Zeena Parkins & Ikue Mori
Parson Red Heads
Pas Chic Chic
Pazzo Fanfano di Musica
Vanessa Paradis (1992, 37.39) ***/T½
I'm Waiting for the Man
Silver and Gold
Be My Baby
Your Love Has Got a Handle
on My Mind
|The Future Song
Just as Long as You Are There
Gotta Have it
Vanessa Paradis is probably better known as an actress than as a singer, particularly in her native France. Remembered best elsewhere for her teenage hit Joe Le Taxi (1987), Vanessa Paradis was her third album, effectively in collaboration with Lenny Kravitz, with whom she was apparently in a relationship at the time. It's far better than I expected, I have to say, although at times it sounds more like a Kravitz album with a girly singer (Paradis was all of twenty at the time of its release), although when you consider that he wrote most of it, produced it and played on every track, that's hardly surprising. To my ears, it begins to drag after a few tracks, and actually seems to become more 'commercial' as it goes along, although maybe I was just becoming fatigued at the sound; it's still an awful lot better than you'd ever expect of an album by a young French actress (sorry, but you know what I mean...). Saying that, both the near-instrumental Paradis, and the frankly bizarre Gotta Have It that closes the record, are well off the mainstream, providing a much-needed antidote to some of the blander material surrounding them.
Other interesting tracks include the Velvet Underground's Waiting For The Man, which, when heard being sung by a woman, accentuates the sexual ambivalence implied by the title, and the album's two ballads. Both have Mellotronic input, with Kravitz playing flutes all the way through Silver And Gold, and more of the same, uncredited, on Lonely Rainbows, which is probably Kravitz again, but could possibly be his regular keyboard player, Henry Hirsch, who plays on several tracks here.
So; do you? Not if you're after heavy-duty prog, but then you probably aren't even reading this anyway. Vanessa Paradis is actually a much-better-than-expected pop/rock album, not a million miles away from Mr. Kravitz's usual material. Couple of OK 'Tron tracks, but certainly not worth purchase on their behalf, even though that's exactly what I did.
See: Lenny Kravitz
Paragone (1994, 44.00) **/TT½Once Again Twice
A Room of One's Own
Under the Evening Sky
I) Early Rain
II) Silver Lining
III) Curious Grey
IV) The Parting Twilight
Paragone were an early '90s Milwaukee-based progressive outfit, who, going by their sole, eponymous release, were seriously in thrall to '80s so-called 'neo-prog' (we never called it that at the time, for what it's worth). I really tried to like this album, but almost every track (bar opener Once Again Twice, which starts gently) follows the same dreary path: big, bombastic opening, leading into some ridiculously over-busy drumming and not in a good, Museo Rosenbach kind of way (perish the thought), followed by several minutes of dull, unadventurous, repetitive instrumental work (I suppose we should be grateful they didn't have a singer), of which the cheesy, major-key Under The Evening Sky is probably the worst example. Have you never heard of key modulations, chaps? Chord sequences even just slightly off the well-trodden path? Even the remotest hint of dissonance? Deeply depressing. Is there a best track? Yes, actually: although closer Moon Tide takes the same path as everything else here, it does it better, with more Mellotron.
Mark Walczak plays keys, including real Mellotron, which he overuses on every track (albeit only two parts of the four-part New Day), whacking huge slabs of highly unadventurous chordal strings amongst some horrible digital keys, adding flutes to part one of New Day, Early Rain, for good measure. Is any of his use worth hearing? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moon Tide is also the best Mellotron track, featuring a very pleasant flute solo (somewhat spoilt by more of those cheeso synths) and big, lush strings. Is Paragone worth hearing? In a word, no. Sorry, guys. Paragone underwent a reshuffle not long after, becoming Nightales, although the two bands shared several members. Their one album, 1996's The Voyage, isn't the most exciting thing you'll ever hear, but it beats this nonsense.
To Mock a Killingbird (1993, 49.55) **½/½
Did I Hear You Say...?
Make Believe (Jesus Freak)
Love to Turn You on
Do You Know How to Rock
|Letter to Myself
Torn and Tied
This Means War
After an independent release, Pariah released their sole major-label album in 1993, To Mock a Killingbird (ho ho), by which time the metal scene had suffered a major upheaval with the arrival of grunge and the total collapse of the '80s 'hair' style (hurrah!). Not that it's a full-on hair-metal album; they'd clearly been listening to the mighty King's X, amongst others, but there are too many pointers on the record to the previous decade to ignore, frankly. I mean, Alice in Chains managed to make the transition, not to mention Pantera, even if the latter uselessly tried to deny for years that their first three albums were by the same band... Anyway, this album has its moments, mostly the quiet ones (notably brief acoustic guitar piece Love), but overall, you can see why Geffen wasted their money on them; derivative, few decent songs and a seeming inability to decide what they actually wanted to sound like.
Jeffrey C.J. Vanston plays Mellotron, but only just, with a few seconds of strings in the dying seconds of closer Sick Kid. All in all, then, unless you're really into that late '80s/early '90s hard rock thing, you do not need this album and don't even mention the Mellotron.
Paris (1976, 40.54) ***/½
Narrow Gate (La Porte Etroite)
|Rock of Ages
After American Bob Welch (here credited as Robert) left Fleetwood Mac in disgust at their infighting, he formed a power trio, Paris, with ex-Jethro Tull bassman Glenn Cornick, who doubled on keyboards, and ex-Nazz (Todd Rundgren's first serious band) drummer Thom Mooney. I think it's safe to say that their debut, Paris, rips Led Zeppelin something rotten, with Black Book, Religion and Beautiful Youth being total Zeppalikes, and Welch's vocals on most tracks cutting Robert Plant just a little too close for comfort. Saying that, it's not a bad album, just rather more derivative than it might and should have been. It does feature tricks that Zeppelin never used, such as the sequencer lines on Starcage, and when Welch gets funky, he sounds nothing like Jimmy Page whatsoever.
This is actually one of those albums that I put on with no expectation of Mellotron use whatsoever, and after a false alarm re. the string synth on Beautiful Youth, I thought I'd got away with it. But no. Come the first track on side two (the longest, and probably the album's best track), Narrow Gate (La Porte Etroite), after a few more Zep-esque minutes, suddenly Cornick's Mellotron strings appear, bolstered with a whiny synth note at the beginning of each chord, making me wonder for a moment if it was more of that string synth. Has to be 'Tron, though, and it lifts the track very nicely indeed, I have to say.
So; one for '70s hard rock aficionados, or Zeppelin fans who just can't get enough of that sound, I suspect. Not enough 'Tron to make it worth hearing for that, although it's not too a bad album overall. File under 'a bit average'. There was a second Paris album later the same year, Big Town 2061, but I understand it's rather funkier than their debut, and is highly unlikely to feature any Mellotron input.
Official Bob Welch site
See: Fleetwood Mac | Jethro Tull
Loneliness Knows My Name (2003, 40.48) **½/0
Suns of Guns
Your Smile's a Drug
Bullets By the Door
Home for Now
Everyone's in Everyone (2007, 40.27) **½/T
|Life is a Song
Time for Moving on
Here We Are
Stay With Me Tomorrow
Arrive Like a Whisper
Saint With a Fever
|One Body Breaks
There's a Darkness
Everyone's in Everyone
Patrick Park is an Americana-influenced singer-songwriter, whose debut album, 2003's Loneliness Knows My Name veers off into near-MOR territory too often for comfort. I suspect that's more to do with his then label, Hollywood, who are very mainstream indeed, than his own inclinations, but it's hard to say. Don't get me wrong, it has its moments (Past Poisons almost rocks out for a minute), but Park's rather insipid voice tends to drag most of the material down to the same level. Michael Krassner allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'll be buggered if I can hear where; maybe there's some cellos buried in the mix somewhere? All the strings appear to be real, so I've really no idea. All in all, this is pretty dull fare, albeit heartfelt, which is better than dull and corporate, I suppose. No obvious 'Tron, anyway, just on the offchance you were thinking of ignoring the rest of this review and shelling out for a copy.
After an interim live release, Park followed up with 2007's Everyone's in Everyone, not dissimilar to its predecessor in its shallow take on the singer-songwriter genre; the closing title track's probably the best thing here, but I'm afraid that isn't saying much. Brandon Bush on 'Tron this time round, with flutes on the title track, so despite a couple of other 'possibles' (the strings on Arrive Like A Whisper and strings and cellos on Saint With A Fever), it seems likely that this is the only actual use.
Park isn't the most exciting of artists, which probably makes him far more popular than those of higher levels of integrity; in fairness, he probably doesn't see it that way, but I do. Two dull albums, very little Mellotron.
Phantom Orchard (2004, 39.20) ***/½Jezebel
Zeena Parkins is a harpist who's stepped way outside most players' comfort zone, having worked with the likes of Björk, John Zorn and Fred Frith, while Ikue Mori is a Japanese-born drummer who operates mainly in the New York Tzadik label scene. What both women clearly have in common is a disregard for doing things the way they 'should' be done, being more interested in finding new routes. Their 2004 collaboration, Phantom Orchard, is a highly experimental work involving synthesized sounds, plus the occasional actual harp or percussion part, which is probably only going to appeal to the more avant-garde crowd, although that isn't to dismiss this fascinating album in any way.
Parkins is credited with Mellotron, but the only things on the album that even might be one are the distant strings and possible other stuff on Ghostlake, although they could be pretty much any modern keyboard, to be honest. Far more exciting then the Mellotron, though, are Parkins' synths of choice, among them a Moog III modular, a Buchla 200 and a Gleeman Pentaphonic Clear. Gleemans (Gleemen?) are rare enough in any form, but they only built a few perspex ones, not that its case affects its sound in any way, of course. Enough synth fan-boyness.
Anyway, you're not going to buy this for its minimal Mellotron input, but as an experimental work, it's second to none.
Official Zeena Parkins site
Official Ikue Mori site
Invisible Cinema (2008, 54.56) ***½/T
Riddle Me This
Into the Labyrinth
Aaron Parks is a young American jazz pianist who, like many similar, involves himself in various projects as both sideman and leader. 2008's Invisible Cinema is his fifth solo album (he's recorded well over a dozen as a sideman to date), consisting of thoughtful piano jazz that rarely heads off into 'jazz solo hell', for which I am truly grateful. Parks' compositional skills are formidable, memorable melodies to the fore on many tracks, with some great prog moves from guitarist Mike Moreno on Harvesting Dance.
Parks plays the Mellotron himself, with a background flute line on Nemesis, although that would appear to be it. If you're not entirely allergic to jazz, you could do a lot worse than to make the effort to hear Invisible Cinema, although, like so many others, it's not worth it for its Mellotronic content.
Astray (2004, 68.14) ****/TTT½
Some Fear Growing Old
Between Me and the End
Horror Express (2008, 60.14) ****/TT
|In the Dark
Escape Into the Future
Snug Bottom Flute and Starveling
Monsters From the Id
|All Done (Horror Express)
The Cutting Room
Throughout the '90s, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Parmenter was the leading light in US progsters Discipline, releasing one live and two studio albums, including the excellent Unfolded Like Staircase. Although the band are now history, Parmenter is still very much active, releasing his first solo album, Astray, in 2004. Downbeat and intensely personal, the album's tempos rarely rise above adagio, while the ghosts of Discipline's Peter Hammill/Van der Graaf influences still hover in the background, particularly on Modern Times, though not enough to actively intrude. The seven lengthy pieces unfold slowly, driven (albeit slowly) by Parmenter's ever-present piano, with other keyboards appearing when necessary. Parmenter actually plays every instrument on the album except, strangely, bass, so that must be his violin on Some Fear Growing Old, not to mention the infrequent drum parts. Rather suspect Mellotron on four tracks; largely strings, although there's a flute part in Distracted and some choirs in Dirty Mind. Mostly used with great subtlety, the 'Tron is even more startling when it leaps to the front of the mix, as at the beginning of the longest track, Modern Times.
Four years on, Parmenter follows up with the even more Hammillesque Horror Express, following in its predecessor's footsteps. He's not lying; much of this piano-heavy album could be used to soundtrack a 'scary rather than bloody' horror flick, although it has its more upbeat moments, notably Polly New. The Jacksonesque sax work on All Done (Horror Express) is possibly a Van der Graaf too far, but the album's well worth the four-year wait, despite its lack of originality. Rather more minor (still suspect) Mellotron use this time round, with occasional strings on opener In The Dark, more of the same on O Cesare, strings and choirs on Polly New and closer The Cutting Room. Would it be unfair of me, though, to say, "Matthew, old son, please could you develop your own voice?". Like its predecessor, this is an excellent album, but it's an excellent Peter Hammill album, and I want to hear a Matthew Parmenter record.
All in all, these are excellent albums by a considerable talent, although liking Discipline's music doesn't necessarily qualify you for liking them. However, if you feel that melancholy but powerful (albeit heavily Hammill-influenced) progressive rock is your bag, not to mention some good 'Tron, these comes heartily recommended.
Yearling (2011, 42.07/74.40) ***½/T½
|Burning Up the Sky
When You Love Somebody
Seven Years Ago
Time is Running Out
Kids Hanging Out
Happy We Agree
I Was Only
|Banking on the Sun
[Extra tracks on reissue:
Hard to See the Light
Peace in the Valley
Long Way Back
Here it Comes Again]
Parson Red Heads released their second album, the ten-track Yearling, in 2011, allowing it to go out of print soon after, only to be reissued in expanded form the following year. Although the reissue strikes me as rather overlong, the quality of the band's gentle Americana is undeniable, highlights including Hazy Dream, Unemotional, Time Is Running Out and the sparse I Was Only. Tracks I'd have left off? Lengthy reissue closer Here It Comes Again is probably an acquired taste, but there's nothing too awful here, although this is probably, in some ways, better approached as two separate albums.
Brian Whelan plays Mellotron on two tracks, with chordal flutes on When You Love Somebody and I Was Only, while Chris Stamey (Sneakers) adds sparse Chamberlin strings to Banking On The Sun, to excellent effect. Americana fans previously unaware of Parson Red Heads need to get hold of this, although the tape-replay use is limited enough to not make it worthwhile for that alone.
Andy Partridge (UK) see:
Au Contraire (2008, 37.53) ***½/TTTT
Tes Clichés Déclenchés
En Chaine et en Vogue
Aude Aux Ondes
Vous Comprenez Pourquoi
Se Mirer Mare
Pas Chic Chic's Au Contraire is that rare thing, an album influenced by French '60s pop that isn't a pile of okapi dung. How much of that is down to its Mellotron content is hard to say, but another factor is the band's refusal to do that awful fey Stereolab/Saint Etienne thing, actually sounding far more 'genuine' in the process. It's difficult to pick out best tracks, as the quality of most of the material's pretty high, but the slightly Morricone-esque En Chaine Et En Vogue and the guitar-heavy Vous Comprenez Pourquoi call attention to themselves.
Marie-Douce and Roger Tellier-Craig both play Mellotron, sounding mostly very genuine, although I spotted a high string note at one point that's held far too long. Studio trickery? Anyway, one listen to the album tells you why they need two players: opener Haute Infidélité is smothered in 'Tron strings, with flutes and strings on Tes Clichés Déclenchés, strings on En Chaine Et En Vogue, less upfront strings on Aude Aux Ondes and Vous Comprenez Pourquoi and choirs on Brise Méprise, finishing with another major string part, plus cellos on closer Plein Soleil. A decent album all round, contrary to expectations, with loads of good (and hopefully real) Mellotron use. Recommended?
Passport (Germany) see:
Musique de Mes Amis Dionysos (1978, 28.17) ***/TTSors de Ta Tête
Bouguet de Roses
Le Son des Neiges
Un Air de Fête
L'Âge d'Or II
Musique de Mes Amis Dionysos has led me a merry dance for not a little while, chiefly due to the confusion surrounding the credited artist. I've had it down as Paul-André Thibert for years, most online sources (and its CD reissue) list it as being by his ex-band, Dionysos, most of whom play on it, while it actually turns out to be credited to simply 'Paul-André'. This remarkably short album is generously describable as 'diverse', consisting mostly of mainstream rock, late '70s style, typified by opener Sors De Ta Tête, the sub-Steely Dan-isms of Vancouver and the sax-driven rock'n'roll of Bye Bye, while less obvious contributions include their dual-guitar instrumental tribute to Duane Allman, Bouguet De Roses, 12-string ballad Retour and closer L'Âge D'Or II, apparently a re-recording of old Dionysos fan fave L'Âge D'Or.
Mellotron is provided by none other than our old friend Michel le François, although many of the album's string sounds are clearly provided by a string synth. Anyway, we get a strangely Crimson-esque string interlude halfway through the otherwise irritatingly jaunty Vancouver and major string parts running through the acoustic Retour and L'Âge D'Or II, plus choirs on the last-named; not the heaviest use ever, but nice to hear. So; do you bother? If the album were a little more consistent, I could give you an unqualified 'yes', but with so little genuinely good material, I'd be hard-pushed to be that positive. In fairness, the easiest way to source a copy is the 2-on-1 CD pairing it with Dionysos' eponymous 1976 release, which may well be more worth the effort.
See: Michel le François
The Speed of Trees (2002, 52.34) ***/T½
|Maria's Beautiful Mess
Give in, Give Up
If You Break Down
The Ballad of Chris McCandless
Roll Away Bed
|Breaking Through the Radio
When We Begin
The Speed of Trees
Ellis Paul (not to be confused with Paul Ellis) is a Maine-based singer-songwriter who, although his songs have been used on TV and in films, is rather better than that (dis)honour might suggest. 2002's The Speed of Trees was his eighth studio album, highlights including sparse opener Maria's Beautiful Mess, the powerpoppy Give In, Give Up and the countryish Sweet Mistakes, although, sad to say, too many tracks fall into the 'formulaic' trap, at least musically, to raise its overall rating.
Paul Bryan plays (presumably real) Chamberlin, with a sympathetic string part on Eighteen, background strings on Sweet Mistakes and strings and flutes on When We Begin. Although I haven't heard any more of Paul's work, I suspect he's a 'compilation artist': going by The Speed of Trees, he manages a handful of good tracks per album that could be compiled into a classic. But then, isn't that still several steps above most artists?
Fingers & Thumbs (2007, 48.48) **/½
Where I'm Coming From
All the Time
This One I Made for You
Back to the Start
Fingers and Thumbs
Ready or Not
Polly Paulusma's Fingers & Thumbs is her second studio album, although her second actual release, 2005's Cosmic Rosy Spine Kites, seems to be one of those 'mostly new material played live' efforts. 2007's Fingers & Thumbs is, well, thoroughly bland, I'm afraid to say, many of its songs too long for their musical content, notably the needlessly wordy All The Time and the title track. I'm sure this is mostly about the lyrics, but without an interesting musical base to support them, I'm not sure I can see the point.
Polly plays Chamberlin herself, although the only place it even might be found on the album is a few seconds of not very Chamberlin-sounding cellos on The Woods. So; dull singer-songwriter fare, little tape-replay. Maybe not.
Brighten the Corners (1997, 46.09) ***/T
Transport is Arranged
Date With IKEA
Old to Begin
|We are Underused
Starlings of the Slipstream
Fin (a.k.a. Infinite Spark)
Brighten the Corners was Pavement's fourth album, which many critics seem to compare very favourably with their previous efforts, the general consensus being that it's better than its predecessor, Wowie Zowie. I don't really know how to describe this, to be honest; scratchy indie? Post-hardcore? Mainman Stephen Malkmus knows how to write a lyric, I'll admit, even if I'm not always so enamoured with the music; clever lyric-writing always adds points, when you look at the meaningless toss that most 'artists' peddle to their unthinking public.
'Tron flutes (player unknown - Malkmus?) on Transport Is Arranged, with a nice part running through most of the song, but that appears to be it. Despite rumours, there's no audible 'Tron on their follow-up, '99's Terror Twilight (***), which, in all honesty, I found a little dreary. So; one nice 'Tron track on Brighten the Corners, but that's your lot.
Official Stephen Malkmus site
Pavlov's Dog (US) see:
Jordan's Sister (1999, 55.18) **/T
|Closer to Myself
The Second Day
It's Not the Time
On My Bones
|Modern Day Moses
Perfect By Thursday
Formerly Known as
Fatherless at 14
Kendall Payne plays rootsy Christian AOR, essentially, although more in its current sense than the 'stratospheric vocals and screaming solos' '80s variety. Unsurprisingly, her 1999 debut, Jordan's Sister, is as dull as ditchwater, full of cheeso ballads and cheery, uptempo numbers that sound like a million other artists, with extra added God. On My Bones is particularly bad, but absolutely nothing here made me think, "Hmmm...", even for a second.
Ron Aniello plays Mellotron and Chamberlin, with Chamby (?) strings on opener Closer To Myself and Mellotron (?) flutes on Hollywood, heard on their own at the end of the track, although most of the album's strings sound real, even going by Chamberlin standards. It may be hidden in the mix elsewhere, blah blah blah. You know what I'm going to say here, so I won't even bother saying it.
Psychillis of a Lunatic Genius (1996, recorded 1972-73, 61.10) ***½/T
|Le la Loo Loo le la
Harlequin of Love
Crying for Disaster's Hand
What is the Further Purpose
|Bami, Lychee, Si
Harlequin of Love [Second Version]
Can it Be Sin
And the Hermit Will Be the Master
In the Army (Devil Likes Smoke)
Airport Formalities and Taking Off Stewardess and Breakfast
It's the End
Pazop are another in the seemingly unending stream of bands whose work was never released at the time, sometimes deservedly, although that in no way applies in this case. Psychillis of a Lunatic Genius (no, I don't know either) is an accomplished, jazzy, slightly Zappa-esque, guitarless progressive release, consisting of the unreleased 1972 album of the same name, plus more unreleased recordings ('the second album') from the following year. The resulting collection is slightly overlong, but I can't imagine what you'd drop to make it a more listenable length; after all, it's only an hour... Highlights include Swaying Fire and Bami, Lychee, Si, but (Zappa humour aside) there's little here to upset the more adventurous prog fan.
François Louis "Frank" Wuyts plays keys, and while there's no Mellotron on the '72 album, it appears on a couple of the '73 tracks, with string stabs on Bami, Lychee, Si and a major part several minutes into Can It Be Sin, although not really enough to garner the album more than one T. Like a good few others that spring to mind (not least the wonderful Autumn album), Psychillis of a Lunatic Genius is a worthy rescuee from obscurity, showcasing a previously-unheard side of Belgian prog, a million miles away from Machiavel's later symphonics. Worthwhile, though not really for the Mellotron.
Pazzo Fanfano di Musica (1989, 49.35) ****/T½
Fiori per Algernon
Sospiri del Fiore
La Dolce Follia
Well, here's an oddity for you (again); a late-'80s Japanese progressive band pretending to be an early-'70s Italian outfit, although I believe it was a quite deliberate 'tribute'. Mind you, finding that weird is really only cultural imperialism; we're quite used to artists worldwide copying the English-speaking model, so what makes another culture any less admirable and worthy of emulation? At least Pazzo Fanfano di Musica (which almost translates as 'mad fanfare of music') were honest enough to admit their real names etc., unlike the frankly bizarre Ballettirosadimacchia, who were probably Japanese, yet actually trying to pass themselves off as Italian (!).
Pazzo Fanfano di Musica itself is a beautiful album, in the grand Italian tradition, completely different to the 'typical' Japanese '80s sound, aside from the occasional female vocals. They were more of a project than a band per se, with ten members credited, including four different keyboard players (one of whom was the semi-legendary Motoi Sakuraba), a violinist and a flautist, with several of the players being from known outfits (Teru's Symphonia, Outer Limits). This gives the album something of a pseudo-classical sound in places, with much solo violin, and frequent periods of drumlessness; in fact, it's quite a shock when the full band first comes in during track two, Fiori Per Algernon ('Flowers for Algernon', presumably inspired by the book). Actually, all the titles make more-or-less sense in Italian, so I suspect a little genuine Italian input, although all band members were Japanese.
As far as the Mellotron (assuming it's real; it is credited) goes, Katsuhiko Hayashi and/or Tomoki Ueno play an ominous string line on La Dolce Follia, then flutes and strings (mixed with presumably real Hammond) on lengthy closer Anniversario - suspect they do one each. Shame it wasn't used more, but given the project nature of the album, it may only have been available for short periods, or in one of several studios.
So; an excellent effort, far better (to my ears) than most of their Japanese contemporaries, many of whom sound pretty damn' cheesy in retrospect. If you go for 'that Italian sound' (whadd'ya mean, you don't?!), this won't disappoint. The bad news is, it appears to be long out of print, so you'll have to track someone down who's prepared to copy it, or haunt eBay like some sort of prog-obsessed spectre.