Meat Beat Manifesto
Mecki Mark Men
Prometheus (2001, 38.42) ****/TT½Prometheus
Diablo (2009, 53.58) ****/TTTT
225 Piece Jigsaw
Dante's Purgatorio: The Divine Comedy, Part II (2009) **½/TT[Maxwell's Demon contribute]
Maxwell's Demon's debut album, Prometheus, is not for the faint-hearted; one 38-minute track, instrumental, angular, ever-changing... This is not an easy listen, and is all the better for it. Of course, music like this generally has to be given time to sink in properly, and a single listen absolutely does not suffice to review it properly, but given time constraints, it's going to have to do for now. Anyway, the facts: Maxwell's Demon are a trio, with Craig Beebe on keyboards, John Galbraith on guitars/bass/pedals/flute and what seems to be a rotating drum stool, so to speak; Dow Draper plays on the album.
Prometheus is all-analogue; analogue synths/electro-mechanical keyboards/'proper' amps (none of that 'modelling' crap here)/tape, although being pressed on CD slightly compromises their integrity, but what's a band to do? Play very difficult music, it would seem, although this isn't as far out as Henry Cow or Univers Zero, say; more like Crimson at their most awkward, or Änglagård being pissy. This is the sort of stuff that sends non-progheads running for the hills, being almost devoid of melody in its usual sense, replacing it with dense, intense arrangements that hold the interest if you're attuned to their style. I can't imagine for the life of me how they would ever expect to play it live; they'd need at least two extra musicians, maybe more. NEARfest 2007?
Anyway, Beebe's keyboard list (this time round) is:
I find it hard to tell which of the three polys he's using at any given time, although the other three 'boards are, of course, easy to spot. Not quite as much Mellotron as you might expect, to be honest, but it would be so easy just to drench the album in the thing that I really quite admire their restraint. The only 'solo' part occurs just before the 30-minute mark, with some stand-alone strings, including a bit of a playing glitch, which proves it's real, on the remote offchance you might not believe them (see pic).
It's taken the band (now a quartet) eight years to follow their debut with 2009's Diablo. Although still all-instrumental (hurrah!), in direct contrast to its predecessor, it consists of fifteen mostly short tracks, many enhanced by the Opabinia String Quartet, despite which, Beebe plays more Mellotron than before. Compositionally, we get the same brain-wrangling twists and turns, offbeat chordal combinations and harmonic complexity as on Prometheus, all a shade heavier this time round? On the 'Tron front, we get strings and choir on Comedown Seduction, choir on Celexa, flutes and choir on Crash, choir and strings on Imbroglio II, choir on No Jesus, strings, flutes and choir (fittingly) on Old Tapes and finally, choir and strings on closer Avarice Atoned, making for a most satisfying listen, both progressively and Mellotronically. Incidentally, the gear list this time round loses the Memorymoog, but gains a set of Taurus pedals and a modular.
So; if Maxwell's Demon's angularity sounds like it might appeal to you, go for it. Prometheus is less 'Tron-stuffed than it could be, but that's actually no bad thing, and there's plenty on Diablo, anyway. Buy.
See: Colossus Project
|7" (1970) ***/½
We Go Rollin'
My Way of Living
Mayfields Mule (1970, 41.44) ***/½Oh Lady
Queen of Rock'n'Roll
Down From the Country
Here Comes the Rain
Rolling Down the Highway
My One for Your Two
Life's Been Good to Me
Mayfields Mule (2007, recorded 1969-70, 48.22) ***/½
Double Dealing Woman
My Way of Living
I See a River
Down From the Country
Drinking My Moonshine
Here Comes the Rain
|Rolling Down the Highway
My One for Your Two
Life's Been Good to Me
Chris Mayfield was a participant in the London scene of the mid-to-late '60s, playing in Nirvana, amongst others, before forming Mayfields [sic] Mule in 1969. He/they released three unsuccessful singles, one of which, We Go Rollin', features the Abbey Road 'Beatles' MkII Mellotron on its B-side, My Way Of Living. Embarrassingly, I can't find the A-side anywhere, but the flip is a nice, Hammond-heavy blues-based track, sounding pretty typical for the time, with short bursts of strings from Pete Saunders that barely count as 'Mellotron use' at all.
For some obscure reason, now lost in the mists of time, their sole album, 1970's Mayfields Mule, was only released in Uruguay, of all places, making it a considerable rarity from the era. It's one of those albums that could've been really good had the band curbed their second-rate country rock tendencies, sturdy, Hammond-driven material such as opener Oh Lady and epics Here Comes The Rain and My One For Your Two sabotaged by dull country rockers (Backyard, Down From The Country), rock'n'roll pastiches (Queen Of Rock'n'Roll) and third-rate boogie (Rolling Down The Highway). Saying that, at least half of its length is worth hearing, but it's a bit of a curate's egg, in all honesty. Saunders adds more of that MkII to My One For Your Two, but so briefly and near-inaudibly that this barely even earns half a T.
Thirty-seven years later, those nice people at Night Wings resurrected the album, getting Mayfield to write some informative sleevenotes. What they don't say is that the tracklisting differs substantially from the original, its weakest tracks (Backyard and Queen Of Rock'n'Roll) replaced by four single-only efforts, including My Way Of Living. Despite the weakness of some of the material, I'm rather surprised that the label didn't insist on releasing 'the complete Mayfields Mule', so I think we can assume the one track missing from both versions (We Go Rollin') really isn't worth hearing. The end result is a slightly better album, though not really enough to gain it an extra half star, while despite containing both the band's Mellotron tracks, the use is so minimal that a full T just isn't an option.
Do you buy Mayfields Mule? If you love the era's organ-heavy, blues-based style, there's enough here to keep you happy. Bear in mind, though, that judicious use of your CD player's 'prog' button or selective saving of its contents onto iTunes will result in a shorter, but better album. Oh, and don't even think about bothering for the minimal Mellotron use.
Official Chris Mayfield site
Product (1997, 38.02) ***/T
Drag the Lake
Clearence Sale (6 Years)
Call it Pride
Return to Sender
Maypole were formed by Tobi Miller, ex-Wallflowers, releasing their sole album, the cynically- (or ironically-) named Product, in 1997. I suppose you'd put it at the (more) raucous end of alt.rock; powerful, tuneful, yet absolutely not powerpop, at its best on Concrete Shoes and My Window.
Patrick Warren plays Mellotron, with a watery string part on Call It Pride. While some of this is a little too 'in yer face' for my liking, the overall impression was 'very listenable', which is more than you can say for, well, almost all recorded music, probably.
Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly (1977, 42.29) ***/TTTTime is on My Side
Lady of Magic
While I'm Alone
Look at California
Maze were formed as Raw Soul by vocalist/songwriter Frankie Beverly as far back as 1970, protégés of Marvin Gaye, although that band don't seem to've released any albums. They became Maze in 1976, releasing their debut, Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, a year later. It's a polished soul/funk album, including several jammed-out tracks, as funk bands were wont to do at the time, in keeping with that '70s ethos, I suppose. Most of the material's a little too slick for Planet Mellotron's tastes, although opener Time Is On My Side is a solid piece of mid-'70s funk and the second half of closer Look At California reminds me of Santana, percussion and all.
Mellotron on several tracks, probably from keyboard player Sam Porter, with orchestral-ish string parts on major hit Happy Feelin's and the lengthy You, with flutes and strings on Lady Of Magic and Look At California. So; perfectly respectable soul/funk, smooth as silk and utterly unsuitable for my typical reader, whoever s/he may be. A surprising amount of Mellotron, though, with well-played and arranged parts in a pseudo-orchestral kind of way.
Mazes (2009, 32.16) **/T
Cat State Comity
I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt
Things I Threw in the Well
Love to Lay
Gas's Blacklight Village
News From Day One
Face Down on Forest Roads
|Heather on Heather
Song for Helen
Song for Luke
Mazes are a side-project of the better-known 1900s, sitting firmly in the 'waif-like indie' mould, going by their self-titled 2009 debut. A Stereolab influence makes itself apparent on several tracks, which isn't exactly the best way to this particular reviewer's heart, but probably will/has resulted in healthy sales. Best track? Has to be Gas's Blacklight Village, a brief instrumental that takes the band's sound in a relatively interesting direction; shame there isn't more like this here.
Tim Sandusky plays Mellotron, with a real-sounding strings solo towards the end of Heather On Heather, but other possible sightings seem to be chimaeras. Sadly, I can't honestly recommend Mazes, however well-meaning it may be, twenty seconds of Mellotron notwithstanding.
See: The 1900s
The Friend Ship (1973, 38.54) **/½
|In the Beginning: When You Were Young
The Illusion: Vanity Fair
The Game: See How They Run
The Street: Lawless Lady
The Question: Completely
The Dream: Artist
The Road: Cane and Able
The Celebration: Sweet Life
|In the End: Everything I've Known
The Word: There's Only One Thing to Remember
In the Beginning: Home Free (The Friend Ship)
Mellotron (Chamberlin?) used:
The obscure Meadow are remembered these days, if at all, for being Laura Branigan's first band (she was a mere sixteen at the time), although she was apparently most reluctant to talk about her involvement with them in later years. Their sole (?) album, 1973's The Friend Ship, is a rather Christian, mock-folky effort, lead vocals shared between Branigan and Chris Van Cleave, with only the occasional mock-baroque touch to liven things up at all. Best tracks? I'm not sure it really has any, although the rather silly The Illusion: Vanity Fair at least caught my attention.
An unknown musician plays Mellotron (or Chamberlin?) strings on The Dream: Artist and what might just be distant flutes on closer In The Beginning: Home Free (The Friend Ship), quite distinct from the real ones used elsewhere, although, with the Chamberlin (if such it is), who knows? You're really not going to go through the effort of tracking this down for either the music or the tape-replay, anyway.
Satyricon (1992, 64.17) **½/½
Original Control (version 1)
Your Mind Belongs to the State
Brainwashed This Way/Zombie/That Shirt
|Original Control (version 2)
Edge of No Control pt 1
Edge of No Control pt 2
Son of Sam
Subliminal Sandwich (1996, 69.02) ***/T
Nuclear Bomb (trouble it mix)
Long Periods of Time
What's Your Name?
Asbestos Lead Asbestos
Mass Producing Hate
Phone Calls From the Dead
No Purpose No Design
I'm not really sure how to best describe Meat Beat Manifesto; sort of proto-techno, maybe. They're certainly nearer to 'dance' than any other musical subdivision; I'm quite honestly not at all up on this field, and (to be honest) don't particularly wish to be, either. I'm told 1992's Satyricon and '96's Subliminal Sandwich are fairly good at what they do, and I can't deny there's some clever sample manipulation involved, it's just that I can't connect with the music well enough to accurately review it. Lazy reviews? We gottem.
As far as the Mellotron's concerned, MBM main man Jack Dangers plays what sounds like MkII on both, with left-hand manual 'moving strings' on That Shirt from Satyricon and left-hand rhythms on the minute-long Radio Mellotron on Subliminal Sandwich, and that appears to be that. If these were from just a handful of years later, I'd say, 'almost certainly samples' (as on Yes' The Ladder), but I don't believe there were any easily-available MkII rhythm samples around in '96, so Dangers probably tracked a real one down, or maybe sampled one. Anyway, try to hear the tracks for rare outings for the sounds, but I find it difficult to recommend the music one way or the other.
Empathy for the Evil (2014, 47.58) ***/½Art Was the Great Leveler
What's Your Name?
Between Livermore and Tracy
One Man's Anger
Naked and Ticklish
Vancouverites Jean Smith and David Lester formed Mecca Normal back in 1984, making an unusual, drum-free form of indie, clearly a precursor to the '90s lo-fi movement. Their (perhaps appropriately) thirteenth album, 2014's Empathy for the Evil's best moments are in the lyric department, rather than musical, notably the barbed Normal, Naked And Ticklish and closer Odele's Bath.
Producer and North American indie legend Kramer plays (presumably) his M400 on the ten-minute Between Livermore And Tracy, with a distant string line towards the end of the track. I'd be lying if I were to tell you that this is an easy listen, but the duo's approach has its own bleak beauty.
Marathon (1971, 37.22) ***½/T½
|I Got No Money
Ragathon (part 1)
Set on the Street
Can't Make it Without You
Trip, Trip Toodle
Ragathon (part 2)
One of Sweden's first psych bands, Mecki Bodemark's Mecki Mark Men supported Hendrix (who apparently loved them) in their own country, before undertaking a mammoth US tour which ended in chaos. 1971's Marathon was their third album and the last made by the original band, before their metamorphosis into avant-proggers Kebnekaise. It's a wild, jamming psych trip of a record, starting badly with the trippy blues of I Got No Money, before heading off into the stratosphere with the likes of the flute-driven Ragathon (Part 1) or the organ-heavy Can't Make It Without You, although top marks (ho ho) have to go to the fab Got Together and Some Reason.
Bodemark plays Mellotron, with strings on Trip, Trip Toodle and Some Reason, from machine unknown: a MkII? It's a bit early for an M400, but I suppose one could've found its way across the Baltic by then. Maybe it's the same one used on Made in Sweden's Made in England? Or was that album really made in England? Whatever. Anyway, this is a fine album of its type, with a couple of decent 'Tron tracks, should you be into that jamming psych thing.
Medeski, Martin & Wood (US) see:
Mirabilis (2005, 58.38) ****/T
|Star of the Sea
San'c Fuy Belha Ni Prezada
All for Love of One
Musa Venit Carmine
Return of the Birds
Come My Sweet
Märk Hur Vår Skugga
This World Fareth as a Fantasye
The Mediæval Bæbes, helmed by Katherine Blake, coalesced from the last lineup of Miranda Sex Garden, who gigged in the '90s with Cardiacs, amongst others. Following on from MSG's semi-medieval schtick, the Bæbes have gone the whole hog and sing nothing but madrigals and other early music, using both traditional and non-traditional instrumentation. Group numbers vary wildly, from six to twelve, with eight on their release that concerns us here, 2005's Mirabilis.
Singing in many languages, both living and 'dead', the ensemble, if you'll excuse the raft of clichés I'm about to land on you, spin a web of voices, harps, hand-drums, violins and all manner of non-standard instrumentation, creating music that gets into the classical charts and even my uncle likes. They do all this whilst remaining more than acceptable to anyone who appreciates the more uncommon things in life, which hopefully includes you lot out there.
Then-member Cylindra Sapphire plays Mellotron on Lhiannan Shee, with string and flute parts enhancing the song nicely, although, sadly, that seems to be it on the 'Tron front. This really is a lovely album, far better than most attempts at recreating the sound of medieval England (not you, Circulus) and far more accessible than most 'serious' early music ensembles. Not much Mellotron, but more than worthy of your purchasing power. Do it.
One & One is One (1973, 36.05) ***/TOut on the Street
How Does it Feel
Instant Karma Kid
Blue Suede Shoes - To Train Time
One & One is One
I Know Why
All the Fallen Teenangels
Medicine Head are probably best remembered these days, if at all, for being the first band to release an album called Dark Side of the Moon, a whole year before the, er, 'better known' one. They were an odd little band; a duo of vocalists John Fiddler, who played drums and guitar simultaneously (!) live, and Peter Hope-Evans, who played harmonica and other mouth implements. They were exactly the kind of outfit that appealed to the very much-missed John Peel, whose status as 'champion of the underdog' led him to sign them to his fledgling Dandelion label, named for a pet hamster of the same name. Peel released their first three albums, the final one being the aforementioned, before they moved to Polydor for another three records before splitting in 1977, Fiddler going on to front the rather dull British Lions, including members of the recently-defunct Mott the Hoople.
One & One is One was their fourth album and first for Polydor. So; whassit sound like? I hear you cry. Well... Try to imagine a pub-rock band playing vaguely folk-rock material, infused with the ramshackle spirit of early rock'n'roll and you might be getting close. I don't know if it sounds anything like their other albums, but I wouldn't be surprised. I can't say it's a sound that's dated especially well, to be honest, although going by the live track at the end of side one, Blue Suede Shoes - To Train Time, they were a lot of fun in a hot, sweaty club.
Tony Ashton, of just about everyone, not least Ashton, Gardner & Dyke and, briefly, Family, augments the duo here on various keyboards, including a very nice Mellotron strings part on what could be the album's best track, closer All The Fallen Teenangels, although that's your lot, sadly. So; you're unlikely to buy this for its Mellotron content, but students of arcane early-'70s British rock (are there such things?) may wish to hear this to see what people were listening to at the time when they wandered off the musical beaten track. Fiddler is still playing to this day and still has hair (albeit white) halfway down his back, resurrecting the Medicine Head name every now and again, although I've no idea whether he still plays guitar sat behind a bass drum. We can only hope so.
Official John Fiddler site
Largo (2002, 65.26) ****/T
|When it Rains
You're Vibing Me
Wave/Mother Nature's Son
Brad Mehldau leads a jazz piano trio, but that's where the similarity to a thousand other players end. Not completely, admittedly, as Mehldau has tackled standards, notably on his early albums in the '90s, before he started writing most of his own repertoire, but his methodology is unusual, as is his habit of covering rock and pop artists in his own style, nor least his version of Soundgarden's ubiquitous Black Hole Sun. Largo is his ninth album in six years, eschewing standards for his own compositions and a few well-known covers, notably Radiohead's Paranoid Android, quickly recognisable, despite its unfamiliar setting. He also tackles two Beatles songs, with an only slightly jazzed-up take on Dear Prudence and a vibraphone-led Mother Nature's Son. Of his own material, Free Willy features an excellent little percussive synth part, while Sabbath is probably the most impressive, mostly because its heavy synth riff sounds slightly like, er, Sabbath...
Jon Brion turns up and does his usual Chamberlin thing, with a high-end string part on Mehldau's segue of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Wave and Mother Nature's Son; at least it's actually audible, which makes a nice change. If this is the face of modern jazz piano, I have no problem with it whatsoever; sadly, most practitioners are far more conservative than this, ghettoising their music for an ageing audience. By no means all of you will like Largo, but it's an impressive piece of work, with once reasonable Chamberlin track.
Shadow of a Rose (1986, 38.33) ***/½
|River of Singers
The Blue Western Sea
Shadow of a Rose
Where the Wolf Sleeps
A Picnic in the Castlegarden
Run Rintintin Run
Wings of the Dragon
Mekanik Kommando (where did they get that name?) were a Dutch avant- outfit in the '80s, when that kind of stuff was even more marginal than it is now (hard to believe, but true). 1986's Shadow of a Rose was their fourth full album, its follow-up, The Castle of Fair Welcome, being quickly reissued under their new name, The Use of Ashes, making this the last exclusively Mekanik Kommando release. It mixes elements of folk, Velvets-inspired 'new wave', psych, even prog in places, not to mention a reasonable helping of weirdness, although it's less 'odd' than their reputation led me to believe.
Mainmen Simon and Peter van Vliet both play the band's own M400, with distant choirs on Wings Of The Dragon, although I can't quite believe it took both of them to play the part. This is available as disc one of the three-LP (yes, vinyl only) The Rosebud Years, credited to both Mekanik Kommando and The Use of Ashes, although I've no idea whether the duo are planning to release it on CD at any point.
See: Use of Ashes
Camera Obscura (2002, 45.49) ***½/T
Now Wait for Last Year
You're So Good to Me
Paul Melançon is yet another well-kept powerpop secret, his music not 'indie' enough for those for whom badly-played sub-Velvets material appears to be the height of sophistication. 2002's Camera Obscura is his second solo release, supposedly a concept album concerning a fictitious amusement park in California, although it isn't immediately apparent on an initial listen. What is obvious is Melançon's impeccable raft of influences and his way with a tune, top tracks including Overture (guess what: it isn't), King Sham, ELO pastiche Jeff Lynne and the great Hitchcock Blonde, all sitting alongside more unusual efforts such as the jazzy Entr'acte and the '30s-esque Little Plum, not to mention the 'hidden' Beach Boys cover You're So Good To Me.
Melançon and Rob Gal play Mellotron, with skronky strings on King Sham and background ones on Finé, although only the former really convince. The world of powerpop seems to encompass any number of highly talented individuals, all hoping to capture lightning in a bottle and achieve fame through songwriting. Sadly, it would appear that route to stardom is long out of fashion, which shouldn't stop you from buying this fine album. Incidentally, there's some Mellotronic input on Melançon's debut, 2000's Slumberland, too. Review forthcoming when I actually get to hear a copy.
See: Samples etc.
Mr. Happy Go Lucky (1996, 47.42) ***/T
Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
Just Another Day
This May Not Be the End of the World
The Full Catastrophe
|Circling Around the Moon
Large World Turning
Life is Hard
It took John Mellencamp a decade to work his way from Johnny Cougar, through John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp to arrive at his real name, always claiming that 'Cougar' was landed on him by his manager, the legendary Tony DeFries (David Bowie). After his early-'80s burst of Springsteen-ish hits such as Jack And Diane, Mellencamp rapidly moved in a rootsier direction, particularly on 1985's seminal Scarecrow, unwittingly helping to invent what eventually became known as Americana a decade later. Mr. Happy Go Lucky, his 14th album, is allegedly more 'dance orientated', but simply sounds like a roots-rock album to yours truly, albeit one with a pretty modern sound for the mid-'90s. Good songs all round, but something about it can't compete with the likes of Wilco or, say, Beachwood Sparks.
Despite a serious complement of tape-replay players, there seems to be very little actually on the album. Mellencamp regular Mike Wanchic plays Mellotron, while co-guitarist Andy York plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin, although the only obvious parts are what sounds like Mellotron cellos on Jerry and definite flutes on Mr. Bellows, which isn't to say there aren't more parts hiding somewhere in the mix. So; Mellencamp fans will love this, Americana fans should give it a go, everyone else should probably not bother. It's actually a pretty reasonable album, although its tape-replay's a bit thin on the ground, to be honest.