Shits & Giggles
Simon Dupree & the Big Sound
On With the Show (1973, 40.49) ***/TTWe Can Make it Right
Roll Me Over
Slipstream (1974, 38.38) ***/TT½
What is it All About?
|When the Sunshine Turns to Grey
Earthquake in My Head
So Glad You're Mine
|7" (1975) ***/T½
You Go Your Way (I'll Go Mine)
...In Concert (1975, 42.51) ***/TT
Can You Feel it
You've Got the Gun
You're All Woman
Sherbet are remembered in Britain (if at all) for their sole UK hit, '76's Howzat, capitalising on the two countries' shared cricket heritage, but they'd been around in their homeland since the end of the '60s. They never pretended to be particularly 'rock', but their mainstream pop was actually rather good in places. 1973's On With the Show catches them before their unfortunate glam period, and is a perfectly competent mainstream pop/rock album of the time, with only side two's epic opener Chicago straying too far from the template. Keys man Garth Porter plays 'Tron on a few tracks, with flutes and strings (complete with tape-wobble) on Jubilee Morning, along with his seemingly ubiquitous Wurly, although the strings on Cassandra and the cheesy Au Revoir (clearly written as a concert closer) are real. More strings on Chicago, and flutes on the dodgy 'joke' track, Jungle Jiver, although that seems to be your lot.
On '74's Slipstream, their appalling new image knocks them back several steps in the credibility stakes; I mean, what were they thinking of? Australia's not exactly known as a haven for the less than totally masculine ('Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' aside) so, although I'm sure the band were as straight as they come, they look like a bunch of King's Cross (Sydney version) tarts on a girls' night out on the sleeve, particularly bassist Tony Mitchell and guitarist/main man Clive Shakespeare. Porter is credited with playing Mellotron on four tracks, although there's also clearly some polyphonic flute and cello work on Handy Mandy. Silvery Moon and When The Sunshine Turns To Grey feature some rather ordinary strings parts, but the album's opening salvo of Slipstream and Endless Place is very listenable, with a high, sustained string note being one of the first sounds you hear. Actually, the title track is quite excellent, with an almost proggy key change into Endless Place, making up for later sins such as Another Hustler. Plenty of 'Tron strings here, with a strange, muted part linking the tracks, plus some choir chords on the second track.
A quick diversion into single-land here, as their no.1 hit Summer Love (released March '75 at the end of summer, northern hemisphereites) featured a reasonable amount of Porter's 'Tron, in a 'substitute real string section' kind of way. A non-album track, it's available on various compilations.
As if to prove they were a 'proper' band, Sherbet's next release was ...In Concert, recorded in Sydney (the Opera House, no less) and Melbourne in front of thousands of screaming girls. The over-enthusiastic MC announces Sherbet as "Australia's number one rock'n'roll band"; um, correct me if I'm wrong, but hadn't AC/DC released at least one album by this point? The rear sleeve features a most fetching pic of vocalist Daryl Braithwaite in the most appalling red and white striped suit/red shirt combo, almost (but not quite) grabbing at his crotch. Lovely... The band could clearly play perfectly well, making a good job of Free's Wishing Well (a hit, I believe, when released as an unusual live single), with Porter getting a nice 'Tron part in, also reproducing Cassandra's studio string parts. You can hear him tuning up (on the flutes) at the beginning of the terrible Jungle Jiver, with a quick left-hand part later in the song (while he plays concert grand with his right), while a faint string part on their medley version of Can You Feel It wraps it up on the 'Tron front.
So; can I recommend these? Hmmm. On With the Show isn't too overtly poppy, while despite starting well, much of Slipstream is overly commercial, although I suppose that's what they did, so it seems a tad unfair to berate them for it. There's some decent Mellotron work on several tracks on all albums, so I think this one's up to you. I'm told there's some 'Tron on a single from '75, Summer Love, which can only be found on compilations; I'll confirm should I ever hear the track in question. '76's Howzat has detailed instrumental credits, but sadly, it's nowhere to be seen, so it seems that's your lot on the 'Tron front.
The Sherbs miming furiously on the Paul Hogan Show, Mellotron in shot.
Killandra (1998, 44.46) ***/½
Wyn (2002, 41.43) ***/0
Waves of Green
The Valley's Song
Shine Dión are a female-fronted Norwegian folk-bordering-on-new-age-territory outfit; perfectly pleasant, but they remind me more of Ritchie Blackmore's current project, Blackmore's Night, than anything more authentic. After 1994's three-track Berkana, it took the band another four years to come up with the full-length Killandra, containing two of the EP's three songs (although I don't know whether or not they're the same versions). Jørn Andersen guests on Mellotron and mandolin, but there's startlingly little Mellotron on the album, given that it apparently features on two of Berkana's three tracks. In fact, although there seem to be (synth-driven) ethereal choirs a-plenty, the only tracks I'd say are likely to contain it are Woods Eternal and Rowan's Song (the same as the Berkana tracks), both with some distant choirs.
2002's Wyn is a bit of an improvement, better tracks including opener Flowering, Moonlit Voice and closer The Valley's Song, while The Well reads like a rewrite of Richard Thompson's Fairport classic Crazy Man Michael. Andersen is credited with Mellotron again, on The Valley's Song, but I'd love to know what, precisely, he's doing with it, as both flute and violin are real, while the synth pad is quite clearly nothing more exciting than... a synth pad. Null points.
You really couldn't call these Mellotron Albums by any stretch of the imagination, to be honest, but if you like the sound of ethereal folky stuff, you might just go for them.
Shingetsu (1979, 43.36) ****/TTTOni
The Other Side of Morning
Afternoon - After the Rain
Fragments of the Dawn
Return of the Night
Shingetsu Live, 25-26 July 1979, ABC Kaikan Hall Tokyo (2004, 67.33) ****/TT½
Fragments of the Dawn
The Other Side of Morning
Afternoon - After the Rain
She Can't Return Home
Reddish Eyes on Mirror
|Voyage for Killing Love part 2
Return of the Night
The Whole Story of Shingetsu 1976-1982 (2005, 269.48) ****½/TTTT½
The Other Side of the Morning
Afternoon - After the Rain
Fragments of the Dawn
Magic Flute "Reitou"
The Night Collector
Return of the Night
Life and Death
Reddish Eyes on Mirror
The Voyage for Killing
Love, part 1
The Voyage for Killing
Love, part 2
Homing to the Island
The Journey of Takeshi Kid (demo)
Homing to the Island (rehearsal)
Reddish Eyes on Mirror (basic track)
Fragments of the Dawn (demo)
The Night Collector (rehearsal)
Return of the Night (demo)
Practice on the Bass
The Voyage for Killing Love,
part 2 (demo)
Sir Bordenhausen (live)
Triplet Colors (live)
|The Star of Sorrow/In Memory
of Chardanes the Pan (live)
Open Before Knock (demo)
The Broken Chain (demo)
The End (home demo)
Blur Blue Sky (demo)
The Voyage for Killing Love,
part 1 (demo)
Remnants of Maldek (demo)
Take Hikaru/Illuminating Bamboo
Roman Fu (demo)
Evening Daylight (demo)
A Letter From the Sea
Farm (home demo)
Theme for Gelverna (home demo)
The Last Breakfast (rehearsal)
The Scarlet Dune (rehearsal)
Slip Into the Sea
Hirotoubi/The Song of Hiroshima
Prefecture Eastern Beauty
Shingetsu ('New Moon') were a relatively early Japanese progressive outfit, along with Ain Soph, as the '70s scene in their country was more psych than prog (Cosmos Factory, Far East Family Band), and most of the known Japanese bands were active during the '80s. As a result, their influences are wholly from the '70s, making Shingetsu one of the best Japanese progressive albums, bar none. Genesis are an ever-present influence, although they're an awfully long way from being a clone, despite their seeming lack of any noticeable local input into their sound, aside from the Japanese vocals. Oni is a particularly strong opener, although there isn't actually a bad track here, which is more than you can say for many of their successors.
Keys man Akira Hanamoto uses the usual 'boards, with decent helpings of Hammond etc., plus Mellotron on several tracks. The flute solo on Oni actually fooled me into thinking it was real for a minute, before it speeds up, with Hanamoto playing one of the fastest Mellotron parts I can remember hearing. There's one more flute part on the album, and cellos on Fragments Of The Dawn, with everything else being standard strings, used well, although there's some string synth to be heard, too.
In 1994, Japanese progressive label released three Shingetsu-related albums, including their debut on CD for the first time. The other two were a live effort, Akai Me No Kagami and an archive release containing unreleased material as Serenade/Shingetsu. However, 25 years after the event, those wonderful Musea people have unearthed another previously-unreleased live tape from soon after the album's release, and it's really rather good. The sleeve lists ten tracks, though there's only nine sequenced on the disc, but it seems the discrepancy is in the otherwise unreleased 20-minute Reddish Eyes On Mirror/Voyage For Killing Love Part 2. The music is everything you'd expect of prime Japanese progressive; highly melodic and (I suspect) very theatrical, they took the lush symphonic sound of Genesis and Camel and ran with it, adding elements from their own culture, as does most good progressive rock.
Reasonable amounts of 'Tron on board from both regular keys man Akira Hanamoto and guest second keyboardist Takashi Kokubo (left), with flute and string parts on lengthy opener Oni and cellos and faint choir on Fragments Of The Dawn, although there's rather lesser use on the other highlighted tracks. It's perfectly possible that there are more backing strings, but it's rather difficult to tell amongst the mélange of keys layered throughout many tracks, including two different string synths.
In 2005, the five-disc The Whole Story of Shingetsu 1976-1982 appeared out of nowhere; while not actually the last word on the band, it's clearly attempting to be exactly that. We'll ignore disc one, as it's merely a remastered version of Shingetsu, but disc two is a newly-recorded set of material, their 'second album', From a Distant Star (from Life And Death through to Orion/Tsuzumi Hoshi above). And it's... every bit as good as their debut, even if we've already heard two if its six tracks on Shingetsu Live. Is that Hanamoto's real Mellotron on Life And Death and The Voyage For Killing Love, part 2? Hard to tell, but while there's a string line running through the former, there's next to nothing on the latter, anyway. Disc 3, Out Takes 1979-1980, is almost exactly what it says on the tin, although the brief Practice On The Bass dates from '77. There's only a little Mellotron on the disc; as if to make up its no-show up to that point, Fragments Of The Dawn features cello, string and flute parts, with more of the same on Oni, including a nifty flute part.
Disc 4, Archives/HAL Serenade, all from 1976, contains some of the best material on the set, maybe surprisingly, although neither the very ELP-esque Sir Bordenhausen nor Blur Blue Sky are among them. More Mellotron this time round, with a flute melody and wobbly string chords on The Broken Chain, more strings on the fabulous Recurrence, possibly the best track on the entire set, while The End is a short, beautiful piece for Mellotron flute, strings and cello, not to mention the strings towards the end of Blur Blue Sky, flutes on The Voyage For Killing Love, Part 1 and cellos and flutes on Recurrence/Oni. I don't know where they get the '1977' bit on the final disc, Other Materials 1977-1999, as it was actually recorded almost entirely between 1980 and '83, the sole dissenter being the final track, 1999's Hirotoubi/The Song Of Hiroshima Prefecture Eastern Beauty Special School. It's a rather more mixed bag than the previous discs, some shorter, more straightforward material creeping in, as the band crossed the 1980 watershed. There are a handful of Mellotron tracks, all from 1980, with cellos and flutes on Roman Fu and strings on Blue and Akane Sasu/Flickering Evening Daylight, although it seems they'd ditched it by the following year, 1983's Ameba/Tapestry (actually a demo by Tapestry) being a particularly bad offender, featuring some seriously heinous synth sounds.
So; if big, lush symphonic prog is your bag, I can wholeheartedly recommend these, although Haruhiko Tsuda's restrained guitar work isn't going to be to all tastes.
See: Serenade/Shingetsu | Makoto Kitayama with Shingetsu Project
In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster (2005, 38.57) ***/T
|Goretex Weather Report
Aleister Explains Everything
31=300=20 (it is By Will Alone I
Set My Mind in Motion)
|Where Death Comes to Cry
The Smoking Dog
You Can Try the Best You Can
Shining are a Norwegian prog/avant-garde troupe, some of whose members have also played with Jaga Jazzist. 2005's In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster is their third album, and I were to tell you that it's not the easiest listen ever, I wouldn't be lying. Influences include the more out-there regions of jazz, French chanson (no, really), the RIO of Henry Cow et al. and even the occasional burst of more 'mainstream' prog.
Despite two credited Mellotron players (Jørgen Munkeby and Morten Qvenild), there's very little obvious 'Tron on the album, although the choirs on 31=300=20 (It Is By Will Alone I Set My Mind In Motion) are pretty real-sounding, which is nice. So; one for those of you who feel that Slapp Happy are boringly normal, or Univers Zero sound like Genesis. Not much obvious Mellotron, but it's hardly the album's stand-out feature, anyway.
See: Jaga Jazzist
VI / Klagopsalmer (2009, 50.32) ***/T½Vilseledda Barnasjälars Hemvist
Plågoande o'Helga Plågoande
Fullständigt Jävla Död Inuti
Ohm - Sommar Med Siv
Krossade Drömmar och Brutna Löften
VII / Född Förlorare (2011, 41.47) ***/T½Förtvivlan, Min Arvedel
Tiden Läker Inga Sår
Människa o'Avskyvärda Människa
Tillsammans Är Vi Allt
I Nattens Timma
Shining (nothing to do with the Norwegian band, above) seem to be the kind of death metal band that gives the genre a bad name, allegedly glorifying suicide and self-harm, although I remain slightly sceptical without seeing translated lyrics; 'moral panics' are easy to whip up and bands like this are ideal candidates for vilification. Going by their sixth album, VI / Klagopsalmer (Hymns of Lament), they play the kind of highly proficient thrash/'technical' metal beloved of a certain kind of young man who needs to get out more. The album actually has its moments, not least the surprisingly tasteful middle part of Ohm - Sommar Med Siv and the whole of the desolate, acoustic Krossade Drömmar Och Brutna Löften, although a surfeit of death grunts and impeccably-played but totally derivative riffs tend to spoil the overall effect. Unusually for him, Norway's premier 'Tron-merchant, Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Wobbler, White Willow, a million others), plays with a Swedish band this time round, adding Mellotron and celeste to the album. We get choirs on Vilseledda Barnasjälars Hemvist and flutes and strings on Plågoande O'Helga Plågoande, although the cellos in lengthy closer Total Utfrysning are real.
Two years on, VII / Född Förlorare (Born Loser) is, by and large, more of the same, although the number of quiet, reflective sections has risen in the interim, as has the melodic content of the heavier parts. A major surprise is track five, an instantly recognisable cover of Landberk's mournful I Nattens Timma (from 1992's Riktigt Äkta), featuring Peter Bjärgö on vocals, piano and Mellotron, one of several guest spots on the record. I presume it's Bjärgö on (presumably real) Mellotron across the album, with a brief cello and flute section at the end of Tiden Läker Inga Sår, flutes and vibes on Tillsammans Är Vi Allt and vibes on I Nattens Timma, although only the first-named is particularly overt.
You probably don't need these for their Mellotron use, but for relatively tuneful black metal, you could do a lot worse.
Trick or Treat (2009, 31.13) ***/T½Trick or Treat
More Valium on the Mellotron
Shits & Giggles are involved with the Vas Deferens Organization and the Mutant Sounds blog, so it should come as no surprise to hear that they're pretty, er, 'out there', combining fucked-up jazz, plunderphonics and anything else that comes their way on their debut, 2009's Trick or Treat. I'd be lying if I tried to claim this is an easy listen, but those of you more attuned to the weirder end of weird may well go for it. I'm sure there are other online reviews that actually describe this stuff better than I can; it's far enough beyond my comfort zone to be influenced by other artists that are also a long way from said zone.
Since no-one's credited with the Mellotron (or anything else), the player could be any of Ariel Pink, Christopher Moock, Eric Lumbleau, Jay Jernigan or Matt Castille; whoever it is adds pitchbent flutes and choir to More Valium On The Mellotron and more choirs on Zykatronics to passable, if not entirely essential effect. All in all, this is a pretty odd album, but those on the further edges of the psych spectrum may be up for it, ditto anyone into the whole Nurse With Wound scene.
Rough Dreams (2002, 43.15) **/½
Gone Too Far
After the Prince and the Showgirl
All Because You Told Me So
Shivaree apparently make much of their Southern background, but I can't say it has that much effect on their sound, at least to my ears. Going by their second album, 2002's Rough Dreams (apparently unreleased in the States), they play a slightly gothic (note: not Goth) kind of indie, with the improbably-named Ambrosia Parsley (which almost certainly means it's her real name) doing her slightly odd, childlike vocal thing. Y'know, you're either going to like this or you're not... Half measures are unlikely.
Danny McGough is credited with Chamberlin, but on an album that also has a credit for 'string arrangements', you know you're in trouble. The one place I think I can hear it is on Stealing Home, with some strings that actually sound tape-generated, although I wouldn't actually bet anything very important on it. Generally speaking, this irritated the fuck out of me, and probably will you too, unless you're a fan of the band who's Googled their way here. Next to no Chamby either, so I really wouldn't bother.
Dream on Dreamer (1973, 31.32) **/T
|Time Slips Away
So Far From Home
Take Your Time
Little Bit of Heaven
Now He's Gone
Diana in Her Dreams
Just a Song
|In My Time of Dyin'
Save Your Love
Shocking Blue were a typical Dutch '70s pop group, which still makes them more of a 'rock' band than most current pop (see: the original glam scene's serious rock credentials). 1973's Dream on Dreamer was their seventh and penultimate album, three years after their major US hit Venus, by which time they'd seemingly contracted to their home market, while still singing exclusively in English (find me a Dutch band that doesn't...). Easily the best things here (which isn't saying much) are the band's version of In My Time Of Dyin', two years before Led Zeppelin tackled it in, er, superior fashion and the mandolin solo on Wild Rose. Heady stuff, heady stuff...
An unknown keyboard player adds a major Mellotron string part to Save Your Love, including skilful pitchbends that imitate real strings passably well. Sadly, that's about it for the album's highpoints, so unless you're a fan of Dutch '70s pop or have to have everything with a Mellotron on it, you're probably best off going elsewhere.
|7" (1969) ***/TT½
That Tender Looking Angel
Trip Around the World
|7" (1971) **½/T½
Bless the Day
Be What You Are
Make Up Your Make-Up (1974, 38.20) ***/TT
|Make Up Your Make-Up
The World Belongs to You
No One Knows
The Hour Comes Nigh
I'll Be a Man
Good Morning Everyone
|Up and Down
Face to Face
Who were The Shoes? heavily pre-dating the US proto-powerpop band, they were a successful '60s Dutch beat group who split in 1971, briefly reforming in the middle of the decade. 1969's That Tender Looking Angel b/w Trip Around The World is one of several singles they released that year, compiled onto 1970's Let the Shoes Shine in LP (right). The 'A' is a bouncy-yet-minor-key effort, laced with (presumably Phonogram's Hilversum Studios' M300) Mellotron brass and strings, while the flip is (fittingly) rather trippier, swamped with Mellotron strings and a clunky flute melody. Two years later, Bless The Day is slightly dated for the year, sounding more like 1968, complete with Moodies-esque Mellotron strings.
1974's reformation album, Make Up Your Make-Up, is an of-its-time effort, combing hard-ish rock with glam-lite, middling pop/rock, even progressive touches in places, better tracks including the doomy The Hour Comes Nigh, I'll Be A Man and vaguely Strawbs-esque closer Face To Face. Erik van der Wurf and Martin Agterberg play Mellotron, with strings on the opening title track, 'stabbed' string chords (alongside real ones) on The World Belongs To You, a minor string part on She-La-La and a more major one on Face To Face, plus choirs.
I'm not entirely sure why I've given Make Up... three stars; maybe because The Shoes weren't (obviously) a bunch of sad Eurovision hopefuls, but a proper band, while the album does actually have its moments, while their early singles (available on the two-disc Singles A's & B's), while nothing startling, are perfectly acceptable. So; not great, but some nice Mellotron work on a few tracks.
Brand New Knife (1996, 46.43) ***/T
Wind Your Spring
The Perfect World
Loop Di Loop
Fruits & Vegetables
|Tower of the Sun
Keep on Rockin'
Shonen Knife's schtick seems to be cutesy girly pop-garage punk, Japanese style; note the two different sets of overly-cute girl-dolls-with-guitars pictured on the sleeve of their fifth album, Brand New Knife (ho ho) for proof. They're actually very good at it (the pop-garage punk, that is), although I'm surprised at how relatively laid-back the album is; long way to go before Destiny's Child territory, mind... My favourite track? Has to be closer One Week, chiefly for its ridiculously cutesy-pie lyrics. Sample:
I drive to a toy shop
And I buy a Barbie doll
Guitarist/vocalist Naoko Yamano plays 'Melotron', with a brief string part on The Perfect World, although that's your lot. So; an album that should make all but the most curmudgeonly smile, at least once or twice, although it's somewhat thin on the 'Tron front. Despite rumours, no 'Tron on their follow-up, '98's Happy Hour, although the material's as good, with the added bonus of a great version of Daydream Believer. Incidentally, it seems there's a track on their second effort, 1990's 712, called Blue Oyster Cult; it seems to be about getting food poisoning. Right...
On the Frontier (1973, 42.13) **½/TNeon Life
Ships and Sails
On the Frontier
Head Under Water/Sepia Sister
Old Time Religion
Shoot were one of those one-off '70s bands comprising ex-members of other bands, few of whom did well: in this case, it was Jim McCarty (Yardbirds, Renaissance) and Dave Greene (Raw Material), both clearly looking for a job. Their lone album, 1973's On the Frontier is a long way from being some kind of long-lost prog classic; it's almost exclusively dull country rock or the kind of middling soft rock that fell out of favour not too long afterwards. About the best things here are Living Blind and Head Under Water/Sepia Sister, but it's pushing it a bit to call any of it 'good'.
McCarty plays Mellotron, with chordal flute and string parts on Sepia Sister, after its sitar intro, Head Under Water, although the strings on Ships And Sails and Old Time Religion are real. As a relatively obscure early '70s album, this probably goes for considerable sums when copies crop up, but believe me, it really isn't worth it. One excellent 'Tron track, mind, but not enough to get that excited about.
No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical (2004, 54.10) **/½
|A Llama Eats a Giraffe (and Vice Versa)
Dead By Dawn
Mouth Like a Magazine
If You Like Me Check Yes, if You Don't I'll Die
Sampsa Meets Kafka
So Selfish it's Funny
The Missing Wife
Welcome to Plainfield Tobe Hooper
|And the Smokers and Children Shall Be Cast Down
Stabbing Art to Death
The Dissonance of Discontent
Matthias Replaces Judas
The Bell Jar
Age of Reptiles (2006, 42.52) **/T
Your Owls Are Hooting
Sing Me to Sleep
George Romero Will Be at Our Wedding
The Jesus Lizard
Age of Reptiles
The Fear of God (2009, 45.58) **/T
Nothing Matters Anymore
Lost Connection With the Head
Regret Consumes Me
Out of My Mind
The Great Emasculation
Shepherd, No Sheep
|Let There Be Raw
I Think I'm Going to See You
The Fear of God
Until We Meet Again
Showbread are a Christian metal outfit (their name is some kind of Biblical quote), whose only claim to originality seems to be their occasional synth use. Not much of a claim, really, is it? 2004's No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical is their fourth album, a noisy, unfocussed affair, featuring far too much screaming for its own good, frankly. Producer Sylvia Massy Shivy (Acroma, The Cliks, Lollipop Lust Kill) plays Mellotron on Matthias Replaces Judas, with a background string part that doesn't hurt, but doesn't especially enhance the track, either. 2006's Age of Reptiles, also produced by Massy, is slightly more varied and mature, thankfully, although I wouldn't actually take that as any kind of recommendation, frankly. She adds Mellotron strings to the strangely-titled George Romero Will Be At Our Wedding and the end of the ten-minute closing title track, slightly improving them.
2009's The Fear of God (why is this supposed to be a good thing?) is a rather generic modern metal album with, er, Christian lyrics, pretty much as you'd expect, really. No outstanding features. Sorry. While it doesn't actually have a best track per se, balladic closer Until We Meet Again is the only thing that actually sounds different to anything else here. Massy on Mellotron once more, although she makes us wait for it, with nothing but cellos and strings on Until We Meet Again, not nearly enough to make this worth hearing for it alone, although it's a good example of how to use the sounds tastefully in an acoustic setting. Don't take that as a recommendation, though.
The Image Maker Vol 1 & 2 (2007, recorded 1971, 63.31) ***/½
Cry My Little Darling
World War II
She's a Bad Girl
Tell Me Why
Shuttah are a total obscurity, 2007's The Image Maker Vol 1 & 2 being mastered from the sole surviving acetate; informed opinion has it that someone well-known must've been involved, as the sessions are expensive studio productions and someone funded them... However, when all's said and done, no-one knows who was involved, or if they do, they aren't telling. All very odd. Anyway, for some reason, the hour or so of recordings have been spread over two CDs; OK, so disc two appears to be some kind of Second World War concept, but to add to the expense of the package on those grounds is plain silly...
So what about the music, then? It's a bit of a mish-mash of styles, to be honest, disc one being more pop/rock, although the lengthy Crimp jams it out nicely, while disc two's (supposed) concept is a far proggier affair, opening with the solo guitar of Guernica, other better tracks including The Wizard and Conclusion. The unknown keyboard player adds 'Tron strings to Bull Run, some of which are manipulated to grind to a halt near the beginning of the track.
I keep feeling I should give this an extra half star, but too much of it's a bit too ordinary for its own good, although I heartily applaud Normal Records for unearthing this obscurity and making it generally available. Borderline worth hearing for prog obsessives, but definitely not for Mellotron ones.
Île de Fièvre (1978, 38.50) ****/TT½Île de Fièvre
Le Sang des Capucines
Shylock were one of several rather good late-'70s French progressive bands who all missed the boat as punk arrived, despite signing to CBS France. Their first release, Gialorgues (****) is an excellent instrumental album, probably marginally superior to Île de Fièvre, in fact. King Crimson were a major influence on the band (guitarist Frederic L'Epee even played a black Les Paul while sitting down), though you wouldn't believe it to hear this album's title track; symphonic in a Genesis vein, this is a lengthy synth-heavy piece, strong on melody and very different to the rest of the album. Didier Lustig's Mellotron use is very sparse here, with just a few string chords creeping in towards the end of the piece.
From Le Sang Des Capucines on, Shylock turn more towards their prime influence and become rather more dissonant, although Choral on side two is precisely what it says on the packet, with some layered 'Tron choirs and strings (Didier actually mailed me to confirm the latter). The album's closing piece, Laocksetal spends several minutes being very Crimson before the Mellotron strings enter, but not in an especially Crimson-like manner, closing the album with a series of repeating chords.
Île de Fièvre's an excellent album, if slightly derivative, although the fractured funk of Himogene shows where the band may have headed if they'd stayed together. Sadly, after arguments with the record company and the rejection of their third album, they split in 1979. I really can wholeheartedly recommend both albums on musical grounds, although this isn't a full-on 'Tron classic. Top marks to Musea for rescuing these. Incidentally, the chances of there being any footage of the original band are minimal, but here's the reformed version playing Laocksetal in Portugal in 2012 with real Mellotron.
The Firelit S'coughs (2001, 37.08) ***/T
|Listening to Sound
Who Wrote the Night?
Right Eye, Left Eye
|Sink the Town
Sicbay are a bassless Minneapolis-based outfit whose members have all graduated from other bands, obviously feeling happier with their current style. Which is? Um, sort of punky something-or-other; sorry, I'm not really up on what they're doing, but it's both energetic and tuneful, which can't be all bad, not to mention the obvious Cardiacs influence on 3 Hours. I've no idea why their debut album is called The Firelit S'coughs, but I'm sure it means something to someone.
Guitarists Dave Erb and Ed Rodriguez both play Mellotron, with strings on Who Wrote The Night? and a typically 'Strawberry Fields'-style flute part on Right Eye, Left Eye, although that seems to be it. So; not one for you progheads (no, really?), or particularly for the Mellotron enthusiast, although two fairly decent 'Tron tracks make this worth hearing if you run into a copy. Incidentally, thanks to Marina for providing my review copy. Don't suppose that Cardiacs influence had anything to do with it, Marina?
Puttin' in Time on Planet Earth (1973, 35.12) ***½/TFull Compass
Play the Piano
Have You Heard the News
Face Your Fears
Walking With the Blues
Now I Live (and Now My Life is Done)
Puttin' in Time on Planet Earth
Although I hadn't previously heard of him, it seems that Ben Sidran is a noted jazz pianist, producer, broadcaster, writer etc., known to many as the lyricist for old buddy Steve Miller's Space Cowboy, apparently a rather lucrative move on his part. 1973's Puttin' in Time on Planet Earth was his third album, containing an intriguing mix of jazz and psychedelia, a combo which reaches its pinnacle on the superb Face Your Fears, featuring both jazz piano and rock guitar solos, although the trippy Now I Live (And Now My Life Is Done), featuring Sidran on Rhodes, comes a close second, just ahead of the title track.
Sidran adds Mellotron here and there, with a beautifully-arranged string part on Face Your Fears, although, sadly, he elects to leave it at that. Y'know, one of the good things about running this site is the occasions when I run into something really good; I'm not so sure about everything here - weird talking blues Think Twice doesn't work so well - but overall, a cautious thumbs-up, though not for the Mellotron.
Far From the Sun (2008, 52.43) ***½/TDreams of Tomorrow
Waiting for the Sun
Time Will Tell
Two Steps Backwards
Wishing for More
The Summer is Old
The Break of Dawn
Long Way From Home
Stockholm-based Siena Root are about as retro as you can get without quiffing up and going all '50s on us. Their third album, 2008's Far From the Sun, recreates 1972 to a T, sounding like a beautiful-yet-unholy cross between Uriah Heep and any number of largely forgotten bands of the era, their single-note riffs and the harmonica solo on Wishing For More pretty much defining their sound. If I have a complaint, it's that it's possibly too redolent of the era, with what seems to be little of the band's own personality left intact. Never happy, am I? Anyway, top tracks include opener Dreams Of Tomorrow, the Mountain-like Waiting For The Sun and cataclysmic, ten-minute closer Long Way From Home, which should give you some idea of what this actually sounds like.
One K.G. West plays Mellotron, amongst other things, although we only get to hear it on Long Way From Home, with an authentic-sounding string part dipping in and out of the mix across its length. This is actually a borderline four star effort, to be honest, although I'd really like to hear a little more of Siena Root themselves next time round. Only one Mellotron track, so probably not worth it on those grounds alone, but it's not what this fine album's about, anyway.
Got What We Want (2002, 37.21) ***½/TT
|Don't Want You Back
Be Like Normal
It'd Be Nice (To Have You Around)
One and Only
Got What I Want
Everyone's a Poet
|Sick and Tired
Sweet Little Woman
The Sights are more often than not described as 'rock'n'roll', probably more because they come from Detroit than because it's entirely accurate. OK, some of their second album, 2002's Got What We Want is defiantly rock'n'roll (One And Only, the title track), but at least as much of the record is more the heavy end of powerpop than anything (It'd Be Nice (To Have You Around), Last Chance), proving their adaptability, while Be Like Normal has some of that '77 punk energy about it, while maintaining its tunefulness.
The album's keyboards are, unusually, played by the drummer, one Dave Shettler, with a bit of Hammond, plus Mellotron on two tracks, with seriously full-on string parts on opener Don't Want You Back and Sorry Revisited, intense enough to give the album a full two Ts. So; one for powerpop fans who'll scream if they hear one more McGuinn-ian 12-string, with some worthwhile 'Tron work.
Signal (2009, 32.38) ****/TTTTT
Sooner or Later
Element One: The Ride
Element Two: The View
|The "Prog" Journey
Seaside Music Academy
Guitar Class One
Guitar Class Two
Signal is effectively Utah-based Kevin Seager's solo project, his/their eponymous instrumental debut appearing in 2009. Although the material tends towards the gentler, mellifluous-guitar-solo end of prog, exceptions include the sequenced piano part on Sooner Or Later, the sequencer-driven electronics on part one of Southwestern Tour, while Strong Willed's strident brass and orchestral chimes have more of a Crimson flavour to them. Oddly, The "Prog" Journey has more than a little of The Byrds about it, while the album closes with the witty Seaside Music Academy, an excuse for Seager to dip into the sound FX box, each of its three parts being pretty much what you'd expect.
Greg Walker (Syn-phonic label/mail-order boss) owns an M400, which Kevin borrowed for the recording. The first thing you hear upon pressing 'play' is a string note, the rest of Humility's Value being stuffed with string and flute parts, with more of the same across every track, the only exception being part three (Synthesizer Class) of Seaside Music Academy. Mellotronic highlights include the Crimson-esque strings on Sooner Or Later and the authentically out-of-tune strings on Strong Willed, but, frankly, it's all good. Signal is an excellent little album, proof that a small budget no longer has to mean a small sound. Well worth the effort.
Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust (2008, 55.40) ****½/T
Inní Mé Syngur Vitleysingur
Við Spilum Endalaust
Suð í Eyrum
Inni (2011, 104.04) ****/T
Við Spilum Endalaust
Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur
Sigur Rós are the kind of band for whom the term 'transcendental' was invented; they construct giant edifices of sound, almost invariably major-key, using analogue keyboards, bowed guitar and an invented language, Vonlenska, or Hopelandic (people often assume, wrongly, that they're singing in Icelandic). They made their name through several enigmatically-titled releases, somehow merging 'melancholy' and 'triumphalism' into the kind of music that many prog fans have gone ga-ga about, although their appeal is, startlingly, far more mainstream than that, or they wouldn't have a career.
Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust ('with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly') is generally regarded as the point at which Sigur Rós cheered up, although, of course, nothing's ever that simple. While certainly more upbeat than their previous output, it's still quite unmistakeably Sigur Rós, a couple of tracks pushing the ten-minute barrier, although I believe most of it's sung in Icelandic, with one song in English. Careful, chaps... Essentially, though, it's every bit as good as everything else they've done, just a little more optimistic. Somewhere along the line, the band discovered the Mellotron; I suspect it might've been sooner had they not been isolated in Iceland, a country not known for its Mellotronic activity. The last I heard, they're ordering a new M4000 from Streetly Electronics, but haven't been able to decide what sounds they want in it... They borrowed an M400 for the recording of Með Suð..., adding strings to Fljótavík, although there are several other places on the album it could be, but apparently isn't. Although you'd think keyboard player Kjartan "Kjarri" Sveinsson would've played it, I believe it was actually drummer Orri Páll Dýrason. So; another wonderful Sigur Rós album. Bastards. Very little Mellotron, mind, but I'd like to think that when they finally get their M4000 sorted out, they might use it a little more.
A little story for you... My girlfriend (yes, I have one) and I went to see the band on tour in late 2008, then got a call from Mellotron HQ a couple of weeks later: would we like to lend them my M400 for a DVD shoot at a major gig? Er, whadd'ya think? We belted back up to north London and hauled it up to Alexandra Palace, a grand old gothic pile on a hill looking out over the city. We got it soundchecked, then it was hidden under a black sheet until they played Fljótavík, at which point it was produced to minor cheers (!), Orri reprising his studio part on the string section. We were promised a copy of the DVD (eventually titled Inni), which still hasn't appeared, despite several follow-up e-mails (thanks, guys). It turns out that a two-CD set of their performance has also been released under the same title, recorded across both nights. You can hear the size of the place from the cheers that open proceedings, after which we get a faithful reproduction of the hundred-minute set they played on the tour, including the second night version of Fljótavík and yes, Orri played the Mellotron as badly as we remember...
Sigur Rós have had some bad press from certain quarters, claiming that they're just some run-of-the-mill post-rock outfit, to which I say: bullshit. There's no guarantee you'll like what they do, but don't lump 'em in with your Godspeeds! and your Mogwais, thank you very much. Two albums here, both well worth hearing, but don't bother for the Mellotron (even when it's mine).
Windows on the World (2006, 62.01) ***/½
|The First Men on the Sun
Windows on the World
Luce and the Japanese
Windows on the World (reprise)
Bookmarks (2007, 61.10) ***/T½
|Flugzeug Nach Finkenwerder
Othmarschen in Blau
This Car Can Fly
Good-Byes to Frog-Eyes
The Silicon Scientist is basically Sonnenbrandt's Stefan Bornhorst (a.k.a. Kpt Korg), whose Windows on the World channels early '80s synthpop, producing an album that could all too easily have been made by a bizarre (or should that be bizzare?) conflation of The Human League and Blancmange. Sonically speaking, Bornhorst has an innate understanding not only of his chosen genre, but his also equipment, placing sounds perfectly in the mix so as not to overwhelm it by filling every frequency. Modern producers, please take note. On the Mellotron front, Stefan tells me that Submarines features flutes near the beginning (and right at the end) and male choirs (albeit quiet ones) near the end and indeed it does, making me wonder why I didn't notice them first time round.
Bookmarks, an odds'n'ends collection recorded over the preceding two years, is a highly limited-edition CD-R that came with the first two hundred copies of Windows on the World. Like its parent album, it's an early '80s synthpop throwback, although most of its contents are instrumental, in 'film soundtrack' style, the minimal vocal parts mostly half-spoken in the background. Bornhorst is credited with a whole slew of vintage goodies, including a Korg MS-20, a Solina string synth, Multi- and MiniMoogs and a real Mellotron M400, which makes a nice change. Anyway, we get strings on CMC10 (a Mellotron owners' in-joke: the CMC-10 is the original, notoriously unreliable motor control board from the M400) and all over Home, although other possibles are probably some form of synth.
You're most unlikely to find a 'hard' copy of Bookmarks, although Windows on the World should be easier to trace, but all tracks are available as online streams; worth hearing for synth nuts and synthpop fans.
Neo Wave (1998, 47.34) ***½/T
I'll See You Around
Would've if I Could've
Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
There Goes Summer
The Profit of the Prairie
Only a Girl
Fire & Blood
Silver Sun are a relative rarity these days; a British powerpop band, admittedly one at the rockier end of the genre. After an initial burst of activity (with that all-important record company support), they were dropped after their rather groovy second effort, 1998's Neo Wave, presumably because it didn't sell a million, or something. Highlights include opener Cheerleading (hey, always start with your strongest song!), the rocking Would've If I Could've, Mustard and their cover of Johnny Mathis' (!) Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, but there's little here that offends.
Bassist/vocalist Richard Kane plays Mellotron on two tracks, with strings on Cheerleading and a choir chord at the end of Mustard, although it's hardly a Mellotron classic. So; a decent album of its type, worth hearing for fans of the genre, though not for its Mellotron use. Incidentally, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late was released as the lead track of an EP, track two of which was their four-minute condensing of Rush's epic Xanadu, which truly has to be heard to be believed...
Black Leather Mojo (2001, 47.29) ***½/T
Anyway But Maybe
Girls Are Better Than Boys
(Whatever Happened to)
The Monkey Zoo
|Too Many Hippies (in the Garden of Love)
I Wanna Be New
Church of the Broken Hearted
Take it All Why Don'tcha
The clue's in the name; SilverGinger 5 are another Ginger side-project, when he's not wrestling with trying to keep a Wildhearts lineup drug-free, not to mention himself. As with everything he does, seemingly, Black Leather Mojo is an album of catchy pop songs played through a distortion box on 11; think: Cheap Trick with attitude. While this isn't 100% my bag, it seems to be more than competent at what it does, and should probably have sold many more copies than it undoubtedly did.
The reason this is here is that my Mellotron was used on it. Ginger's a huge Cardiacs fan (good man!), and got Tim Smith to produce it, who brought in his old mucker Bill "William D." Drake to play keyboards. Tim rang me and I asked if I could bring the ol' M400 down, and (as I've said somewhere else around here), you don't say no to Tim... Credited with 'piano and organ', Bill actually sticks the 'Tron on a couple of tracks, with strings on (Whatever Happened To) Rock'n'Roll Girls, then lovely 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes, and choirs on Church Of The Broken Hearted.
So; you're by no means all going to like this - I'm still not sure if I do - but it's well done, and far more exciting (remember that?) than most modern metal releases, of whatever type. Not much 'Tron, but nice to finally hear my own machine on CD again.
Mothertongue (1997, 43.25) ***½/TT
Merry Go Round
Through the Gates of Morning Bright
I'm Over You
|Wilson (I Can't Get You Out of My Head)
If She Says
Difficult to know quite how to describe Simmer's music; sort of indie-ish, but somehow better, with material that, in places, beats yer standard indie-mongers hands down. Maybe being Dutch helps, not having the manipulative UK music press (or what's left of it) breathing down your neck the whole time. Anyway, songs like Slumber Away and Through The Gates Of Morning Bright make Mothertongue a decent enough listen, although if you're not into modern guitar pop you probably aren't going to go wild about this.
On the Mellotron front, from guitarist Theo de Jong, the excellent Slumber Away has a string melody following the guitar line, until the rest of the band drops out, leaving the 'Tron playing solo for eight bars, reiterating at the end of the song. Fantastic! The strings on Redrum are almost inaudible, but the upfront 'Tron on Suffering Jesus makes up for it, leaving their use restrained but effective. All in all, it's a bit of a shame Simmer seem to have disappeared; well, this album is seven years old at the time of writing, and I can't trace anything else by the band. Anyway, those of you into the indie thing may well like this, although the 'Tron use isn't essential.
Something in Between (2007, 46.22) ***/½
|Don't Mind Me
Hold You Today
Cloudy in L.A.
|Blues on a Sunny Day
Go Easy on Me
All the Time I've Got
Stephen Simmons is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, so it comes as no surprise to learn that there's a distinct country influence in his music. Saying that, it's a long way from Grand Ol Opry schmaltz, for which we have to be grateful, although sometimes the Nashville in Simmons rises a little too close to the surface, as on Down Tonight. The album's probably better lyrically than musically, to be honest, which is probably the way with a lot of country music, but it's far from offensive, although it has a faint air of 'heard it all before' about it.
Richard McLaurin is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but the album's strings all sound real, leaving nothing but vague, background flutes on Blues On A Sunny Day, one of the album's better tracks. If you don't dig country (I bet most country people don't say 'dig'), you're not going to go for this, but it does its job well, despite a near-complete lack of any Mellotronic involvement.
Harper Simon (2009, 30.18) ***/T
|All to God
Wishes and Stars
Cactus Flower Rag
All I Have Are Memories
Harper Simon (presumably named for his mother, Peggy Harper) is Paul Simon's first child, born in 1972, and despite working as a musician since his teens, has taken until 2009 to release his eponymous solo album. Unsurprisingly, it's not a million miles away from something his dad may have recorded in the '70s, with the addition of several country tracks, recorded with a crack team of Nashville sessioneers, although the bulk of the short album falls into the singer-songwriter bracket. To be honest, I can't say I found it particularly engaging, but what do I know? It seems to do what it does well enough, although its popularity is unlikely to match most of dad's records, with the possible exception of Songs from Capeman (cue unwarranted snigger). Actually, is it unwarranted? We're talking about the man who copyrighted the ancient folk tune Scarborough Fair, learned from Martin Carthy during Simon's British sojourn in 1965.
Er, anyway... Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto) plays (real?) Mellotron flutes on The Audit, although the strings sound real, while Patrick Warren adds his usual Chamberlin, with irritatingly real-sounding flutes and strings on Ha Ha. Overall, then, a decent enough effort, actually quite timeless (always a good move), although unlikely to excite anyone very much, including tape-replay enthusiasts.
See: Heavy Circles
|7" (1967) *****/TTT
Like the Sun Like the Fire
|7" (1968) ***/TT
For Whom the Bell Tolls
|7" (1968) ****½/TTT½
Part of My Past
This Story Never Ends
|7" (1968) ****/TTT
Thinking About My Life
Velvet and Lace
Part of My Past (2004, recorded 1966-69, 151.18) ****/TTTT
|I See the Light
It is Finished
You Need a Man
Day Time, Night Time
I've Seen it All Before
Medley: 60 Minutes of Your
Love/A Lot of Love
Get Off My Bach
There's a Little Picture
What is Soul
Like the Sun Like the Fire
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Part of My Past
This Story Never Ends
Thinking About My Life
Velvet and Lace
We Are the Moles (part 1)
We Are the Moles (part 2)
Broken Hearted Pirates
She Gave Me the Sun
The Eagle Flies Tonight
Give it All Back
Stained Glass Window
Please Come Back
|Light on Dark Water
What in This World
What Cha Gonna Do
Don't Make it So Hard (on
Castle in the Sky
Loneliness is Just a State
Laughing Boy From
Can't You See
|Something in the Way
I'm Going Home
Medley: 60 Minutes of Your
Love/A Lot of Love
Get Off My Bach
There's a Little Picture
Day Time, Night Time
I See the Light
What is Soul
'Simon Dupree' (an entirely fictitious individual) and his Big Sound were in fact a Portsmouth-based soul/R'n'B band formed around the mid-'60s, led by the three Shulman brother, Derek, Ray and Phil. They played the obligatory hundreds of gigs a year, covering well-known US soul numbers to crowds of sweaty revellers up and down the country, and doubtless made a decent living for a while. Their sole album proper (excuse the pun), 1967's Without Reservations was presumably the cream of their current stage set, and correspondingly is of little interest to all but UK '60s soul fans, to be honest.
Like so many of their contemporaries, though, their management caught the whiff of joss-sticks and patchouli on the air and insisted they reinvent themselves as a psychedelic combo. The band hated the idea, but went along with it, producing a cast-iron psych classic in Kites. Recorded at Abbey Road, they experimented with various exotic instruments, including the studio's new Mellotron, heard to superb effect on the track (played by Eric Hine, I believe). Even without it, the record would be wonderful, complete with Japanese (or is it Chinese?) poetry recited by an oriental-sounding female in the middle eight, wind chimes, gongs, you name it really. I can't believe I only first heard this a few years ago; it completely sums up its era, every bit as well as Strawberry Fields or Nights In White Satin. Wonderful.
The band released another five singles before their eventual demise, or six if you count the one credited to The Moles, with variable Mellotron content. For Whom The Bell Tolls was a minor hit (their only other one), but while good, with reasonable 'Tron strings, it's nowhere near the standard set by Kites. Part Of My Past is vastly better, and should, by rights, have been huge; mucho 'Tron flutes this time round. Thinking About My Life is excellent, too, if 'Tron free, although its equally good b-side (why wasn't this a single?), Velvet And Lace, has some great 'Tron string work. Although it's not relevant here, particular praise must go to the rather jolly Broken Hearted Pirates, from early '69, which I would guess was a paean to the pirate radio stations, though that's no more than speculation.
As far as I can work out, although their last recording session was in October '69, the band must have effectively dissolved by then, with the Shulmans reinventing themselves without managerial 'help', recruiting some extra members and becoming '70s prog gods Gentle Giant, themselves minor-league Mellotron users. But then, you knew that already, didn't you?
Various compilations slipped out across the years, including Kites, from the early '80s, which is particularly pointless, consisting of all their r'n'b material plus the Kites and Bells a- and b-sides. Avoid. Finally, in early 2004, over 35 years after the event, a comprehensive roundup of the band's career was announced. Part of My Past appears to be sequenced in chronological order of recording, opening with their first three singles a's and b's, followed by the remainder of Without Reservations. The rest of disc one comprises their subsequent singles, starting with Kites and including both sides of The Moles' single. The last eleven tracks on disc two are the original LP, sequenced correctly, which leaves 16 tracks which appear to be previously unreleased. I believe a second Dupree album was recorded in 1968, provisionally titled Once More Into the Breach Dear Friends, but remained unreleased after their post-Kites singles flopped, so it would appear that this less-legendary-than-it-deserves 'lost' album has finally surfaced.
Highlights of the previously-unheard material are the brilliant, melancholy Please Come Back, What Cha Gonna Do (an early version of Part Of My Past) and Castle In The Sky, but to be honest, most of the first half of disc two (which starts with Stained Glass Window) is excellent, although the quality drops off a little after Laughing Boy From Nowhere (where the 'Tron part may possibly be played by Elton John). On the Mellotron front, most of the relevant tracks have the typical Mark II strings'n'flutes, but the excellent What In This World is splattered with brass, and the even better What Cha Gonna Do opens with a killer polyphonic flute part, with loads more during the song, not to mention the seriously upfront strings part on Don't Make It So Hard (On Me Baby). Just about every highlighted track above features loads of Mark II, making this something of a 'Tron-lover's delight, especially considering how unexpected the unreleased tracks are. OK, you may be thinking "Only 13 tracks out of 55?", but when you consider that 11 of those are duplicates, and at least 25 of the 55 are deeply inessential, it starts to look rather more worthwhile. I shall be compiling my own single-CD of everything from Kites to somewhere around Something In The Way She Moves, which should cut the crap fairly decisively.
So; any previous compilations are rendered utterly redundant by the excellent Part of My Past, which I urge you to buy at your earliest convenience. The only reason it doesn't get a higher star rating is its high level of track redundancy, although I'm all in favour of releasing bands' entire oeuvres, and you can't have it both ways, can you? So, the boring stuff's boring, but the brilliant stuff's, er, brilliant, with stacks of wonderful Mellotron work. Buy. Or, if you're still a bit wary, track down Kites and hear what you've been missing. By the way, here's the full video of the above pic.
Bassist Pete O'Flaherty's site
See: The Moles | Gentle Giant
Ceinwen (1995, 53.34) ***½/TTT½Hey!
Under the Seal
A Bedtime Story
Despite their being Swedish and existing in the '90s, I can't say I know an awful lot about Simon Says. Various online interviews confirm that they started as the brainchild of bassist/keyboard player Stefan Renström and vocalist Daniel Fäldt, recording their debut, Ceinwen, before they were in a position to play live. They turned down most of the gigs they were offered, and were put on the back-burner after a while, as life overtook various members. Seven years later, after working on an electronic project, Renström realised he'd written enough Simon Says-style material for a new album, and after tracking Fäldt down, reformed the band, releasing Paradise Square in 2002 (reviewed here). Both albums are reasonable progressive releases, with occasional inspired moments, although lacking the spark of the best Swedish bands of the '90s (and no, I'm not talking about The Flower Kings...).
The problem with Simon Says' keyboards is that, alongside a (confirmed) real Mellotron and what almost certainly isn't a real Hammond, lurk some digital things Whose Name We Dare Not Speak. Actually, I've heard an awful lot worse use of modern synths, not least dodgy Swedes Manticore, and as for Italians the Romantic Warriors, let's not even go there... Anyway, as far as Renström's 'Tron use goes on Ceinwen, the strings are murky, the choirs murkier, but the choir chord at the end of A Bedtime Story does the 'Mellotron ripple', shifting inversions to sustain the sound, as if to prove its veracity. Strings all over Pilgrim's Progress, plus the unmistakable rasp of the low cello notes, which are in fact a double bass (don't ask). Flutes in B.A.J.S. Radio, which means they had two tape frames (again confirmed), with more strings in Kadazan, making this actually quite a passable Mellotron album.
Anyway, a fairly good album, without being at all outstanding, with really quite decent 'Tron work, although the band seem to be obscure enough that you may have trouble tracking this down.