Nagisa Ni te
Nanook of the North
N.Æ. (Poland) see:
NHU (1978, 39.21) ***½/½Na Terra do Verde Chan
Friky & Alexo
Hay un Tren
A Trancas e Barrancas
From Galicia/Galiza, in the north-west of Spain, NHU were a psychedelically-inclined progressive outfit who released just the one eponymous album at the height of Spain's late-flowering prog scene. Its organ-heavy sound hasn't dated that well, to be honest, though the material's good; like so many progressive albums, there are no bad tracks per se, only varying levels of 'fairly good'. Unlike many of their contemporaries, there's absolutely no flamenco influence in NHU's sound whatsoever, their style being more early-'70s post-psych, but if you're a Spanish prog devotee, don't let that put you off. Highlights? Hard to say, although opener Na Terra Do Verde Chan catches the ear quite nicely.
The unknown organist plays Mellotron strings, briefly but forcefully, on Hay Un Tren, although that seems to be your lot on the Mellotron front. So; NHU's a good album without being at all outstanding. Put it on your prog wants 'B' list.
Fee Fi Fo Rum (2012, 54.55) ***/½Fanfarum for Forum
Dinner With Inner
Fanfarum for Electric Forum
Swedish avant-jazzers Nacka Forum (who appear to be a part-time proposition for four busy musicians) have been around for a decade or so at the time of writing. Their third album, 2012's Fee Fi Fo Rum, is pretty hard going for non-avant-jazzers, frankly; its more straightforward material (lengthy opener Fanfarum For Forum, Jimmy) is perfectly listenable for 'regular' jazzbos, but when they head off-piste (Borkum Riff, Buss 446, Gluck), it all becomes rather more, er, 'difficult'.
Saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar doubles on keys, including a MiniMoog (audible on Occasions and closer Fanfarum For Electric Forum) and the expected, the sleevenotes stating: "And special thanks to Opeth for letting us use your Mellotron!" Small problem here; I didn't know Opeth even owned a Mellotron; in fact, they've only just started using a real one. n.b. Jonas has written to tell me that they were recording in the same studio the day after Opeth had been in and were told they could use the MkVI. Although I initially thought it was inaudible, it turns out to have provided the heavily-pitchbent vibes on Yasuragi, treated by sticking it through a Roland Space Echo. As The Bonzo Dog (Doo-Dah) Band once said, 'Jazz: Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold'.
The True World (1999, 79.02) **½/T½
|The True World
Fall of Evening
|The True Sun
Space Between I & I
Feel (2002, 62.28) **½/T
|The New World
Song About a River-Crossing Song
Strength of the Wind
Speed of the Fish
Strength of the Waves
|Song for Malo
The Same as a Flower (2004, 50.39) ***/T½The Same as a Flower
Threads of Souls
Beyond the Grass
After a Song
Dream Sounds (2005, 41.41) ***/TThe True World
Me, on the Beach
The True Sun
Nagisa Ni te ('On the Beach') have been fêted for some years now as psychedelia's Next Big Thing, meaning that when I finally heard them, I was a little underwhelmed. They're basically the duo of Shinji Shibayama and Masako Takeda, who provide the male-female vocal dynamic, plus whoever else they need to realise their vision. Their music is probably best described as a modern take on 'weird folk', or the acoustic end of late '60s psych, complete with rather iffy vocal and instrumental intonation, unfortunately. 1999's The True World is their first tape-replay effort, conforming admirably to the above description, which makes its near-eighty minutes (it's actually a two-disc set) a good double its comfortable length, the nearest it gets to a highlight being parts of the jammed-out The True Sun. Takeda's Mellotron finally rears its ugly head with an exceedingly skronky cello part on Will, full of wobbly notes and tuning issues, plus a brief string part on The True Sun and a flute line on Space Between I & I.
2002's Feel is somewhat overlong for its content, causing this listener to run out of patience after forty minutes or so. I can only assume that considerable substance intake is recommended before playing, as the album crawls through ten tracks of tuneless acoustic psych, complete with dodgy recorder solos and the like. Best moment? The acid-drenched (sorry) guitar work on closer Stars, for what it's worth. Takeda plays Mellotron, while Shibayama plays Mellotron and Chamberlin (I've no idea where the band sourced one, assuming it's real), with strings on opener The New World and the oddly-titled Song About A River-Crossing Song, nowhere near enough to make this worth hearing on that account.
Their sixth full album, 2004's The Same as a Flower, has its moments, but a great deal of it's rather dreary, sad to say; maybe its rather downbeat approach can be seen as 'transcendent' if you're in the right frame of mind? It's mostly one-paced (slow), with little development of musical themes, concentrating more on its lyrical content, I suspect. Tape-replay credits are the same as Feel, with lush strings and obvious brass (complete with key-click) on the lengthy Bramble and flute and strings at the end of After A Song. My guess is that the instruments were added in one take, played together by the duo, which would probably mean that the strings are Chamby and the brass and flute, 'Tron.
The following year's Dream Sounds is a slightly different proposition, featuring just four tracks over its forty-minute length, one of them 'side-long', in vinylspeak, although it's more a collection of disparate bits than a 'proper' piece, to be honest. Said track, The True Sun, deviates from their usual template a few minutes in, when the drums and lead guitar kick in, although the pace remains as funereal as ever. Shibayama on Mellotron this time round, with strings on Me, On The Beach and The True Sun, although less vibrantly than on The Same as a Flower.
So; I can't comment on their earlier work, but these albums will probably appeal to those with a high tolerance for fractured, folk-influenced psychedelia and out-of-tune vocals. While all feature some nice Mellotron and/or Chamberlin work, none is essential on that front.
Org Records site
The Täby Tapes (2001/4, 37.37) ****/TTT
|Reaching the Shores of Arlanda
Karin Boye's Grave
Israel and Palestine - a Solution
St George and the Dragon
|Where Will You Go?
Nanook and the Beast
Forget it Jenny, Love is Just a
Privilege for the Rich
Änglagård's Mattias Olsson's latest project, Nanook of the North, specialise in (you guessed it) slightly melancholy pop with a retro sort of sound and twin male/female vocals (see: Reminder, Geller et al.). The band are named after the 1922 film, an early filmic attempt at understanding other cultures rather than just wiping them out, and have been favourably compared to Björk in various online reviews. Unless I'm entirely mistaken, The Täby Tapes crept out as long ago as 2001 as a cassette-only release, although the CD took another three years to appear. The above scan gives little idea of the sumptuousness of the packaging; pictures of some of the grottier areas of Stockholm (?) in midwinter are overlaid with layers of translucent 'tracing paper' containing lyrics etc., knocking your standard CD booklet into a cocked hat (so what exactly is a 'cocked hat' anyway, and why would you wish to knock anything into it?). The album has some highly eccentric lyrics in places; what's all that stuff in Reaching The Shores Of Arlanda about "Mattias, play your omnichord", anyway? The odd stuff just adds to the album's appeal for me; who wants 'normal'? Well, most people, I suppose, but I can still dream, can't I?
Anyway, the mysterious "Nanook" (not Mattias, for what it's worth) plays 'Tron throughout, with the most overt parts being the flutes on Nanook's Ark, Phonecall and St George And The Dragon, the strings on Where Will You Go? and a brief choir part on Nanook And The Beast. Mattias assures me that there are also various vibes and 'Tron piano parts, not to mention the oboe in Hey Fragile. Apparently, the 'distant orchestra' on Nanook's Ark comprises multiple 'Tron overdubs, including flutes, strings, cello, oboe, vibes, church organ and choir, amongst others. Anyway, the album itself is probably not for prog fundamentalists (you know who you are), but if you've heard and liked any of the man's other projects, you'll probably like this.
See: Änglagård | AK-Momo | Geller | Molesome | Pineforest Crunch | Reminder
Aslan is Not a Tame Lion (1974, 36.32) ***/TTTYou'd Better Believe it
To a Fountain
Miracle of Birth
In the Forest
Boogie for Narnia
Narnia were a one-shot female-fronted UK outfit, operating at the lightweight, folky end of the progressive spectrum, on 1974's Aslan is Not a Tame Lion. It has a Christian bent to a few tracks, notably Miracle Of Birth and In The Forest (hardly surprising, given their whole C.S. Lewis thing, I suppose); I don't personally find the music especially enthralling, but if you like the quieter, simpler type of '70s stuff, you may be into it.
Keyboard man Peter Banks (no relation to the ex-Yes/Flash guitarist) plays Mellotron on four tracks, with solid strings throughout their cover of Tom Paxton's You'd Better Believe It and Muddy Ground, with flutes and strings on Agapé and To A Fountain, making this quite a Mellotron album, on the quiet. As I said, don't expect anything wildly exciting, but it's all competent enough and the Mellotron stuff's worth hearing.
I Can See Clearly Now (1972, 34.10) ***/TTT
|Stir it Up
That's the Way We Get By
(It Was) So Nice While it Lasted
Ooh Baby You've Been Good to Me
You Poured Sugar on Me
I Can See Clearly Now
|We're All Alike
How Good it is
The Fish and the Alley of Destruction
There Are More Questions Than Answers
My Merry-Go-Round (1973, 37.18) **½/½
You Better Stop (Messing Around)
Gonna Open Up My Heart Again
Ooh, What a Feeling
Love is Not a Game
|(Oh Jesus) We're Trying to Get Back to You
Salt Annie Ginger Tree
American Johnny Nash was the acceptable face of reggae in the early '70s, which isn't to dismiss his place in its history; indeed, he helped The Wailers out in the late '60s after visiting Jamaica and recorded enough Bob Marley songs to help him on his way. Of course, Nash was, at heart, a soul singer, and a bloody good one, but he's known to this day for his incursion into the world of reggae in the '70s.
I Can See Clearly Now is best known for its catchy title track, but most of the album's material is pretty much on a par, including four Marley compositions. John "Rabbit" Bundrick plays keys on the album, including Hammond, MiniMoog and, of course, Mellotron, with flutes and strings (under real recorder) on Marley's Stir It Up and orchestral-ish strings on every other highlighted track, sounding very much as if it was used as a string section substitute, rather than as an instrument in its own right.
Nash's follow-up, the following year's My Merry-Go-Round, waters the reggae down to the point where it's pretty much a soul album played on the offbeat. Little of the material matches the best of its predecessor, opting for slushy ballads instead of statements of (admittedly fairly bland) intent like Stir It Up or The Fish And The Alley Of Destruction. No specific credits again, but a 'thanks' to Rabbit makes me heavily suspect he plays keys this time round, too. Most of the strings are real this time (bigger budget?), but it's definitely 'Tron on Loving You.
Johnny Nash seems lost in the early '70s, despite his timeless voice and major role in the propagation of reggae, probably as his material sounds determinedly lightweight these days, in comparison to the biggest Jamaican names. Anyway, loads of Mellotron on I Can See Clearly Now, very little on My Merry-Go-Round, which may or may not affect your decision re. purchase.
Still Waiting for Spring (1999, 30.15) **½/T
Then I'll Be Smiling
More Than This
Everything You Say Sounds Like Gospel
When Everything Meant Everything EP (2002, 17.31) **½/TTPretty the World
Fall to Pieces
Weight of it All
It seems Matt Nathanson sidestepped the 'join a band' thing and went straight into a solo career (how do people do this?), releasing his first album as far back as 1993. '99's Still Waiting for Spring is his fourth, best described as chirpy pop/rock alternating with ballads, of the kind that irritates non-aficionados after, well, usually a couple of minutes, to be honest. It's harmless, as far as these things go, but it drags rather, which is a harsh accusation for an album only half an hour long. Counting Crows' Charlie Gillingham plays Mellotron and Chamberlin, with what sounds like (Chamby?) cellos under the real one on Loud and a major ('Tron?) flute part on Everything You Say Sounds Like Gospel.
Nathanson's next release was an EP in 2002, When Everything Meant Everything, essentially more of the same, or should that be less? Jason Borger on Chamberlin this time round, with a string part on Fall To Pieces and upfront flutes on Weight Of It All, making it more tape-replay heavy than its full-length predecessor. So; all rather dullsville if you're not into this stuff, but one great tape-replay track in Everything You Say Sounds Like Gospel.
Meskalin (1995, 42.12) ***/TT
|Tränen in Mein Herz
|Immer Wieder Sonntags
Hier und Übermorgen
Bis Ans Andere Ende der Welt
As far as I can work out, Nationalgalerie were a German (-language) alt.rock outfit from the early '90s, who released four albums over a five-year period. The last of these, 1995's Meskalin, is one of those inoffensive, strangely characterless albums that rarely actually inspire anyone to really like or dislike them, which might explain why the band split soon afterwards. The nearest it gets to a standout track is the Oriental-esque Tütensuppe, but, despite its sensible length, it still rather outstays its welcome towards the end.
Christian "Reverend Ch.D" Dabeler plays Mellotron, with skronky strings on In Wien, a similarly cracked flute melody on Sperrangelweitoffen and cello and strings on Hier Und Übermorgen, the album's top 'Tron track. This really isn't a very exciting release, if truth be told, but its Mellotron tracks are perfectly pleasant, if rather undemanding.
Earthmover (1974, 37.21) ***/TT
|Lookin' for Rock'n'Roll
Summer in the City
20th Century Kid
One Room Country Shack
|Follow My Heart
This Wheel's on Fire
Sweden's Nature were one of those mid-'70s bands who tried to be all things to all men, going by their second album, 1974's Earthmover. This has a bit of everything; rock'n'roll-by-numbers (opener Lookin' For Rock'n'Roll, Midnight Dreamer), pop/rock (20th Century Kid, Meating), blues-rock (One Room Country Shack) and contemporary covers (The Lovin' Spoonful's Summer In The City, Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire), not to mention the odd, percussive Going Home and by far and away its best track, psychedelic mini-epic Mystery Brew, complete with a superb, properly ripping guitar solo. Perplexing.
Björn J:son Lindh (a man with his own lengthy history) plays Mellotron, with string and flute parts on Summer In The City, Mystery Brew and Follow My Heart. Is this worth hearing? Just about, mainly for Mystery Brew and some of the Mellotron work, although an album this short containing this much filler can't really be called a success.
Vim & Vigor (2014, 48.03) ***/T
Smash'n Grab it
Black and Blue
Gimme a Shot
Murder and Misery
Dutch band Overthrow were mentored by Golden Earring, who renamed them The Guns of Navarone, quickly shortened to Navarone. I have trouble with metal's multifarious sub-genres, but this lot sound like an out-of-time '90s band to my ears: downtuned riffs, nu-metal feel... Thankfully, their second album, 2014's Vim & Vigor, features far more variety than that; many of its tracks only use metal tropes for emphasis, while Wander has more of a pop-rock vibe, closer Bottom Line is a bluesy ballad and, best of all, Psycho Vaquero sounds like Pink Floyd, had David Gilmour been replaced by a mariachi trumpet player.
Ruud Peeters and Merlijn Nash play Peeters' M400 on a couple of tracks, with choirs and strings on Psycho Vaquero, brief background strings on Murder And Misery and more upfront ones on Leave. While not something I'm ever going to love, this is a perfectly competent album with a smattering of genuine Mellotron, which is probably as much as we can ask for these days.
Winds of Isis (1974, 41.39) ***½/TTTTPrelude
Into the Valley of the Ancients - a Glimpse of Isis
Full Moon Lightning - the Field Test
Ritual Eternal - Initiation of the Searcher
From the Castle the Winds Arose...
Through the Corridors of Time, Including the March of the Undead - Temptation to Turn Back
Carnival of the People - a Brief Respite
Nightmare - Isis Unveiled
Dance of the Astral Shadows - Beyond the Point of No Return
Flight From the Unknown
Ashes to Ashes
These days Chris Neal seems to be mainly a composer of film scores, but three decades ago, he produced one of Australia's first symphonic progressive albums. Winds of Isis is instrumental, with more than a hint of psych-throwback to it, and an unusual melodic approach, quite possibly influenced by his interest in film music and probably Hollywood musicals, too. He's more of a keyboard player than anything else, although he plays most of the instruments on the album, proving himself a capable guitarist and drummer. He lists all equipment on the back cover, which reads like a wish-list of mid-'70s keys and effects, using various Mu-Tron devices from the States, through which he sticks just about everything in sight.
Neal's Mellotron work is well over the top, with every track heavy with very raw-sounding 'Tron; don't expect a two million buck production here... He lists choir/cellos/strings, and uses all but the cellos extensively, usually in great chordal slabs stomping all over whatever else is going on at the time; almost the first sound you hear on the album is choir chords, and he only ever lets up for a couple of minutes or so before slapping some more on. I've had to guess which parts of side two's The Legend contain 'Tron, as there's no timings for parts, so apologies if they're wrong.
All in all, a good, if unusual prog release, with very healthy doses of Mellotron, so if you don't object to something a little different, I can heartily recommend a purchase. I've no idea if Neal produced anything else in the progressive field; there seem to be several Chris Neals who've made their mark somewhere down the line, including an Abbey Road engineer, a modern country artist and a Mike and the Mechanics collaborator (collaborators usually get shot, don't they?), so Web research is extremely difficult. Anyway; worth the effort. Buy.
See: Marshall Brothers Band | Bob Hudson
Nova Express (2002, 46.53) ****/TTTTBlackmail
Zepto (2006, 46.14) ***½/TT½Pillars of Birth
The Old Ones
The Thing in the Walls
Fabric of Reality
De Thriumpho Naturae
Do What Thou Wilt
Nebelnest (or, as they seem to prefer, NeBeLNeST) released their first, self-titled album in '99, using Mellotron samples. An excellent record, sitting firmly in the Crimson/Anekdoten camp, it's a mixture of improvs and arranged pieces, well worth hearing. Three years on, they followed up with Nova Express, on Cuneiform (amusingly spelt 'CuNeiFoRM' on the spine), where the band have noticeably tightened up their style, although the overall sound remains the same. This is wild, frequently improv'd music which whips up an impressive sonic maelstrom, with all four musicians pushing themselves to the limit; I hear distinct comparisons with Britain's Guapo whose new album is, coincidentally, also out on Cuneiform.
Keyboard man Olivier Tejedor wrote to me to confirm their Mellotron use on the album, although they used samples of some sounds, too. The choirs, cellos and flutes are played via a Kurzweil, but the strings, string section and vibes (strange combination!) are 'real', with particularly powerful strings on the excellent Stimpy Bar. For the record, there are more strings on Redrum, string section and strings on the title track and what must be vibes on Cinema 1920, although they're played at the sort of speed you wouldn't normally associate with the instrument. The flute samples turn up on Nova Express, sounding remarkably realistic, I have to say, although the few seconds of 'cellos' right at the end of the album are a bit manky.
All in all, an excellent album, well worth shelling out your hard-earned for, with plenty of real 'Tron action. Mellotron highlight? Probably the choppy pitchbend work on Nova Express, where Tejedor goes completely off the rails, to the point of possibly being guilty of 'Tron torture. There's a pic of him playing their M400 on their site, although it's written in Flash, and is a complete bitch to navigate. The 'Tron is also incredibly hard to spot, being painted black and shot against a black background; watch for the shot of Tejedor sitting behind an undistinguished black box, facing the camera and wearing yellow slippers (!).
Three years on, and Zepto is, essentially, more of the same, which is both a good and a bad thing. Good because it's a good sound, and bad because it seems the band haven't progressed very much in seven or eight years. I'm sure they'd argue that they have, but to the casual observer, Nebelnest and Zepto really aren't that different, with all three of their albums being semi-improvised instrumental jazzy Crimsonesque stuff with more than a dash of RIO. Fabric Of Reality is the one track where they step outside the box, being a quiet, if unsettling piece, dominated by Tejedor's deliberately screechy violin glissandos, and no Mellotron. Assuming Tejedor's using the same setup as on Nova Express, there are 'Tron strings on most tracks, with the odd flute sample thrown in and what I take to be his string section tapes on Majnuns, although I couldn't hear the vibes anywhere.
So; Nebelnest may possibly be beginning to hit the law of diminishing returns after three albums, although all three are perfectly good. Their debut may just be the best of the lot, but if you want real 'Tron, you'll want both Nova Express and Zepto.
See: Samples etc. | Bob Drake
Nebulosa (1977, 43.21) ***½/TT
Det Vackra Folket
Nebulosa were your typical prog one-off from the '70s, Swedish division this time, rather than the usual Italian. Nebulosa is a reasonable enough album, although the band seemed to have trouble deciding what exactly they wanted to play, making for a slightly disjointed end product. Even in Sweden, 1977 wasn't exactly the height of the progressive movement, either, so it's not especially surprising the band didn't get to record again. Much of the album's material is actually very good, with the near-seven minute Undergång being a highlight, although the white-boy funk of Nödrop and Mittpelarna really don't work in the context of the rest of the album.
Thomas Kascó's Mellotron doesn't rear its head until the choirs on track four, Digital, after which he can't seem to stop using it for the next few tracks, with particularly heavy use on Undergång, with an almost constant strings backdrop, plus flutes and choirs. Faint flutes on Verklighetsflykt are the only other use on the album, but with three 'Tron-heavy tracks, this is borderline 'worth it for the 'Tron' territory. A reasonably good album, which appears to be available in a limited edition with a 'hand-painted sleeve', which appears to be a splash of paint in various colours over the design you can see above, which isn't quite the same thing.