I Was a King
Ice Cream Hands
Ideal Free Distribution
Ides of March
A Sucker for Your Sound (2009, 22.15) ***/TT½A Sucker for Your Sound
A Sucker for Your Sound (remixed by Toddla T & Ross Orton)
A Sucker for Your Sound (remixed by Tim Bromhead)
A Sucker for Your Sound (remixed by Sawdust of Oak)
A Sucker for Your Sound (remixed by Putty Thumb)
A Sucker for Your Sound (remixed by Tansey's People)
A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars (2009, 48.51) ***½/TT (TT½)
|The Circus of Deaf
A Sucker for Your Sound
Lust for a Vampyr
She's Giving Me the I
Escape From New Yorkshire
Inzects 2 - The Mutations
Part One: How Are You?
Part Two: Out Of The Shadows
Part Three: Gone
A Pod is Waiting
|[bonus tracks on various eds. include:
You Won't Get Home
Only a Show
Wake Up Tony
I've had a brave stab at describing I Monster in their Samples review: to my ears, a sort-of electronica/lounge/pop crossover, although that nowhere near covers their broad range of influences. Never the fastest of workers, 2009's A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars is only their third album in over a decade, so ridiculously diverse that anyone not attuned to their collective mindset may have trouble taking in everything that's going on. Stylistically, it veers between the fairground madness of opener The Circus Of Deaf, the pop/reggae of A Sucker For Your Sound and the pseudo-'70s pop (vocoder non-optional) of Goodbye Sun, and that's just the first three tracks, which may give you some idea of its diversity.
Five of the album's tracks (counting all three parts of Sickly Suite as one) feature Jarrod Gosling's mighty 'Tron, bought from the defunct Add N to (X), who in turn bought it from the once-mighty Pallas, making it actually a rebadged Novatron. Anyway, they add strings to A Sucker For Your Sound, strings and flutes to Goodbye Sun, inaudible flutes to Lust For A Vampyr, inaudible choir to Escape From New Yorkshire (ho ho!), strings and flutes to Sickly Suite Part 1, choir and trombones to Part 2 and full-on strings (at last!) and flutes to Part 3, although I presume that means the flutes on Mr. Mallard are produced by something else entirely. In addition, of the bonus tracks on various versions of the album, You Won't Get Home (from the vinyl) has inaudible flutes and very nicely upfront strings (grinding to a halt at the end of the track), while an iTunes bonus, Let's Swing, adds strings and inaudible choirs.
Incidentally, A Sucker For Your Sound was released as a single in '08, with a six-track promo version appearing early in '09, featuring the original track plus five remixes, largely (as you'd expect) barely recognisable, from the techno of Toddla T & Ross Orton's, Tim Bromhead's punky take on the track and Sawdust of Oak's balladic version. Two remixes feature new Mellotron parts from Jarrod, with Sawdust of Oak's mix adding not only the usual strings and flutes, but recorders and the harpsichord-like 12-string guitar, while Tansey's People's mix features the vibes prominently, alongside the strings, flutes and 12-string again.
I'm not quite sure to whom I should be recommending I Monster, although what they do is undeniably worth hearing. With elements from prog, dance, lounge and a dozen other genres, this is for broad-minded individuals (with the emphasis on 'individual') only; almost the legendary, probably nonexistent 'something for everyone', then? Very British, although, contrarily, that could aid its popularity amongst Anglophiles worldwide, particularly those of a 'lounge revival' bent. Recommended, anyway. Incidentally, you'll also hear Jarrod's Mellotron on an I Monster offshoot, Skywatchers.
See: Samples | Skywatchers
Old Friends (2010, 30.00) ***/T
|The Wylde Boys
Learning to Fly
Someone is Waiting
Forgive and Forget
Here to Stay
I Was a King's second album, 2010's Old Friends, is a slightly uncomfortable mixture of fairly generic powerpop and something rather further out, so jangly stuff like Echoes or the closing title track rubs shoulders with the twisted Americana of Learning To Fly and lethargic psych-fest Unreal. Not that I have a problem with diversity, you understand, but I'm not fully convinced that it necessarily works in this case. I also have a quibble with an element of the mix: given that this is presumably meant to be a variant on 'pop', why are the vocals so muffled? I'm beginning to feel a little churlish, actually; this is a good, listenable record, although were the less essential tracks removed, it would end up as more of a long EP.
Joshua Stamper plays (real?) Mellotron flutes, with a nice line on Snow Song and a chordal part on Here To Stay, with all the usual caveats surrounding its veracity. So; a slightly confused release, although its high points make it worth the effort for powerpop fans.
Where Are We Going (1976, 43.58) ***/TTT½Sunrise (a New Day)
(Part One) Where Are We Going
(Part Two) Where Are We Going
As far as I can work out, ID were a quartet (?) from Maryland who recorded just the one album, Where Are We Going, before imploding. It's basically an acid guitar freakout from beginning to end, showcasing the 'talents' of one Gary Oickle, who proves himself to be highly adept at wanking furiously on his chosen instrument, to little effect, as hoping for any remote hint of melody or invention from him is essentially equivalent to pissing in the wind, sad to say. Don't get me wrong; the album has loads of energy, just a certain lack of... focus, maybe. While not entirely instrumental, vocal appearances are few and far between, as the band (or Oickle) are clearly far more interested in just letting rip.
The copious amounts of Mellotron strings on display here were played by David Oickle (or Bob Halsell?); it's essentially used for chordal backdrops to his brother's guitar work, although there are a few moments of near-solo playing, not least towards the end of the arse-about-face titled (Part One) Where Are We Going, which closes side one. And is that 'Tron brass on Solar Wind? Hard to tell, mainly due to the beyond-murky production, not to mention the fact that the Mellotron sits mainly in the upper registers, in a vain attempt to be heard over the ever-present guitar. So why haven't I given this a higher T rating, given how much 'Tron is actually present? Lack of originality, never mind listenability; there's an awful lot of Mellotron here, but you're exhausted by the end of the first (and shortest) track, and the album's end really came as some sort of relief. A random 90-second burst of this stuff is exhilarating; 45 minutes is mind-numbing.
IQ (UK) see:
Cuevas de Altamira (1978, 34.52) ***/TT½Cuevas de Altamira
Romance del Conde Lara
La Virulencia del Ferrocarril
Las Chicas de Laredo
A lo Alto y a lo Bajo
La Baila de Ibio
Ibio made a pleasant enough sound on their sole LP, Cuevas de Altamira, although it's all a big unengaging, to be honest. Mid-paced, with little of 'that Spanish sound' that many of their countrymen employed (an honourable exception being Pastor), and vocals (when they were used) from a guy who sounds like he'd have been better off doing cabaret on the Costa del Sol. There's some nice folky stuff here and there, although comments like 'the Spanish Strawbs' aren't very helpful or accurate.
Despite using a string synth, Ibio also used their Mellotron for string sounds, and make quite a nice job of it, although their 'Tron use is quite a long way from innovative. It lifts the album where it's used, however; best track is probably opener Cuevas De Altamira itself. So; not bad, not great. Don't pay full whack for it.
Broken UFO (2002, 52.58) ***/T
Coming After You Again
Stay in the Same Room
Why'd You Have to Leave Me This Way?
When the Show is Over
|Because You're Young
Come Down Come Down
Rain Hail Shine
Leaving All the Best
Happy in the Sky
Ice Cream Hands are an Australian powerpop band who seem to be highly rated by many, though I'm not entirely sure why. I've heard plenty of good stuff in this area, but most of Broken UFO passed me by without making any real impression, I'm sorry to say. Stay In The Same Room is the first track that really pushes the classic powerpop button, coming on like a Big Star outtake, but too much of the album suffers from Country Wannabee Syndrome (see: Leaving All The Best), or is content to plod along unexcitingly, without bothering too much about memorable melodies; surely a given in this genre?
Mellotron on a handful of tracks from East VanParks, with a distant flute melody on Head Down and a more upfront one on Diplomat's Daughter, with occasional background bursts of flute on Come Down Come Down, none of which should be confused with the real orchestration to be heard in places. Overall, then, a so-so pop album that spends too much of its time trying to be commercial rather than trying to be good. Disappointing.
Tutankhamon (1978, 36.52) ****/TTTT
Sacerdotes de Amon
Lying on the Sand
Himno al Sol
|Close to God
Too Young to Be a Pharaoh
Iceberg are primarily known as a pure fusion band, but their debut, Tutankhamon (presumably a concept piece), is a masterpiece of prog/fusion crossover, with great material and fiery playing from all concerned. There is the occasional lapse, like the drum solo in Close To God (why does anyone record studio drum solos?) and the average balladry of the opening section of Too Young To Be A Pharaoh, but overall, this is an excellent album that should appeal to both prog and fusion fans.
Josep Mas "Kitflus" slaps Mellotron all over the first four tracks, then, mysteriously, ignores it until near the end of the album. Tebas opens with a full-on symphonic section, 'Tron strings to the fore, with more of the same on the following three tracks and Too Young To Be A Pharaoh. There are (male voice?) choir parts on Sacerdotes De Amon and Tebas (Reprise) too, making this something of a distinct Mellotron Album. So; recommended on all fronts; I may even come back to this in a while and bump up its star rating. Excellent.
Iceberg Does it Live: 100th Week at Walt Disney World (1978, 38.31) ***/TTTTSide One
Michael Iceberg's Iceberg Does it Live: 100th Week at Walt Disney World is one of the odder albums you'll find on this site, and it's up against some fairly stiff competition. Basically, Iceberg (clearly his real name) spent many years playing a weekly set on his synth setup (the "Amazing Iceberg Machine") in a silver pyramid at Walt Disney World. As you do. So why isn't he deified in the world of EM? Because he was an entertainer, that's why. He played snippets of popular tunes (classical bits, film stuff, standards, unsurprisingly lots of Disney, er, Boston's More Than A Feeling...), all while keeping a very non-techie crowd interested. I said he was an entertainer...
I've no idea how long his sets tended to be, but the album features a forty-minute segment of, as it says on the tin, his 100th week's performance. After ten minutes or so of playing, he goes into a demo section, where he tells his audience (and, by default, us) what's going on. Basically, he had around thirty instruments in his setup, controlled from just three keyboards, several years pre-MIDI, which is a pretty jaw-dropping technological feat by anyone's standards back in '78. The picture on the sleeve show a Polymoog and an Oberheim 4-voice, other obvious contenders being a Yamaha CP-70 piano and several Chamberlins. One of these was presumably a manual model, from where he could control (I believe) another three, any or all of which could have been keyboardless 'remote' models, a path down which the Mellotron was destined never to go.
Although there's loads of synth work (mono- and poly-) on the record (not to mention a snippet of Moog Taurus at one point - looks like he had a de-pedalled set in his rig, going by the pic to the right), the Chambys crop up all over the place, with a little flute melody on the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah segment (yes, I'm afraid so), followed by what sounds like Chamby banjo, percussion, brass, female voice, loads of sound FX (animals, jeers etc.)... And, of course, lots of strings, including a solo section on side two. You want Chamberlin? And analogue synths? You gottem.
The album has several downsides, not least Iceberg's unfortunate habit of singing along, rather tunelessly, to several of his ditties, and the choice of material is seriously cheeso, though it has to be said, what did you expect? Black Sabbath? I believe Iceberg sells CD-Rs of the album himself, although his website seems to've disappeared, so I don't know how you'd contact him. He still plays, but I rather doubt whether his beautiful setup from thirty-odd years ago is still functioning, or even extant. Wonder what happened to all that gear...? Anyway, a rather strange album, but worth hearing, if only for a laugh. And here he is doing it live...
Grown Unknown (2011, 38.44) ***/½Love is Won
Bag of Wind
After is Always Before
Why is it that female singer-songwriters are almost invariably compared to their peers, unlike their male contemporaries? The comparisons have become reviewing clichés; you know, the 'Joni Mitchell type', the 'Kate Bush type', even the 'Vashti Bunyan type'. It's not as if it's uncommon for women to write songs and sing them, is it? Nonetheless, it seems to be expected, which makes Lia Ices, on her second release, 2011's Grown Unknown, a cross between the Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom varieties. Lazy journalism? You got it. It's one of those albums which promises a great deal and may well deliver it on repeated plays (when?), but left this reviewer feeling slightly deflated on an initial listen, although I'll admit that's almost certainly my fault, not the record's. It's difficult to pick out highlights, as most of its near-forty minutes sounds pretty much the same, but Daphne (a collaboration with Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon) and closer New Myth might just tip the scales.
Lia plays Mellotron flutes on New Myth, but only just. An online interview has her stating that she used 'Mellotron and synthesizers'; the pic of a Nord by the article means nothing, as she freely admits to using it live, so I think we'll have to assume it's real until or if I should find otherwise.
Three Sheets to the Wind (1996, 42.43) **½/T
|If You Dare
Stare at the Sky
No One's Watching
A Sound Awake
Get You Back
The only interesting thing about California's Idaho (huh?) seems to be their guitarists' use of four-string tenor guitars, although the end result is merely a low-end guitar sound, rather than anything really radical. Usually described as 'slowcore', Idaho continually hover on the brink of 'boring', at least to this listener. Shame just might be the album's best track, although it's hard to say why. Maybe I simply find it the most appealing? Duh.
Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin thing on just one track, with a string part on Glass Bottom that shows the instrument at its best, sounding almost real, if you ignore the lack of glissando between chords. Overall, this album sounds like Low, if they forgot how to write interesting slow material. Rather dull, I'm afraid, with one decent Chamby track.
Ideal Free Distribution (2007, 47.04) ****/TTTT
|Apples and Oranges
Tropic of Cancer
Someone's Gonna Die
The American Myth
Son of a Gun
|Nine on a Side
New Madrid, 1811
All Over the World
Hit the North
All That Once Was Wonderful
Red Letter Days
Despite forming in 1997, it's taken Ideal Free Distribution a decade to produce their eponymous debut, which turns out to be a minor masterpiece of modern psychedelia, influenced yet not entrapped by the late-'60s. Obvious influences include The Beatles (of course) and The Zombies, but brief psych-period Kinks and the West Coast scene also play their part in defining the band's sound. It's difficult to pinpoint standout tracks on an initial listen; suffice to say, it's all good, and the ten-year wait has clearly been worthwhile.
Although initially a trio, the band have now expanded to a loose seven-piece, including Marci Schneider on Mellotron and castanets (!) The 'Tron's all over the highlighted tracks above, with a triply-overdubbed part in Son Of A Gun, with a flute melody overlaying a strings-and-cello backdrop, with plenty of (mainly) strings use on everything else. After something of a 'Tron dearth at the beginning of the album, once it kicks in properly, it doesn't let up for the rest of the record, in highly pleasing fashion. Is it real? Not entirely sure, but it sounds pretty good, but then, when played sympathetically, modern samples tend to. Anyway, a very nice little album, loads of (hopefully real) 'Tron. Worth the effort.
May You Live in Interesting Times (2009, 45.05) ***½/T
Your Signature Here X____________
Chicago's Ideamen are devilishly difficult to categorise, which is rarely a bad thing: prog metal? Intelligent pop? The bastard sons of Houston heroes The Galactic Cowboys? 2009's May You Live in Interesting Times (the alleged old Chinese curse) features mad waltzes rubbing shoulders with riffarama and accomplished piano playing paired with multi-part vocals in a heavy-yet-quirky mish-mash that reminds some reviewers (though not especially myself) of Faith No More. It's difficult to pick out specific tracks for praise; the album works best as a whole (thankfully, it's a sensible length) and should probably really be listened to that way.
Chris Gardner plays (real?) Mellotron, with strings on Emergency, Sunshine, Incident and Your Signature Here X____________, plus cellos on Quares, albeit always in the background and usually only for a few seconds at the end of the song. While this album could, at a pinch, be described as 'prog metal', it's so, so much more than that; unusual, original and interesting, I look forward to hearing whatever they might do next. Despite the number of highlighted tracks above, though, there's next to no Mellotron, so don't bother on that account.
World Woven (1972, 38.14) ***/TTMother America
Baby's Gonna Grow
Mellow Your Soul
All Join Hands
The Ides of March, including Jim Peterik, later of the phenomenally successful Survivor (yes, the Eye Of The Tiger crew), are primarily known for their major 1970 hit Vehicle. Their brass-rock sound bore comparison with Chicago or Al Kooper's Blood, Sweat & Tears, to the point where many confused Vehicle with that band, in the way that some people still think Focus' House Of The King is by Jethro Tull, but then, ignorance is everywhere.
1972's World Woven was the band's original incarnation's third album of four. It's a kind of prog-lite effort, definitely an influence on Styx, Kansas and their ilk; in fact, the refrain from opener Mother America must've influenced Styx' Suite Madame Blue a few years later. Which, in turn, influenced Judas Priest's Beyond The Realms Of Death... And on it goes. It's actually a rather confused effort, switching between the pre-pomp of Mother America and Children to the rock'n'soul of Mellow Your Soul and All Join Hands, not to mention the folk-influenced Landlady... Then again, who said a band had to sound consistent throughout a whole album? That seems to be a recent conceit and, after all, this appeared in the latter stages of the only period of real freedom the industry's ever allowed...
I presume it's keys man Scott May on Mellotron, with a few string chords at the end of Diamond Fire, more of the same throughout Children (obvious 'real strings substitute' playing), flutes and strings on the balladic Landlady and strings on Flipside, the only track to feature any brass, with a slightly superfluous trumpet solo. I don't believe this is on CD, but if you're interested in the roots of American prog, it's worth a listen if you can track down a copy. Not that much Mellotron, but worth hearing if you're listening anyway.
The Birthday Party (1968, 28.48) ****/TT½
|The Skeleton and the Roundabout
I Like My Toys
Follow Me Follow
Sitting in My Tree
On With the Show
Pie in the Sky
The Lady Who Said She Could Fly
End of the Road
The Idle Race seem to have been consigned to a strange, forgotten corner of UK psych, which is doubly odd as they were not only a perfectly good band, but also the first recording home of future ELO man Jeff Lynne. Their debut effort, The Birthday Party, is a really rather good little typical psych-pop album, with all the period detail you could ask for, married to an excellent selection of songs. The best-known of these is the opener, the wonderful The Skeleton And The Roundabout, but The Birthday, I Like My Toys and Mrs Ward are all right up there, too.
There's a fair helping of Mellotron (almost certainly a studio instrument) on the album, played, I believe, by Barry Pritchard, although I can't find any reference to him, just rhythm guitarist Dave Pritchard. Anyway... The Skeleton And The Roundabout has what sounds like some form of muted brass (saxes?), while I Like My Toys has a classic 'Tron flute melody, as does Morning Sunshine. Lucky Man has more of those probably saxes (key click and all), and Mrs Ward has both strings and pitchbent flutes. The strings on End Of The Road are definitely real, but I think I'm correct in my 'Tronspotting on the other tracks.
They followed up with The Idle Race (***); not bad, but not really a patch on its predecessor, and there's no Mellotron. There was a third album, too, Time is (***), recorded after Lynne left to join The Move and subsequently ELO, but it's not really anything to write home about. There were also several single-only tracks, including their other best-known number, Imposters Of Life's Magazine, but sadly, there's no more 'Tron to be heard. Incidentally, the Idle Race's entire recorded output is available on a double CD set, Back to the Story (***½), which is almost certainly the easiest way to track this material down. Anyway, I'm not sure I can call The Birthday Party a Mellotron Album as such, but it's a worthy addition to any collection of late-'60s UK psych. Buy.
See: The Move | ELO
Devil's Playground (2005, 54.26) ***/½
World Comin' Down
Yellin' at the Xmas Tree
Lady Do or Die
Billy Idol? Stop laughing at the back. AND at the front. Ever since Generation X's 'weekend warrior' status in the punk pantheon (Kleenex my arse, er, so to speak), William Broad has had a serious credibility problem, although the masses that bought his mid-'80s albums couldn't have cared less. Rightly so, you might say; he's been a provider of raucous, heavy rock'n'roll for the last three decades, making it difficult to knock him when he does something so well. I discovered the Mellotron use on 2005's Devil's Playground by sheer fluke, spotting it while listening to a compilation which just happened to feature the relevant track. The album itself is... well, it's a Billy Idol album; what more can I say? Highlights include ridiculous (OK, more ridiculous) opener Super Overdrive, Sherri and Scream, all adhering to his usual template, Plastic Jesus is (intentionally) amusing and while Yellin' At The Xmas Tree's seasonal tale of domestic violence (!) might not be the best thing here, it seems to be at least trying to make a serious point.
Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, the onanistic Planet X) plays on some of the album, including what might even be real Mellotron choirs (albeit fairly distant ones) on Plastic Jesus. Real? Who knows? I think he used a real one with Dream Theater, but without hearing from the man himself, I'm unlikely ever to find out... Anyway, if you thought ol' Bill had stopped making albums after the '80s and are yearning to hear more from the man, Devil's Playground is loads of fun and is unlikely to disappoint.
Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart (2003, 56.52) ***/T
Machete y Maiz
9 Volt Heart
The First Kiss is Free
|I Dig You
The Liquor Dance
If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times (2008, 48.42) ***/½
|If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times
Her Red Fishnets
El Huracan y Pin Pon
Back in the Limelight
Dancing for Dollars Again
|Celos con Mezcal
The New Orleans-based Iguanas mix pop/rock with a Latin sensibility; think, a younger Los Lobos with more of a Tex-Mex feel. Their fifth studio album, 2003's Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart, is a decent enough album, if rather unexciting in places, although Flame On is that rarity, a great modern 'party' song. Either Rod Hodges or Joe Cabral has an excellent, whisky-sodden voice, used to good effect on several tracks in the way that only Americans can do. Rene Coman plays Mellotron, with strings all over opener Yesterday (no, not that one) and the brief, unlisted track tacked onto the end of the album.
It took the band five years to follow up with If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times, which starts off sounding like any other contemporary garage band, until second track in, Malas Vibras, which, er, switches straight into Latin mode. Like its predecessor, it's a bit of a mixed bag, the Tex-Mex stuff working less well for yours truly, but it's a reasonable listen. Coman on Mellotron again, but despite flutes and (especially) strings on several tracks, the only one that actually sounds anything like the real thing are the strings on Morgan City, although I'm willing to concede that there may be more hidden away on other tracks, low in the mix.
Overall, these aren't the kind of albums your typical Planet Mellotron reader (yes, you) are probably going to like, but they're perfectly acceptable records of their type, with some reasonable Mellotron use on Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart, at least.