Fit & Limo
Five Day Rain
Glory of the Inner Force (1975, 42.49/49.50) ****/TT (TTT)Register Magister
A Bridge to Alice
Colosus Part 1
Colosus Part 2]
Finch were a mid-'70s instrumental Dutch outfit who played a rather lush form of symphonic progressive, utilising the sort of chord changes that may be slightly too 'sweet' for some tastes, especially later in their career. The band actually cover a variety of styles on Glory of the Inner Force, from the lushness of Register Magister through to the jazz-rock influenced Paradoxical Moods, always managing to adhere to the twin tenets of prog, complexity and melodic invention. Despite their being guitarist Joop van Nimwegen's band, guitar solos aren't horrifically overdone; in fact, all the band members have a chance to show their 'chops' at one point or another.
Finch never (to my knowledge) used a Mellotron live, or even owned one, but Cleem Determeijer made sparse but interesting use of one on just this one album. Every track has a few string chords thrown in, at one point even drowning out van Nimwegen's guitar, but never lasting more than a few seconds. You rarely hear the Mellotron used with such restraint; actually, it might've been nice to have heard it a little more. I suppose they were worried about reproducing the effect live, given that their sole live string sound was a Solina. Nice, but not quite the same...
So; recommended musically, though the Mellotron use is decidedly low key. Interestingly, the CD includes both sides of a single released after the album, Colosus Parts 1 and 2, apparently being the theme music to an imaginary film. Typical Finch, except in their length, the tracks feature a load more Mellotron than the album tracks, for some odd reason. Finch went on to release Beyond Expression (****) and the possibly slightly too cheesy Galleons of Passion (****), then fell into disarray as with so many of their contemporaries. In 1999, a double CD appeared, The Making of...Galleons of Passion/Stage '76 (****), pairing demos for their third album with, funnily enough, a live recording, including Paradoxical Moods (obviously Mellotron-free), also worth hearing.
Destination Girl (2004, 30.33) ***/T½Reno
Day is Over
Finishing School are, effectively, Sasha Bell, also of Essex Green and Ladybug Transistor, apparently. Her/their Destination Girl is a pre-psych '60s-influenced pop album, for want of a better description; think Petula Clark crossed with the more unfashionable end of British pop of the era and you won't be a million miles off. Bell's voice is the kind of contralto that makes men of a certain age (no, not mine, thank you) swoon, many miles/years away from the awful screechy noise that's considered 'vocal talent' these days, although certain online reviewers have still managed to find fault with it. However, as you can see, the album's extremely short, so at least it doesn't outstay its welcome for those particular curmudgeons.
Mellotron from both Bell and Tom Hakava (Ben's Diapers/Scaramangas etc.), with brief but strident strings on Hair from Hakava, Bells' background flutes on Day Is Over and more obvious ones on closer Page 16. This isn't an album for the proghead in your life, but it's an entirely pleasant listen, as long as you don't expect to hear any influences later than 1966. Passable 'Tron work, too.
Finisterre (Italy) see:
Finn [a.k.a. Finn Bros] (1995, 38.29) ****/TT
|Only Talking Sense
Eyes of the World
Mood Swinging Man
Last Day of June
Where is My Soul
|Bullets in My Hairdo
Paradise (Wherever You Are)
Kiss the Road of Rarotonga
Finn (a.k.a. Finn Brothers) were Tim and Neil, both ex-Split Enz and Crowded House, although elder bro' Tim only played on one of the latter's albums. Both brothers are excellent writers in that 'intelligent pop' area, so unsurprisingly, a straight collaboration was always going to be pretty good. There's not a bad track to be heard, with standouts including Angels Heap and Paradise (Wherever You Are), although Kiss The Road Of Rarotonga spoils the mood a little. Mind you, for an album released in the mid-'90s, Finn is incredibly (not to mention refreshingly) short, so losing a track would almost push it into mini-album territory, at least by modern standards.
There's a reasonable amount of Chamberlin on the Crowded House albums, and it's used again here, with a couple of tracks benefitting from the typical Chamby woodwind sound, particularly Eyes Of The World, while there's some kind of brass (solo trumpet?) on Angels Heap; my usual Chamberlin complaint applies, with me having trouble working out what is and what isn't, not to mention what sound might be used, so I wouldn't swear the above are correct, but I can't be too far off.
So; if you like later Enz/Crowded House, you'll love this album, although in some ways, it's a bit of a musical stopgap between Crowded House and Neil's solo career (see below). Not a Chamberlin classic, either, but a good album of its type. Recommended.
See: Crowded House | Split Enz
Try Whistling This (1998, 54.46) ****/TT
|Last One Standing
Try Whistling This
She Will Have Her Way
Faster Than Light
One Nil [a.k.a. One All] (2001/2002, 48.48) ***½/½
Rest of the Day Off
Hole in the Ice
Wherever You Are
Last to Know
Don't Ask Why
Turn and Run
Driving Me Mad
Into the Sunset
7 Worlds Collide: The Sun Came Out (2009) ***/½[Finn variously contributes]
Too Blue (with Johnny Marr)
Little By Little (with Sharon Finn)
Learn to Crawl (with Liam Finn)
Bodhisattva Blues (with Ed O'Brien)
All Comedians Suffer
After the Finn duo with elder brother Tim (see above), it took Neil three years to come up with his first solo album proper, Try Whistling This. It has a few contemporary touches, but they're used to enhance the material, not swamp it, and as such, hopefully won't sound too dated in years to come. The songwriting is, again, excellent, with standout tracks being hard to pinpoint, although Souvenir is particularly good. Finn plays most of the instruments himself, although there's quite a few other people involved, chiefly programming by Marius De Vries, who had previously collaborated with Björk.
Chamberlin problems again, although Neil has gone on record as saying "All the strings on the record are Chamberlin", though the strings on Sinner have to be either real or samples, so I'm not 100% convinced. Anyway, Souvenir opens with Chamby cellos, and turns out to be a bit of a monster, with (I think) juxtaposed sampled strings and Chamberlin, with a solo strings part closing the track. Twisty Bass is also very obviously Chamby, while the other tracks noted above probably contain it somewhere, though I'm not promising. Either way, an excellent record.
Another three years passed before One Nil, but Finn's muse hadn't left, although I'm not convinced that the album is quite the equal of its predecessor. To be fair, it probably needs a good few plays for its charms to be fully appreciated, so don't be surprised if I rewrite this review in a year's time... Full instrumental credits this time round, with Mitchell Froom playing Chamberlin oboes (?) on Secret God, and Finn on inaudible Chamby-something on Into The Sunset.
For some odd reason, after releasing an album recorded in Auckland with loads of famous friends, Seven Worlds Collide, Finn reissued One Nil in the States in 2002 as One All, with two songs (Don't Ask Why and Elastic Heart) replaced by two others (Lullaby Requiem and Human Kindness), though neither has any obvious Chamby input. Both of these albums are well worth owning, although I currently prefer Try Whistling This. Neither of 'em's a Chamberlin classic, but the former is nearer to one than the latter.
See: Crowded House | Split Enz | 7 Worlds Collide
Enter (2014, 51.39) ***/TEnter Part One
Enter Part Two
Enter Part Three
Enter Part Four
Led by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Fire! Orchestra's jazz improv lineage can be traced back to late '60s combos Jazz Composer's Orchestra and Liberation Music Orchestra in their sizeable lineup and dedication to an avant- approach to the genre. Their second album, 2014's Enter, despite its deceptively gentle Rhodes intro, is an uncompromising release, much of its length taken up by borderline-dissonant brass ensemble playing and less-than-commercially-viable vocal work, shall we say. Part Four is probably the most conventionally tuneful, but that really isn't what Fire! Orchestra are about, so I wouldn't recommend this to anyone expecting lite jazz.
Sten Sandell plays a little (clearly real) Mellotron on the album, with discordant strings, complete with pitchbends, on Parts One and Four, only just audible on the latter. Accomplished avant- jazz, then, with a little Mellotron. Not for Kenny G fans.
Night on Bald Mountain (1975, 42.47) ****/TLes Cathèdrales
Centurion (Tales of Fireball Kids)
Night on Bald Mountain (Suite)
Night on Bald Mountain
The Engulfed Cathedrale
Night on Bald Mountain (Finale)
Fireballet are one of the few US progressive acts of the '70s to get any sort of deal at all; they were signed to the rather wonderful Passport label, who eventually went down the 'chute. Pity. Anyway, Fireballet were completely overblown and all the better for it; two keyboard players, a drummer with every bit of orchestral percussion known to man, thoroughly ridiculous lyrics and a penchant for 'borrowing' bits of other people's music. Sometimes they even credited them. Album opener Les Cathèdrales openly rips off George Martin's Theme One, as performed by Van der Graaf Generator, but puts its own twist onto the tune.
The only Mellotron on Night on Bald Mountain is the first track on side two, Atmospheres, with some fairly ordinary strings, played by Frank Petto. The following Night On Bald Mountain (Suite) is vastly better, if Mellotron-free; a rearrangement of Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain, it works brilliantly and is probably worth the price of admission on its own.
Despite being produced by ex-Crimso Ian Macdonald (who also guests), the album is somewhat derivative, but I've heard an awful lot worse; it definitely comes under the banner of 'a good listen', although not exactly one for the Mellotron fan. Incidentally, the live pic to the right sees the band borrowing Larry "Synergy" Fast's M400. Fireballet released a second album, Two, Too (***½), but many progressive fans dislike its rather lightweight approach to the genre. To my ears, the band had moved into Styx/Ambrosia territory and the album's still very listenable, despite the appalling sleeve design of a bunch of hairy men wearing tutus (ha ha). Sadly, the last anyone heard of the band was several members' involvement with the extremely ropey Intergalactic Touring Band project.
See: Intergalactic Touring Band
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 Mellotron-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 Mellotron strings on The Song That Saved My Life, but 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 Mellotron 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 Mellotron, 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 Mellotron 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 (from Chris Dowd?), with a Mellotronic 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.
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.
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