Plain White T's
Legendary Marvin Pontiac
Pop Five Music Inc
Popol Vuh (Norway)
The Lost Tapes (2000, recorded 1981, 59.01) ***/TBloodmaster
End of the Line
The Good Earth
Sign of the Knife
Plackband were named for Plakband, the Dutch equivalent of gaffer tape, as it was apparently all that held their equipment together back in the mid-'70s. Of course, joke names aren't meant to stick (ho ho), but so often do... It took the band a while to work up to a professional level, releasing a lone single in 1978, Seventy Warriors b/w Some Party, although they either didn't own their Mellotron then, or simply didn't use it. They split in the early '80s, having never recorded a studio album, despite having a healthy following in their home area.
Almost twenty years later, a long-forgotten live tape was found in their old rehearsal space, and released as The Lost Tapes, proving to be of excellent sound quality, and giving a good idea of what a proper Plackband album may have sounded like. And they sounded like...? A rather simplistic version of the classic symphonic prog sound, to be honest, predating '80s neo-prog by a year or two while also sounding a little like Camel, though without the great atmosphere the latter could conjure up on a good day. Most of the material is somewhat overlong for its fairly limited content, particularly The Hunchback, which seems to last for a couple of geological epochs. Don't get me wrong; this is pleasant enough, but all a bit unengaging, and nowhere near the quality of their countrymen Focus or Finch, although several miles ahead of '80s bands such as Coda or the awful For Absent Friends.
Mellotron (from vocalist Kees Bik, surprisingly) on every track, although at no point does it get anything resembling a starring role. It was largely used for a background wash of choirs, although I think I spotted a string part at one point, as against the ubiquitous string synth lathered over every track. All in all, despite the number of highlighted tracks above, this deserves its low 'T' rating, as the 'Tron is so quiet as to be hardly there at all.
Plackband reformed around the time of this release, recording a new album, 2002's After the Battle, following the Remember Forever single, including their original 1978 single tracks. Despite the Mellotron sounds, it seems highly likely that it's samples, as their old M400 had been sold many years earlier. As far as The Lost Tapes goes, if you're into that Dutch/German laid-back prog style, you'll probably like it, but anyone with a yearning for something more complex should probably look elsewhere. Remarkably little Mellotron, too, so I wouldn't bother on those grounds either.
Big Bad World (2008, 33.57) ***/T½
|Big Bad World
1, 2, 3, 4
I Really Want You
|Meet Me in California
The Plain White T's (poor grammar, but, in fairness, an awkward one) are an indie/powerpop crossover band, who keep spoiling potentially good songs with irritating indie vocal mannerisms, at least on 2008's Big Bad World; it's by no means a bad record, but I keep getting the feeling it could've been so much better. Best tracks? Serious Mistake, the '60s-ish hit 1, 2, 3, 4 and the very powerpoppy That Girl, with its amusingly risqué lyric, although finishing on its worst track (Someday) nearly got the album docked half a star.
Johnny K plays Mellotron, while Jon Brion does his usual Chamberlin thing, with Chamby strings on Rainy Day, a few Mellotron string chords on 1, 2, 3, 4 and flutes from one or the other on Sunlight. Overall, a reasonable enough effort, but less whining in the vocal department would improve matters dramatically.
Infinity (1971, 36.47) ****/TTTTThe Beginning
Man (part one)
Man (part two)
Planetarium were a little-known Italian outfit whose real names appear to be unknown; in fact, I've no idea if there are any credits on their sole album, Infinity, at all. Musically, they were full-on instrumental symphonic prog (pre-PFM, note), with the odd wordless vocal, meaning that those of you who can't handle 'foreign' vocals should have no problem. Their sound is a little 'proto-prog', particularly on the title track, but that's hardly surprising, given the recording date. Man (Part Two) and War are probably the album's highlights, but there isn't a bad track on board, to be honest.
The anonymous keyboard player's Mellotron work is pretty full-on, too, with swathes of (presumably) Mark II strings on almost every track, the exception being the acoustic guitar/organ duet of Man (Part One). The finest 'Tron moment is probably the superbly cranky pitchbend at the end of The Beginning (as against the beginning of the end), repeated at the end of the album. Twist that dial! So; good music, loads of 'Tron - can't go wrong really, can you?
Plasticland (US) see:
Pictures From the Long Ago (2005, 44.37) ***½/TTT½
Heartbeats and Baby's Breath
You Choose Me
Over and Over
Ten Stories Up
Roof Above Your Wheels
Borrowed and Gone
|Paper and Paraffin
Sleep Baby Sleep
The LA-based Plasticsoul are, going by their 2005 debut, Pictures From the Long Ago, an Americana/powerpop crossover act with a heavy Neil Young influence for good measure. It's a fine album, highlights including opener Broken Bones, the countryish Saintly and You Choose Me and mournful closer Sleep Baby Sleep, although nothing here disappoints, probably due to said Neil influence. I would say, "Can you go wrong being influenced by Neil Young?", but then I remembered Pearl Jam.
Loads of Chamberlin (the MusicMaster 600 the band found at Josie Cotton's studio), played by Jake Gideon and David McConnell, although band leader Steven Wilson (not that one, silly) assures me it was himself, McConnell and Marc Bernal. Whatever. Anyway, we get strings and flutes on Broken Bones and Saintly, strings on Heartbeats And Baby's Breath, beautifully upfront strings on You Choose Me, skronky strings on Roof Above Your Wheels and Paper And Paraffin and an uncredited, raucous solo string part right at the end of the album, just for good measure. All in all, recommended for both music and tape-replay, which is a rarity. Unfortunately, despite crediting it, the 'Chamberlin' on the band's follow-up, 2009's Peacock Swagger, reviewed here, is sampled.
Seeing Stars (2001, recorded 1969, 40.09) ***/T
Words to Say
Time Goes By
Rise and Shine
|Who You Know
Steal Your Dreams
Please were a late-period UK psych outfit, better-known for the bands their members went on to join, notably Peter Dunton, who was playing in T2 within a year of this material's recording. The difference between the two bands is startling; Please have a sound that really predates their era, being more early than late psych, with much Farfisa, whereas T2 were definitely proto-prog, although both bands actually sound rather dated these days. I don't believe Please actually released anything much (at all?) at the time, so I presume Seeing Stars is your typical demos and outtakes collection. It seems to be quite highly rated by some psych fans, but to my ears, it falls between too many stools to really cut it all these years later.
I presume it's Dunton playing the Mellotron flutes on Time Goes By; a decent enough part, but nothing outstanding. Otherwise it's pretty much all Farfisa or Hammond, with a drop of Wurly, and that Farfisa really pushes their sound back to the mid-'60s... So; OK, nothing special, lots better from the era.
Candycoatedwaterdrops (1999, 43.55) */0
|Late Great Planet Earth
Here With Me
Worlds Collide: A Fairy Tale
Plumb's strangely-titled Candycoatedwaterdrops starts by sounding like it's channelling Zeppelin's Kashmir in a contemporary style, but quickly sinks into a pit of horrors, not least due to the revelation (ha ha) that they're bloody Christians. Well, I should've realised, shouldn't I, with titles like God-Shaped Hole and Drugstore Jesus? Not to mention the 'thanks section: "We want to thank most importantly Christ, our Savior, in whom this album is in honor" Er, 'in whom this album is in honor'? Is their faith so overwhelming that their grammar goes to shit? Obviously. That looks a lot like someone trying to write 'proper' English without actually knowing how. Anyway, this album is lyrically offensive to anyone who would once upon a time have been known as a 'free-thinker', and it's musically offensive to anyone who likes anything outside the mainstream. Yes, even a little bit.
Co-producer Glenn Rosenstein (you mean they allowed a non-Christian to work on their record?) allegedly plays Mellotron on Stranded, but given that both he and Mike Purcell are credited with 'programming', it's safe to say that it's lost somewhere in the glossy, superficial mix. Exactly the same goes for Matt Stanfield's supposed 'Tron work on Solace, giving the album a resounding zero on the T front. Oh well, at least I didn't waste a whole 43 mins 55 secs listening to this dreck; when 'Tron tracks are credited and the music's awful, I freely admit that I reach for the 'skip' button with some frequency. Drivel. And I haven't even mentioned the ludicrously-named Tiffany Arbuckle's horrid, 'confessional' vocal style. After listening to this, I feel defiled. Avoid, with urgency.
|7"/CDS (1994/99) ***/TT
Three-Quarters Blind Eyes
Found a Little Baby
['99 CD version adds:
Found a Little Baby (instrumental)]
Plush are a relatively rare US entrant in the 'louche, faux-'60s singer-songwriter' stakes. Led by Liam Hayes (it's pretty much his solo project), their releases are few and far between, partly due to Hayes' perfectionism; 2002's Fed took several years and vast sums of money to record, almost certainly not recouping it in sales. 1994's Three-Quarters Blind Eyes was his/their first release, setting out their pre-psych stall with equanimity, which effectively means that you may well not like it unless you go for (p)lush balladry in a '60s stylee.
Although there's nothing obvious on the a-side, the flip, Found A Little Baby, is smothered in Chamberlin strings and flutes, making at least this track worth hearing for its tape-replay content. Hayes is reputed to've used his Chamby on later recordings, not least 2004's Underfed, a early, pre-multiple overdubs mix of Fed; more news when I get to hear it. He's also lent it to Matthew Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces, who swamped their 2007 effort, Widow City in it, and quite possibly Friedberger's 2006 solo double, Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language Music.
Voyage Into a Dreamer's Mind (1980, 34.57) ***½/TT
|Into a Totally Different Race
Petal on a Wet Bough
Hole in a Pocket
Norway's Pluto (apparently a person, not a band) released two albums in the early '80s, round about the same time as a band by whom he was surely influenced: Kerrs Pink; it's hard to say which outfit is better, although Kerrs Pink have a higher public profile, due to their patronage by Musea, going by the evidence here. Voyage Into a Dreamer's Mind is a perfectly good and undeservedly obscure late-period progressive album, for which the word 'mellifluous' could have been invented, such is its laid-back melodic approach to the genre; comparisons with Camel (particularly their Snow Goose period) would also be appropriate, with only a few of its ten tracks featuring any vocal involvement.
Difficult to pick out any standout tracks, but nothing here is likely to offend, with the short guitar pieces Hole In A Pocket and Au Revoir being notable. On the Mellotron front (from Pluto himself), after a couple of 'Tronless tracks, the choirs kick in on Encounter, with more of the same on Love's Labyrinth, while The Voyage opens with the album's first obvious 'Tron string part, although a string synth is in evidence, too. While we're not talking 'Mellotron Classic', what you can hear is sympathetically played, adding nicely to the overall effect; shame he couldn't have used it a little more, methinks.
Anyway, this one isn't going to be easy to find, and while it's a perfectly nice album, it really shouldn't be considered 'essential', either for the music or the Mellotron. Usual stuff; pick it up should you see it at a sensible price.
Cantamos (1974, 36.46) ***½/½Sagebrush Serenade
High and Dry
One Horse Blue
Another Time Around
Whatever Happened to Your Smile
All the Ways
Poco were formed by Richie Furay out of the ashes of Buffalo Springfield, as Neil Young and Steven Stills headed for solo careers and, concurrently, CSN/CSN&Y. While they can't lay claim to actually inventing country rock, they're one of its chief exponents, having member crossover with The Eagles, in both directions, although sticking closer to their original template. Still going strong today, they've had a more convoluted history than most, pedal steel man Rusty Young being the one consistent member, others leaving and returning more often than Rick Wakeman with Yes, which is saying something.
Cantamos was their eighth album, and second without Furay, who had been persuaded to co-found the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. It's actually a fine album, vastly better than I'd expected, with material of the quality of Sagebrush Serenade and High And Dry, and no awful country schmaltz, thankfully, although the quality does dip slightly towards the end of the record. Although no-one's credited with keys, there are a few seconds of Mellotron strings at the beginning of 'possible best track', Western Waterloo; not the briefest use of the instrument on this site, but bleedin' close...
So; a good country rock album with next to no Mellotron. If you like The Eagles and their ilk, but have never delved into Poco's nightmarish discography (more compilations than original albums), there would be worse places to start than here.
Haunted (2000, 70.43) **/T½
Walk the Walk
5 & ½ Minute Hallway
Not a Virgin
Could've Gone Mad
House of Leaves
If You Were Here
Annie "Poe" Decatur Danielewski is a dance-oriented American singer-songwriter, notable for her vociferous fanbase, who helped with her 'Re-POE-Session' campaign (nice multiple pun there) to persuade Atlantic to relinquish their hold over her masters. Her second album, 2000's Haunted, is probably a decent enough affair within its genre, although since Planet Mellotron isn't terribly keen on commercial dance-pop, it's difficult to say for sure. It certainly has an unexpected breadth of stylistic variation, while Poe has an excellent voice of its type, but to attempt to pick out 'highlights' would probably be futile.
Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin thing, nicely audible for once, compared to many albums bearing his name. We get strings and stabby flutes on Terrible Thought, a brief string part towards the end of 5 & ½ Minute Hallway, strings on Hey Pretty, what sounds like literally a single string chord on brief interlude House Of Leaves and what I take to be Chamby strings on Amazed. Given the Chamberlin's chameleon-like quality, it may well be on several other tracks, too, although some of the strings sound real. So; nice to hear the Chamby high enough in the mix to hear, but not an album I can envisage myself playing again in a hurry. OK, ever.
Incidentally, given that Hey Pretty was used as the title music to MTV's short-lived Spyder Games soap, it's possible that the soundtrack's entry on this site (Chamberlin credited to... Patrick Warren) is superfluous. More news should I ever get to hear the thing.
David Poe (1997, 45.19) ***/T
Blue Glass Fall
David Poe seems to be one of those renaissance man kind of guys, not only a singer-songwriter, but a producer and a composer for TV and dance, amongst other talents. His eponymous 1997 debut is a largely acoustic effort, with folk and r'n'b influences, amongst other disparate genres, the (relatively) rocking Settlement being a highlight. The album's strongest suit, however, is probably Poe's lyrics, painting an unsentimental picture of modern American life typified by Cop: "Stick comes down on the back of his head/and the video ends".
Poe plays Chamberlin (producer T-Bone Burnett's?), with skronky strings and brass on Bloody and flute chords on the final, untitled track, although I'm less sure about the orchestralish string part on Silver Eyelashes. David Poe is a good album of its type, which isn't to say it's for everyone, its mainstream appeal outweighing its artistic sentiments.
Let it Go (1999, 50.32) ***/TTT
The Waiting Room
Wizard Magic Stars
From Here on in
Head Heart & Hammer
Poisonous Museum's sole album to date is, in many ways, a typical 'modern' progressive album, taking much of its influence from the more metallic end of the spectrum. That isn't to say that it's 'progressive metal', à la Dream Theater, but the guitars have a good deal more 'crunch' than any '70s-influenced band. While mostly British, vocalist Marc "Max" Vanhaeren is French, although his English-language vocals are barely accented. The album falls into the 'not great, but not bad' category, with a couple of the songs standing out, but most not really hitting the 'memorable' button.
The Mellotron use by Andrew Smart is sparse but effective, with Good Times and Saved being especially worthy of mention, so don't buy this hoping for a Mellotron Classic, but it's not a bad album of its type.
Expansion (2005, 60.57) ****/TTTTTegula
Flux Echoes (2007, 73.28) ****/TTTTFlux Echoes
Brendan Pollard is one half of current UK EM duo Rogue Element, Expansion being his first solo project, surprisingly after only one Rogue Element album, Premonition. It has a lot in common with said album, although it lacks its Froeseish guitar work, but otherwise sticks fairly closely to the standard 'Berlin School' template of drones, sequencer lines and shitloads of Mellotron. Yes, it's real, with 'various tape frames' being credited in the CD booklet, although I could only actually spot five specific sounds myself. You may ask yourself (or you may not, given that you're already reading the contents of this site), "What the fuck does it matter whether or not the Mellotron's real?". I'll tell you why it matters: it's to do with the way a musician plays a sound. Piano samples, especially when played on a lightweight synth keyboard, never sound right, and nor do infinite-sustain Mellotron samples with velocity sensitivity (thanks, Roland). That's like pitchbending a piano, or playing eight-note chords on a guitar; good trick if you can do it, but nothing to do with the way the instrument was intended to be played. OK, I'm sure Harry Chamberlin and Les Bradley would've liked to've made an infinitely sustaining Chamberlin or Mellotron, but they didn't, and hearing one that does is just... wrong. So there.
Er, anyway... The album's Mellotron work begins with a full-on choir part a few minutes into Tegula, with flutes, phased strings and even brass thrown into the mix later on. Toxic Blue pretty much opens with an extremely upfront flute part, throwing cellos into the equation further down the line (listen to that raucous double bass note!), while the rest of the album sticks more to the tried'n'tested strings and flutes, although there may well be sound effects (Rogue Element own at least one ex-Tangs frame) here and there as well. So; a good, solid EM release, sounding all the better for its considerable analogue input. As ever with this genre, I'm not the best-qualified person to review it, but as with the Rogue Element album, this will be put on when I need to kick back and drift off. Organic, well thought-out EM. Buy.
Two years on, and Brendan's second album drops onto my doormat, completely unheralded. So what's happened to Rogue Element? They're beginning to look like the Tangs' longevity is not for them, though I may yet be proven wrong, hopefully. Flux Echoes is, unsurprisingly, another Berlin School album, with all the usual reference points; y'know, you either like this stuff or you don't - half measures don't count. It does all the right things in all the right places, although some of you may find what is effectively a double albums'-worth to be a little too much of a good thing. Blame the CD revolution. Anyway, shedloads of 'Tron, with the sounds listed this time. (Deep breath):
The obvious ones are the standard 3 violins (generic 'strings'), the cellos, brass, flutes and both choirs, though the other three string sounds must be in there somewhere. Thinking about it, the mixed violin/cello is probably on the title track. Not sure about the oboes and sound effects, but given that they'll be their ex-Tangs frame, they could be almost anything; certainly not restricted to the 'standard' set I've spotted on a few things. Sensibly, Brendan and Adrian Dolente don't over-use them (they have two M400s), as overkill is easy, particularly with the strings (otherwise known as 'how to spot samples'). None of that here, which is always to be applauded, but when you have at least four tape frames, that really shouldn't be too difficult. So; once again, a 'Tron-heavy EM album for everyone who mourns the day Tangerine Dream got rid of theirs, me included. This beats the crap out of most digital Euro-EM, featuring people who not only can play their instruments, but have to, as most of it is pre-MIDI, and even the sequencing is pseudo-analogue (spot the Doepfer). As with its predecessor, this is a pretty essential album. Buy.
Official Rogue Element site
See: Rogue Element | Free System Projekt/Brendan Pollard/Hashtronaut
Volume 2 (2010, 73.27) ***½/TTTHampshire 1
3 (2010, 77.29) ***½/TTTEindhoven I
4 (2010, 74.09) ***½/TTTAlpha Primitives
In 2009, Brendan Pollard (above) combined his talents with those of Michael Daniel and Phil Booth for a series of limited-edition releases in the expected Berlin School EM style. I haven't heard '09's Pollard/Daniel/Booth, but the following year's Volume 2 archives the previous year's set at the 8th Hampshire Jam, featuring three special guests in the forms of Jerome Ramsey, Ruud Heij and Marcel Engels. Pollard's addition of two new faces, as with his Free System Projekt/Hashtronaut releases, pulls him out of his comfort zone, the album's most startling piece being closer Hampshire 5, featuring heavily-delayed guitar underlaid with the mellow end of the Mellotron string spectrum. Mellotron (both of Pollard's machines are pictured inside the disc insert) on every track, unsurprisingly, from Pollard and Ramsey, other notable parts being the flute and male choir sections early on and brass about ten minutes into Hampshire 1 and a major string presence on Hampshire 3.
3 was recorded at 2009's E-Live, at Eindhoven, although since their main set was almost eighty minutes, their encore has been left off to avoid 'expensive two-disc set' syndrome. As with so much EM, the differences between one set and another are relatively small, in the grand scheme of things, making this a perfectly acceptable release that does nothing to startle the listener. Just Pollard on Mellotron this time, with what sounds like string section and a major choir part on Eindhoven I, with flutes, brass and regular strings elsewhere, making me think that Brendan had both of his M400s there.
4's forty-minute opening track, Alpha Primitives, is probably the most adventurous track on this whole series of albums, heading into darker ambient and proto-world music territories, although it levels off into more standard EM about half-way through, the other two tracks being more 'normal', or what passes for it in the closeted world of the Berlin School. We're some minutes into opener Alpha Primitives before the Mellotron(s) appear, with male choir and brass, other album highlights being the major flute parts and the string section to be heard on Streams. Unusually, closer Hashra Simpel (ho ho) features next to no Mellotron at all, with nowt but some muted, phased choir towards the end.
Overall, these are essentially typical EM releases, making it difficult to recommend them to anyone not already immersed in the style. However, if this is your chief listening pleasure, all three of these will definitely float your boat, loaded with genuine analogue textures, rather than the 'yeah, samples will do' approach utilised by so many practitioners. Incidentally, 4 is also available as a DVD; review forthcoming.
Here they are at E-Live:
Polnareff's (1971, 37.27) **/½
Né dans un Ice-cream
Le Désert N'est Plus en Afrique
Nos Mots d'Amour
|Qui a Tué Grand'maman?
Hey You Woman
À Minuit, à Midi
Michel Polnareff has had a somewhat erratic career, shifting between periods of fame at home and exile abroad, making releases rather on the sporadic side. 1971's Polnareff's is his third album, an outrageous concoction of psychedelic soul/pop, guaranteed to irritate anyone not into overblown French pop, typified by brassy opener Voyages and closer À Minuit, À Midi, Qui A Tué Grand'maman? being about the best thing here.
Polnareff plays Mellotron himself, with flute chords on Le Désert N'est Plus En Afrique and À Minuit, À Midi, as far as I can ascertain. Not something for the prog lover in your life, then, more the Stereolab fan who's adventurous enough to want to find out where they got it from. Next to no Mellotron either way.
Il Diario di Lola (2008, 54.58/63.13) **/T
|Colpo di Fulmine
Devorame Otra Vez
Put Your Arms Around Me
|No Matta What
The Car You Wanna Drive
It Goes Down
Come With Me
Use Your Imagination
La Historia de un Amor
El Dia Que Me Quieras]
Lola Ponce (pronounced 'Pon-che') is an Argentinian singer/actress type who broke through internationally in Italy (her website has a '.it' suffix); 2008's Il Diario di Lola is her fourth album, combining Italian, Spanish and English lyrics in a probably successful attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience. It's pretty much as you'd expect; pop of various hues, from the glossy AOR of opener Colpo Di Fulmine through the balladry of Mi Heroe to the dance-pop of Devorame Otra Vez, making for the kind of album that you, dear reader, are unlikely to go for.
Rick Nowels (Dido, Ronan Keating, a host of other mainstream pop acts) plays Mellotron, amongst other things, with little repeating string stabs on It Goes Down and flutes on Use Your Imagination. So; not something you're probably going to go too far out of your way to hear (spot the understatement), but far less offensive than expected, with two minor 'Tron tracks.
Greatest Hits (2000, 51.37) ***/T
|I'm a Doggy
Now I'm Happy
Bring Me Rocks
Sleep at Night
Arms & Legs
She Ain't Going Home
'The Legendary' Marvin Pontiac was a previously-unknown Chicagoan bluesman of Malian and Jewish parentage, born 1932, died 1977, who began recording in the early '50s, although his descent into mental illness a few years prior to his death stymied any attempts at later work. OK, he wasn't and he didn't. 'Legendary' is spot-on, as Marvin Pontiac never existed. He's the invention of New York avant-gardist John Lurie, aided and abetted by his friends, including the genuinely legendary John Medeski; it's an amusing project, although no-one with the slightest musical knowledge will be taken in for a second, despite the (relatively) authentic blues harp playing. Opener I'm A Doggy was supposedly recorded in 1952, but sounds like exactly what it is: a late-'90s spoof. Actually, most of the album's contents have little to do with either the blues or Malian music, despite the occasional Africanesque rhythms and chanting, which doesn't detract from their enjoyment factor one iota.
Medeski plays Mellotron, along with Hammond and Clavinet, although only on one track, Power opening with a few choir notes, with a flute part later on. Overall, this is a Medeski-style album of NYC avant-er, something, done with plenty of attention to detail, though ultimately unable to keep up the pretence. Definitely amusing, actually not bad, but quite certainly not by a long-dead one-man cultural melting-pot.
See: Medeski Martin & Wood
(I) Pooh (Italy) see:
Place of the Sun (1978, 31.45) ***/TTime
The Ax of Good-By
One Two Three Four
As I Walk
Vietnam vet 'Poor' Richard Smyrnios' sole LP, 1978's privately-pressed Place of the Sun is sometimes listed as being from seven years earlier, which makes sense when you hear it; a psych/folk effort that could easily date from the turn of the '70s, typified by tracks such as The Gulls or The Ax Of Good-By. It's not bad at what it does, if rather dated for the time, although when it tries to rock out on the duff Funky Honky, it works nowhere near as well.
Producer Bryce "Uncle Dirty" Roberson (why doesn't anyone give themselves that kind of nickname any more?) plays Mellotron on the album's epic (and best track), the twelve-minute Series, with string and flute parts that enhance the song's eerie anti-war message. You're not going to find an original of this for anything you're prepared to pay, but it's, er, 'available' on the 'Net and who knows, may even gain an official re-release at some point.
|7" (1979) ***/T
Five Foot One
The Ig on Planet Mellotron? You're no-one if you're not here, baby... Iggy Pop's 1979 album, New Values, was his first post-David Bowie collaboration release, involving two other Stooges, with James Williamson in the producer's chair and Scott Thurston playing guitar and keys. One of its better tracks, the self-deprecating Five Foot One, appeared as a picture-disc single, backed, bizarrely, with Iggy's version of Manfred Mann's 1966 hit, Pretty Flamingo. Is it any good? Hmmm. Given the Ig's style at the time, it's probably not atypical, but it's not really something you're going to go out of your way to hear.
Someone (surely not Bowie??) plays what sounds like Chamberlin on the flip, with low-end strings and female voices (and brass and/or vibes?) scattered across the track (thanks, Mattias). This is available on the expanded edition of New Values, but it's neither the most exciting Iggy or Chamby track you're likely to hear.
See: David Bowie
|7" (1971) ****/TT½
I can't tell you an awful lot about Pop Five Music Inc(orporated), although they released loads of singles and a couple (?) of albums in their native Portugal between the late '60s and early '70s. 1970's Page One is a little dull, although its flip, Aria, is an excellent, Procol-esque take on Bach. The following year's Orange is a great, late-period psych piece, backed with a killer, brass-driven take on the Mission Impossible theme. Sadly, none of these tracks appear to be officially available, which is why unofficial channels exist.
Someone (David Ferreira?) slaps loads of Mellotron string stabs and unfeasibly fast arpeggios all over the 'A', with flutes on the intro, making this a minor Mellotron classic, especially due to its obscurity. If you're hellbent on finding an original, this seems to crop up on eBay every now and again, but if I were you, I'd go for the (cough) download.
Popol Vuh (1972, 34.19) ***½/TTT½Hunchback
Joy & Pleasure
All We Have is the Past
Quiché Maya (1973, 39.31) ***½/TT½Queen of All Queens
Milk-White Satin-Dressed Departure
Between You and Me
Stolen From Time [as Popol Ace] (1975, 49.20) ***½/TT½Bury Me Dead
Today Another Day
Soft Shoe Dancer
I Can See Tears
Named for the Mayan creation myth, Norway's Popol Vuh released two albums before deciding on a name-change to the less atmospheric Popol Ace to avoid clashing with Florian Fricke's better-known project. After seeing the song titles on Popol Vuh, I expected them to be quite in-your-face, but much of the album is quiet, reflective progressive rock, although Leavin' Chicago is, unsurprisingly, a bad blues. When the band played to their strengths, they were a pretty good proto-prog outfit, with accentless English-language vocals, although I'd be lying if I said the music was especially complex. The way to get the best out of the album is, basically, to play the 'Tron tracks, although the first half of Medicine is a bit suspect, until it suddenly turns into the proggiest track on the album. Pete Knutsen does a good job on the 'Tron, mainly strings, but cellos and flutes on a track apiece, alongside Pjokken Eide's real flute.
Their follow-up, Quiché Maya, reinforces the Mayan connection, although it's pretty much 'no change' on the musical front, although the titles made me think that maybe they'd dropped the bad blues-rock stuff. To be fair, there's probably less of that, and a (slightly) more experimental progressive air to the album, though it doesn't open particularly well. There's a block of 'Tron tracks in the middle of the record, largely strings, with some fucked-up pitchbend work on closer Get Up, too, but there's probably less 'Tron work than on its predecessor overall.
Two years on, Stolen From Time was their first release as Popol Ace, and seems, maybe surprisingly, to be nearly as progressive as its predecessors, with Sweet Tune reminding the listener of Focus, and several other tracks having a distinctly progressive bent to them. Knutsen was still using his Mellotron, though largely for choirs by this point. Background ones can be heard on opener Bury Me Dead, with more of the same and some heavily-effected strings, which may actually not be tape-generated, on Today Another Day. A heavy flute part on Soft Shoe Dancer proves to be the only use of the sound on the album, with more of those background choirs on Sweet Tune and Sleepwalker, plus what have to actually be 'Tron strings on the latter.
So; three decent enough, if formative albums, with reasonable helpings of Mellotron, particularly on their debut. Despite rumours, there's nothing on the last Popol Ace album, '78's Curly Sounds (**), which sounds exactly like what happens when a Norwegian band attempts to sound like Steely Dan; the influence of vocalist Jahn Teigen's blooming solo career is overwhelming.
See: Jahn Teigen
Piccolo et Saxo à Music City (1972, 37.55) ****/T½
Arrivée de Jimmy et des Guitares
Duo de la Guitare Classique et de la Guitare Électrique
Duo de la Basse à Cordes et de la Guitare Basse
Guitare Wahwah, Distorsion, Improvisation Pop Music
Guitare 12 Cordes
Banjo, Guimbarde, Guitare Steel, Dobro Tutti
Harmonica, Musique Western
Les Orgues de Cristal
Les Ondes Martenot
Noted French orchestral composer and arranger André Popp has been making albums since the late '50s, including several volumes of his Aventures de Piccolo Saxo series, designed to introduce the orchestra to children, not dissimilar in concept to Prokofiev's Peter & the Wolf or Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Titles include 1958's Piccolo Saxo et Compagnie and Passeport pour Piccolo, Saxo et Compagnie, but it's his 1972 release, Piccolo et Saxo à Music City (originally a 10" LP), that interests us here.
As its cover amply demonstrates, unlike many of his contemporaries, Popp had moved with the times, combining traditional instruments with modern ones, often juxtaposing them within the same piece (the self-explanatory Duo De La Guitare Classique Et De La Guitare Électrique or Duo De La Basse À Cordes Et De La Guitare Basse). Although my French isn't good enough to follow the story (understatement), French actor François Périer's narration clearly concerns the meeting of instruments from two very different backgrounds and (presumably) their new-found friendship. Well, it is a kids' record... As you'd expect, the composition and playing are superb, with excellent Hammond, sitar and synth (ARP 2600?) parts sitting cheek-by-jowl with harmonica, ondes martenot, accordion and classical guitar parts, not to mention the orchestra.
Fred Farrugia plays Mellotron on (you guessed it) Le Mellotron, demonstrating its ability to replicate string section, flute and brass parts against real ones, eventually combining them in a way you'll be lucky to find anywhere else (well, I haven't and I must've heard more 'Mellotron albums' than most...) Although difficult to recommend as a 'regular' listen, this (now available on Universal's Les Aventures de Piccolo Saxo, Vol.2, above) is quite superb in its own way, worth hearing for more than just its Mellotronic contributions.