.
So, er, wossit sound like, then? Quite a mixed bag, to be honest; psychedelic hangovers (Good Year, Sea Song), proto-prog (Leave It At That) and turn-of-the-'70s blues-rock stompers (Wanna Make Love To You), not to mention a really rather good post-pub jam, the lengthy Rough Cut Marmalade, which is far better than it might sound. The last four tracks on the disc have been sourced from a scratchy old acetate, and sound far better than they have any right to, so kudos to everyone involved in this release. Maitland's main Mellotron use on the album is on Good Year, with what I presume are MkII strings (doubled with flutes?), heavily reverbed, making for a quite unearthly sound, even by the 'Tron's usual standards. Now I wouldn't swear to it, but I think the accordions on Too Much Of Nothing are probably the ol' MkII again, though I'm willing to be proved wrong.
So; is this actually worth hearing? In short, yes; if you're into that strange period where psych became prog, and almost anything went, there are several gems here, not least that unruly jam, although with only one definite 'Tron track, it's slim pickings for Mellotron enthusiasts. Buy? I'd say so, yeah.
Brian Carroll's site
Progressive Hardrock Beyond the Mainstream (1994, 57.53) ***½/½
|Call the Doctor
You're a Girl in a Swing
A Good Trip Gone Bad
Captain and Me
Bridges Are Calling Kids Tonight
|Find Your Own Mushroomland
Minds Full of Flowers
Long Hair Wildman Rides Again
Psychedelic Singalongs for Stadiums (1997, 66.53) ***½/T
Waterfall (Second Coming)
Never Meant to Be Sent
Dancing With Mrs. Fischer
The Starship Dark Sun
A Riddle Joker
My Lady O
Psychedelic Singalongs for Stadiums
Wayward Children, Cannonballs and Skydogs
Psychedelic Singalongs For Stadiums (Slight Return)
Death of a Clown (2001, 55.11) ***½/TTT½
Stone Cold Heartbreaker
My Oh My
Lick Your Fingers Clean
She Kicked Your Present Off the Bed
Season of the Witch
Sometimes it Helps
|Sweet Little Dreamer
From London With Love
Death of a Clown
Five Fifteen (originally 5.15, from the Who song) are a bit of an odd one; psychedelic hard rock/prog from Finland, which makes them a bit of a one-off. I saw them at a festival in Sweden in the late '90s, and they didn't wildly impress me with their super-retro sub-Zeppelin histrionics, but unlike most bands, remove the onstage clichés, and on record they're not bad. 1994's Progressive Hardrock Beyond the Mainstream is a pretty stonking rock/prog/psych crossover record, although originality isn't really where they're at, to be honest. But what a title! I mean, how many albums directly describe their contents? No, directly? Well, I suppose there's always Rainbow's little-known Castle Rock and, of course, Grand Funk Railroad's collaboration with Bloodrock, Thud Rock... OK, I'll stop now.
Progressive Hardrock... is one of those 'effortless' records, where (assuming you like their influences) you can just let it wash over you, basking in the glow of their retro approach, before it became fashionable again. Best tracks? A great version of The Beatles' Hey Bulldog, Zep-esque acoustic number Believer and ripping closer Long Hair Wildman Rides Again (spot the cheeky Deep Purple quote on the Hammond). Pekka Witikka plays Mellotron, although its only obvious use is another cheeky quote, the iconic Strawberry Fields flute part, thrown in at the end of Hey Bulldog, although all choir sounds seem to be synthetic (OK, more synthetic).
Their third album, 1997's Psychedelic Singalongs for Stadiums (following '96's Armageddon Jam Session Number Four) is another worthy effort. Picking out individual highlights is difficult, but the album has a great overall feel, shifting between electric and acoustic numbers, with male and female lead vocals and plenty of ripping guitar work. Mainman Pekka Splendid Laine (real name, no doubt) plays Mellotron on Wayward Children, Cannonballs And Skydogs, with some nice flute and string work. I've no idea if there's any on '98's Six Dimensions of the Electric Camembert (are you getting some idea of where this lot are coming from?); I'll report back if I ever track a copy down.
However, it's all over 2001's Death of a Clown. First thing: why are so many titles on this album 'borrowed' from other bands? My Oh My (Slade), Lick Your Fingers Clean (Jethro Tull), Season Of The Witch (Donovan) and probably some of the others? Whatever. Anyway, going by the sleevenotes, it would appear that they used Bigelf's Mellotron; I know Bigelf were based in Scandinavia for a while, which probably made them the obvious choice. Plenty of strings on almost every listed track, particularly Season Of The Witch and Sweet Little Dreamer, with some very upfront flutes on the title track, so overall, a 'Tron recommendation.
All in all, three worthy efforts, albeit rather derivative ones. Then again, I listen to a lot of prog, so how come that's a criticism? Anyway, if you like your rock retro and a fair helping of Mellotron, you may well go for these; I'll report back on their other albums when I get to hear them.
See: Crazy World
The No.6 Dance (2001, 56.39) ****/½
Gods of Demolition
It Ain't Easy
Swallow the World
When I see a name like Five Horse Johnson, I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get. Are they some kind of wussy ironic indie crap? Heartfelt but slightly wet Americana? Or a balls-out, fist-pumping fuckin' rock'n'roll band? Thankfully, they're the latter, as I think I've just about had my fill of crap for this week and it's only Tuesday.
Their fourth album, 2000's The No.6 Dance, has to be one of the rockingest records I've heard this year. OK, OK, it's January. Alright, this year AND last year. While it's not all fast'n'furious, the energy never lets up, just turns into a threatening kind of slow-burn haze when the band choose to play the blues. Best tracks? Whew... Mississippi King, with a chorus that sticks like glue, Gods Of Demolition, the slide-infested swamp blues of Hollerin' and last but not least, monstrous fourteen-minute closer Odella (ignoring the brief burst of studio chat that follows it), a blues so dirty that I had to shower after hearing it. And still felt unclean.
Bob Ebeling plays background Mellotron strings on Buzzard Luck, to no particular effect, to be honest, but it's always nice to hear it used. So; will this album have any real staying power, or is it one of those 'great first time only' efforts? Dunno, 'cos I've no idea when I might find time to play it more often, but it's lifted my spirits nicely with its honest, raw, filthy take on bluesy rock'n'roll. People go on about Australia's Rose Tattoo; if only they'd been this good...
Calatea (1978, 44.10) ***½/TTGate to Calatea
Survey From the Summit
Apocalypse of Sounds
Gate Out of Calatea
Elements (1979, 45.17) ***½/TSun Fire
A Poem of Dancing
Out in the Dark (1980, 41.17) ***½/TTFull Moon
Out in the Dark
Strange Meeting (part 1)
Strange Meeting (part 2)
Flame Dream are possibly the most successful progressive band to come from Switzerland, although it seems they made little impression outside their own country. They released several albums on Swiss Vertigo, however, and can't be dismissed lightly despite their frequently mainstream sound. As has been pointed out in other online reviews of the band, their sound wasn't a million miles away from their contemporaries UK, although, in fairness, both bands released their debut albums in the same year.
Calatea consists largely of full-on late '70s Yes/Genesis-influenced prog, although the occasional pseudo-commercial moment, notably in Survey From The Summit adds little to the album's appeal. It seems Flame Dream are notorious for their plagiarism, and true to form, there's a riff in Gate Out Of Calatea from one of the early Yes albums, followed by something from the Crimson catalogue, although the rest of the album is more original. Roland Ruckstuhl uses his Mellotron sparingly, with choirs on Gate To Calatea and Volcano, with more choirs and a subtle string part on Gate Out Of Calatea. Not knowing the contents of his keyboard rig, I can't say what produces the church organ sound on Apocalypse Of Sounds; a church organ, maybe? Anyway, a decent enough album, without ever really being in any danger of approaching 'classic' status.
Elements is possibly an improvement on its predecessor; it's certainly more original, with the band appearing to be in the process of finding their own sound. Frontman Peter Wolf's flute and sax work seems more assured, and the loss of their guitarist gave Ruckstuhl the chance to stretch out on keys, with some excellent piano work on two tracks. There's still the odd 'borrowed' part, particularly in lengthy closer A Poem Of Dancing, although, again, it's difficult to trace them accurately, although Genesis' Afterglow springs to mind at one point. Ruckstuhl's Mellotron work is confined to a choir part on Sun Fire this time round, as he concentrates on polysynth and piano for much of the album.
In common with just about every other progressive outfit at the time, Flame Dream slightly simplified their approach on Out in the Dark, although it's still 'progressive' as against 'AOR' or somesuch. Compared with Elements, the songs are a good deal shorter, but at seven tracks spread over 40 minutes we're not exactly talking three-minute pop schlock here. The Genesis-soundalike tag really starts to earn its keep here, with Ruckstuhl's Yamaha CP70 sound and chord voicings being a dead giveaway, but that doesn't stop it being a decent enough album, just rather unoriginal. 'Tron choir on several tracks here, but nothing you haven't heard before, to be honest, principally on a late-'70s Genesis album.
So; three fairly decent albums, and when the band stops trying to be Genesis, they almost find their own style. None of the Mellotron work is essential, but Calatea and Out in the Dark feature just about enough to make them worth hearing on that front. Nothing on '81's Supervision (***), incidentally, which is (big surprise) more mainstream, though still listenable.
Guitarist Dale Hauskins' site
|7" (1978) ****/TTTT
Symptome-Dei (1979, 38.59/47.20) ****½/TTTT½
Le Sanctuaire d'Argile
Dédale Vert du Retour
Labyrinth Pourpre de la Connaissance
Arc en Lumière
Le Village du Diamanche Matin
Flamen Dialis (a type of ancient Roman priest, apparently) grew out of the Yecta Plus Band, releasing a single, Decouverte, in 1978 and their sole album, Symptome-Dei, a year later. This really isn't like anything else you'll have heard, unless you're a devotee of Univers Zero et al.; weird, dissonant, experimental, with strange wordless voices and a 'chamber' feel about much of it, but quite exceptionally good with it. I personally found it far more listenable than the other bands with which they get compared, so as long as you're into that 'prog' thing to start with, don't let this description put you off. Difficult to pick out the better tracks on a first listen; suffice to say, if you're feeling adventurous, hopefully you won't be too freaked out.
I don't know whether band leader/keyboardist/drummer Didier le Gallic or his (presumed) brother, Y.H. le Gallic (Yves-Henri? who knows?) plays the 'Tron, but they certainly do it in style; most tracks are smothered in the thing, with strings, flutes and cellos all over the place. At several points you can hear the bottom few 'cello' (i.e. double bass) notes, which are rarely audible on most albums, and all of the 'Tron work is upfront and dry, leaving you in absolutely no doubt as to what you're hearing. Le Village Du Diamanche Matin is basically a Mellotron solo, with all three sounds on their tape frame playing a twisted little melody, complete with some messing about with tape speeds, although that's only one highlight of this Mellotron-lover's delight.
Sad to say, Symptome-Dei and the single were Flamen Dialis' total output; there don't even appear to be any outtakes or live tracks knocking around. I'm quite surprised that this hasn't been picked up by Musea, particularly given its French origins, but Israel's MIO have done the job instead. Anyway; some of you aren't going to like this, but if you don't mind stepping outside the prog 'mainstream', the album has an awful lot to offer. BUY!
Now (1978, 41.10) ****/T½
|Feel a Whole Lot Better
Between the Lines
Take Me Back
Good Laugh Mun
All I Wanted
Ups and Downs
|Yeah My Baby
House of Blue Lights
Don't Put Me on
There's a Place
|7" (1978) ***/TTT
When I Heard Your Name
Jumpin' in the Night (1979) ***½/½
|Please Please Me
Next One Crying
Down Down Down
Tell Me Again
Absolutely Sweet Marie
You're My Wonderful One
Jumpin' in the Night
Yes I am
|19th Nervous Breakdown
First Plane Home
In the USA
The Flamin' Groovies started life in late-'60s San Francisco, but bucked the prevailing trend instantly by refusing to 'go psychedelic', preferring instead to stick to their guns and tear out garage rock'n'roll like it was going out of fashion. Which, indeed, it was. Like the Groovies gave a toss; they carried on in this vein for some years, writing several classics along the way, notably their anthem, Shake Some Action. By 1976, round about the time their raw brand of rock was coming back into fashion, they changed tack, donning Beatles suits and cleaning their sound up. Always had an eye on the zeitgeist, those Groovies...
They signed to Sire for their Shake Some Action (****) album, heavy with covers and the first time their best song made it onto a long-player, then took a couple of years to follow it with Now. Again, as many covers as originals, which seems to display a lack of confidence in their own material, although all six self-written songs here hold their own against the outsiders. Cyril Jordan plays Mellotron (presumably the Rockfield Studios machine) as well as guitar, with some bass choir notes and a few string chords on Between The Lines, a cool string line on Take Me Back and a handful of chords on the oddly-titled Good Laugh Mun. Interesting to note that all three were band-written; maybe they didn't want to mess with other artists' arrangements? Incidentally, Move It was released as a single, backed with When I Heard Your Name, allegedly from a 1973 session, although it seems far more likely it was an album outtake. It's a so-so track, with a decent 'Tron string part, presumably from Jordan again, available on the expanded CD of the album, plus a 2002 compilation, Slow Death.
Now closed with a Beatles number, so Jumpin' in the Night opened with one, although Please Please Me was probably a bit of an obvious choice; once again, only six self-written numbers, with eight covers this time round. The Groovies' own material was perfectly good, although the album overall is probably slightly less good than its predecessor. It's also considerably lesser on the Mellotron front, with just some distant brass on You're My Wonderful One, at least to my ears.
Two good albums, although the first is the better of the two, and is the only one to feature any appreciable amount of Mellotron. Better still, find something with a version of Shake Some Action on it, and hear how it should really be done.
Official Cyril Jordan site
The Soft Bulletin (1999, 58.30) ***½/TT½
|Race for the Prize
A Spoonful Weighs a Ton
The Spark That Bled
What is the Light?
Waitin' for a Superman
|Suddenly Everything Has Changed
Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
Sleeping on the Roof
Race for the Prize (remix)
Waitin' for a Superman (remix)
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002, 47.32) ****/TTT
One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt.1
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt.2
In the Morning of the Magicians
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell
Are You a Hypnotist??
|Do You Realize??
All We Have is Now
Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)
At War With the Mystics (2006, 55.03) ***½/TT½
|The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
The Sound of Failure
My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion
Vein of Stars
The Wizard Turns on...
It Overtakes Me
Mr. Ambulance Driver
|Haven't Got a Clue
Pompeii am Götterdämmerung
The Flaming Lips have been going approximately forever, nearly breaking through with '99's The Soft Bulletin, the (relatively) mainstream follow-up to the impenetrable Zaireeka, a 4-CD set of different parts of the same eight songs that can only be heard properly by mixing them together using a multi-track device. Anyway, The Soft Bulletin actually manages that 'holy grail' trick of combining accessibility with adventurous arrangements and great songs; I know many fans of their earlier work are rather unkeen on the direction they've taken, but, as with so many bands, I'm sure they felt the need to progress. Although the sleeve lists 14 tracks, and 14 come up on my CD player's display, the track titles don't quite match what I'm hearing, so minor guesswork in places. Mellotronically speaking, apparently from Steven Drozd, the album opens with the manic strings pitchbending of Race For The Prize; there's no way this could be samples... A Spoonful Weighs A Ton has more strings, and possibly choirs, but further down in the mix, with the flutes being the only upfront use. Not much on The Observer, but Suddenly Everything Has Changed has some nice volume-pedal work (violined violins?).
It took them three years to follow up, finally breaking through with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It's an eclectic mix of lots of stuff, with both programmed and real percussion abounding; electronica influences combine with Wayne Coyne's sometimes Neil Young-like vocals, adding up to a pretty damn' original end product. 'Tron strings are used on most of the listed tracks, with the odd burst of flute here and there. Are You A Hypnotist?? opens with some solo choir chords, with more of the same later in the song, gratifyingly high in the mix, with more in All We Have Is Now, so after a slow start, this actually ends up being quite a 'Tron album, and worth hearing on a musical level, too.
A four-year gap this time, before At War With the Mystics, featuring the same eclectic set of influences and styles, although this time round they've been burdened with a horrible, screechy production, with the modern malaise of 'everything louder than everything else'. The CD is one of the loudest in my collection, for no obviously good reason; that's what volume controls are for. Anyway, on the 'Tron front we have some high string notes and a solo flute part on The Sound Of Failure, with very obvious flutes on Vein Of Stars and The Wizard Turns On... Incidentally, and for what it's worth, most of the above track titles are abbreviated from considerably longer ones, and are the versions printed on the CD's backtray. Sample full-length title: The Wizard Turns On... The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins. Sometimes I quote full titles. Sometimes I don't. The other highlighted tracks feature a mixture of strings and flutes, though no choir this time round.
Anyway, three really rather good albums, all pretty decent on the 'Tron front. Recommended, I think.
Out of Our Hands (1973, 34.00) ***/½
None the Wiser (King)
Farewell Number One (Pawn)
Man of Honour (Knight)
Dead Ahead (Queen)
Farewell Number Two
|Manhattan Morning (Christmas '72)
Shadows (It's You)
Flash were ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks' first and last serious stab at a post-Yes career, releasing three albums in the early '70s, of which Out of Our Hands was the last. From a distance of three decades, the album, indeed the band's entire career, hasn't dated well, falling into that 'middling rock' non-category, not being heavy enough, progressive enough or anything else enough to really stand out in the public's collective imagination. Despite having its moments, there's little here to excite the modern listener hoping to discover another lost classic, with The Bishop and the slightly Crimsonesque Manhattan Morning being the nearest Flash came to generating any real excitement.
Bassist Ray Bennett doubled on various keyboards, although there's little of the credited Mellotron to be heard, to be honest, with some very background strings on None The Wiser and similar flutes on The Bishop. All of which adds up to a fat 'don't bother', I'm afraid, unless you're a fanatical Yes fan, or a collector of early-'70s 'progressive' albums, regardless of quality. Disappointingly average.
Official Peter Banks site
See: Yes | Empire
Plastic Bag in a Tree (2007, 54.48) ***½/½
|Chained to the Pole
Can't See the Moon? Cut Down the Tree
Give the Recycle Bin Back Now
That's All for Everyone
Sleep at Last!
Not Always Your Best Friend
I Go to Sleep
In Christ There is No East or West
Chris Walla: Duet for Moog and Hurdy Gurdy in G Major-ish
The System of Your Choice
The Turtle's Voice Rests in Peace Just Outside of Salem
The Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble are effectively a pick-up band, helmed by The Decemberists' Chris Funk. It seems he moved to a new area and began playing guitar on his porch of an evening (you can't do this in the U.K. - a) we don't have that kind of porch and b) it's too cold), attracting various musical locals, many already in known bands. That kind of area, obviously. Plastic Bag in a Tree is a mixture of covers and 'trad. arrs', all played in a, well, 'porch' style, I suppose, assuming you keep your Moog on the porch. Imagine a slightly (but only slightly) psychedelic folk album of strange cover versions and you might be getting close. I don't recognise most of said covers, but Radiohead's Amnesiac/Morning Bell responds well to this treatment.
Ruby Janes plays Mellotron flutes on Run Rabbit and I Go To Sleep, although they don't really sound that much like a Mellotron to me. Did they drag that out onto the porch, too? Anyway, the album's publicity seems to give the impression that the recordings were actually made on said porch, which they quite clearly weren't, aside from the trad folk thing stuck onto the end of the record after a short gap. Overall, then, a nice, relaxing record of traditional and pseudo-traditional American folk with extra added Moog. Forget it for the Mellotron, though.
The Swedish Radio Recordings, 1970-1975 (2003, 207.13) ***½/T
Gunnars Dilemma/Tysta Finskan/Virgo
Telegram för en Bombad By
Sluttningar (Lek I Nedförsbacke)/Lord of the Rings
Medley: Hemfärden/Slaget Vid Pellenors Slätter/
De Svarta Ryttarna
Ball På Bali/Erik Luras
Bullen/Erik Luras Igen
Red River Rock
La Resa dei Conti
Fläsket Brinner were one of the earliest Swedish progressive bands (having links with Bo Hansson, who guested on their debut album), although their sound is more jammed-out psych than prog per se. Of course, I'm aware of their existence, but I have to say, I've never heard them before obtaining 2003's four-disc The Swedish Radio Recordings, 1970-1975, rated by some reviewers as actually better than the band's meagre two-album catalogue. I have to say, they don't appeal to me in the same way as, say, Kaipa's symphonic moves, but not only did they appear several years earlier, but were coming from a completely different place, not to mention time.
Each disc of this set covers a complete broadcast, the first three from '70/'71 and the fourth from three years after their second (and last) album, in 1975. The first three are good, semi-improvised psych sessions, effectively, Bo Hansson featuring on discs two and three (with parts of his Lord of the Rings included on the former), with amusing takes on The Troggs' Wild Thing and Johnny & the Hurricanes' seminal Red River Rock on the latter.
However, it's disc four (Studio 7, Radiohuset, Stockholm, October 22, 1975) that interests us most here; a far proggier proposition than the rest of the set, although the band's propensity for jamming makes itself obvious pretty quickly. Jan Ternald plays Mellotron, with a string part appearing a minute into its first track, Aquarius, more of the same about half-way through Kinaspel and a few high string notes fading in and out on Barbarella, although the flute that opens La Resa Dei Conti appears to be the real one used across most tracks. All in all, if you're into the point at which psych meets prog, you can't go too far wrong here, although Mellotron fans be warned: given the length of the set, this barely scrapes one T, probably only notching up an extra half were I reviewing the last disc on its own.
One (1976, 33.51) ***/T
|Demon in Your Heart
Have You Seen My Friend
Hell on Earth
Wanna Rock You
Pain in the Arse
Flax were a Norwegian hard rock outfit, whose first album (of two), 1976's One, sounds, like so many other Euro releases of the era, a lot like Uriah Heep, for better or worse. It starts well enough, opener Demon In Your Heart being a pretty good example of the genre, but within a few tracks, it's slipped to the level of merely 'average', with too many so-so songs to make it especially worth hearing except for those who remember them from the time or real fanatics.
I presume it's keyboard player Lars Hesla on Mellotron, with no specific credit; we get strings on Demon In Your Heart, Way Here and Crusaders, none of it to any great effect, but always nice to hear. The band released their second album, Flax Tracks, a full decade later, in 1986; I would put good money on it being entirely not worth hearing and even better money on it containing no Mellotron.
Helplessness Blues (2011, 49.53) ***/T
Sim Sala Bim
The Plains/Bitter Dancer
|Someone You'd Admire
The Shrine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
You'd have to be pretty unaware of the current scene to've avoided Fleet Foxes, even by my fairly poor standards. Their eponymous debut received more press than you can imagine when it appeared in 2008, with its updated take on that CSN&Y thing. It's taken them three years to follow up with Helplessness Blues, another slice of acoustic whimsy, that probably rewards repeated plays, but makes little impression on initial listens. Maybe you have to be young enough to be unaware of their forebears? Anyway, a handful of tracks stand out, but the overall effect is slightly underwhelming.
Casey Wescott plays (real?) Mellotron, with a flute part weaving through the massed acoustics on Lorelai, although the album's various string parts seem to be real. I've realised this all may sound a little harsh; Helplessness Blues is actually a very pleasant album, with a handful of great moments, but Fleet Foxes really need to find their own identity before album no.3.
See: J. Tillman
Bare Trees (1972, 36.59) ***½/T
|Child of Mine
Sunny Side of Heaven
Spare Me a Little of Your Love
Thoughts on a Grey Day
Penguin (1973, 36.38) ***/T½Remember Me
(I'm a) Road Runner
Did You Ever Love Me
Caught in the Rain
By the time Bare Trees appeared in 1972, Fleetwood Mac seemed to be largely a spent force, at least in Britain and Europe, although they always managed to keep a grassroots following in the States throughout their many early-'70s lineup changes. Apart from the ever-present rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (good job, considering the band's name), the only member still present from their Peter Green glory days was guitarist Danny Kirwan, who only lasted a matter of months following its release himself. The music was the usual blues-based style that the band's fans had come to expect, with no hint yet of the smooth AOR-isms that were ushered in by their new American contingent a mere three years later; I don't know how fans rate this album, but it sounds perfectly respectable to me, although with little of the spark of their earlier material.
Christine Perfect (later McVie, of course) had joined a couple of albums earlier, and very much made her presence felt here with good helpings of organ and various pianos, plus, of course, Mellotron on a couple of tracks. Well, I say a couple, but that's working on the assumption that no-one's playing real cello on the album, and it is 'Tron on Sunny Side Of Heaven. It's most certainly a nice, melodic Mellotron flute part on The Ghost, though, although I'd have trouble recommending the album just for the track. Actually, although it's not bad, I'd have trouble genuinely recommending it to anyone who isn't a major fan of rather average UK rock of the period (and I know you're out there); it has neither the raw talent of their early work, or the radio-friendliness of the West Coast version of the band.
The following year's Penguin shows the first signs of the Mac's musical move towards the West Coast, with a smoother, more Americanised sound than Bare Trees. It's not entirely bereft of energy, although even the more rock'n'roll numbers like (I'm A) Road Runner still lack a certain something. Christine's Mellotron use is again on two tracks only; Bright Fire has a flute line running all the way through (I presume it's 'Tron flute), while Night Watch has a good chunk of strings, although I couldn't really call either track essential.
I found a Christine McVie interview on the Web where she states that there was 'a lot of Mellotron' on Why from next album up, Mystery to Me (**½), but all I can hear on the thing is straight orchestral strings, so I've no idea where that one comes from. I've heard their two subsequent albums, too, Heroes Are Hard to Find (***) (nice pants, Mick!) and their commercial breakthrough, 1975's Fleetwood Mac (***), but there's not a trace of 'Tron, unless my ears are seriously deceiving me. Interestingly, at a recent-ish auction of old Mac gear, most of Christine's keyboards were put up for sale, except her Mellotron, which she explicitly instructed was NOT to be sold. So, can we expect it to turn up on something in future? Well, don't hold your breath, OK?
The Perfect Kellulight (1998, 45.22) **½/T½
|High on You
There You Go (False You)
Some Other Day
Flick released a self-titled EP in 1997, containing one Mellotron track, but all I've heard by them is what appears to be their sole album, The Perfect Kellulight, from a year later and no, I don't know what it means, either. The music seems to fall into that grey, no-man's land known as 'modern rock' or somesuch, otherwise known as 'sub-Radiohead', with that rather whiny vocal style, and a defiantly 'down' approach to their songwriting. The difference is that Radiohead are good...
Various tape-replay things going on here; vocalist Trevor Thornton plays decent enough Mellotron cellos on Maybe Someday, while guest Ande Elwood plays Chamberlin on three tracks: Pink Boo has some almost-inaudible flutes (?), while The End has what sounds like solo male voice, with more of the same on Electric Pear. Not exactly a Mellotron Album, then, or, for that matter, one I shall be playing again. Dull, with unexceptional 'Tron/Chamby.