Valley of Sound
Jeroen van der Boom
Van der Graaf Generator
Mark Van Hoen
Anna von Hausswolff
Voodoo Glow Skulls
And Then There is Silence (2000, 65.14) ****/TT½Fields of Sorrow
Like a Whisper
Tell Me a Story
Reaching for Angels
She Will Dance No More
Valinors Tree's second album, And Then There is Silence, is a marked improvement on their debut, Kingdom of Sadness (with sampled 'Tron, reviewed here), with fewer metal stylings this time round, both vocally and in the guitar department. The Anekdoten comparisons still stand, though Valinors use far more of John Lönnmyr's piano, giving their sound an identity of its own. Actually, the more of this album I hear, the more impressed I am, especially compared to its very ordinary predecessor. They've learnt to pace themselves, use keyboards imaginatively, sing properly... There's trumpet on a couple of tracks, and Reaching For Angels even uses sampled drum loops and pseudo-analogue synth burbles, proving that the band are by no means stuck in the past.
They borrowed The Moor's Kenneth Magnusson's 'Tron first time round, then only sampled it. This time, they actually recorded the thing, with strings on Like A Whisper and She Will Dance No More, very upfront flutes on Tell Me A Story and choirs on Silence Within, although most of their 'Tron use is fairly background, leading to a low-ish 'T' rating. So; while not a classic, And Then There is Silence is worth hearing, though not necessarily for the Mellotron.
Newborn (197?, 34.50) *½/TTI Look at the Sun
How Sweet it is
While I'm Away
When You're Smiling - J'Attendrai
Rock Show 1950's-60's
Valley of Sound were one of doubtless many, many thousands of crummy functions bands that littered the musical landscape in the '70s, in the days when people were prepared to pay a real, live band to play their wedding/bar mitzvah/funeral, rather than employ a DJ. As a result, a whole generation of musicians were ruined by playing this crud for filthy lucre rather than getting out there and doing something original. Actually, it's not just the unoriginality I object to so much - plenty of bands are unoriginal, even (especially?) ones who aren't trying to be - but the appalling arrangements these purveyors of cheese foisted on the general public. Mind you, said public probably deserved everything they got, bopping about at their nephew's wedding, pretending they're having a good time and groping their hot sister-in-law during the slow ones.
So, what does this abomination actually sound like? Every bit as bad as you can imagine, is the short answer. Unbelievably, three of side one's tracks are band originals, and are utterly horrible, as are their stabs at two covers; I particularly like the bit in When You're Smiling when the singer smiles, laughs, then cries while he's singing, to match the lyrics. Truly jaw-dropping. The real meat'n'potatoes of the album lies on side two, though. A near-twenty minute live medley of, well, just about everything you didn't want to hear again from the '50s and '60s, played with grim determination by this be-suited bunch of goons, dodgy on-stage harmonies and all. Not to mention their 'risqué' bit in the middle, where they amend a few lyrics to vaguely daring effect. 'Put your legs on my shoulders' indeed. This really has to be heard to be believed, although I doubt if I'll ever be able to bring myself to play it again.
And why is this drivel here, I hear you ask? Why d'you think? My excellent
informant correspondent Mark supplied me with a copy of this horror (which cost him all of ¢25), as he noticed a credit on the rear sleeve for Mellotron, played by wonderfully moustachioed singer/keyboardist Garé Rex (I kid you not). It finds its way onto two of their three originals, with full-on 'orchestral replacement' strings on opener I Look At The Sun (sample lyric: 'I look at the sun, and notice it's shining down on everyone') and flute and string parts on cheeso ballad While I'm Away, easily the best thing about either track.
So; how easily are you going to find this? I mean, why would you? It's deeply appalling, even worse than, say, Brit efforts Triple Cream or the better-known Candlewick Green. Shockingly, there are actually aficionados of this stuff out there, some of these albums changing hands for top dollar. Who knows, maybe Mark's ¢25 would sell for 50 bucks plus? Or maybe not. Anyway, should you stumble across a copy at a yard sale or the American equivalent of a charity shop, only you can decide whether or not to shell out your hard-earned on it. I can only stand back and cry with laughter.
Teenagers Film Their Own Life (1996, 43.59) **½/½
|The Guitarmakers Adventure: Era IV
An Audio Obstacle Course
(One Love) Le Blues Ermetique
Flashin' Light (Some Girls Like to Disco)
Rainy Day (Left)/Sintetone 2000 (Right)
End/Exploring the City of Ghosts
Valvola seem to've been a one-off mid-'90s Italian pseudo-lounge project; remember 'lounge'? Thought not. Anyway, Teenagers Film Their Own Life is vaguely amusing, with plenty of period detail, not least the keyboards used, with plenty of Farfisa (or similar) and slightly out-of-place monosynth. Probably the most interesting thing here is Rainy Day (Left)/Sintetone 2000 (Right), which actually seems to be two complementary tracks playing together, panned hard left and right. Or maybe it's just an exercise in stereo separation.
Michele Profeti (from Standarte) plays Mellotron, with faint choirs on Relaxing Mood, but nothing you couldn't live without, frankly. All in all, an attempt to capture the zeitgeist that only partially succeeds and sounds rather dated over a decade later, and with next to no Mellotron, you'd be wise to say 'no'.
Jij Bent Zo (2008, 51.02) *½/T
|Jij Bent Zo
Mijn Hoofd Verstaat Mijn Hart
Het is Over
Nou is het Genoeg
Voor de Zoveelste Keer
Jeroen van der Boom broke through commercially in his mid-thirties, rather late in the day by the industry's usual standards, although given his middle-aged music, maybe he's got it right. 2008's Jij Bent Zo is his second album, though the first under his own name; it starts passably enough, in a pop/rock vein, but quickly slumps into a slough of musical despond consisting largely of cheesy ballads of a kind with which the world is already infested, thank you very much. There are no best tracks.
Stefan Geusebroek plays Mellotron flutes on three tracks, Mijn Hoofd Verstaat Mijn Hart, Één Wereld and closer De Tijd, although only the first-named is even remotely worth hearing, with a brief solo part opening the track and a repeating 'Strawberry Fields'-type part throughout. So; safe, bland, incredibly mainstream pop/rock, with little Mellotron. In Dutch.
Pawn Hearts (1971, 45.08) *****/T
|Lemmings (Including Cog)
A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers
Presence of the Night
(Custard's) Last Stand
|The Clot Thickens
Land's End (Sineline)
We Go Now
Still Life (1976) ****/½Pilgrims
My Room (Waiting for Wonderland)
Childlike Faith in Childhood's End
World Record (1976) ****/TWhen She Comes
A Place to Survive
Meurglys III, the Songwriter's Guild
Van der Graaf Generator were the brainchild of manic vocalist/songwriter Peter Hammill, forming at Manchester University in the late '60s. After an early, fantastically rare single, they split, Hammill recording a solo album that eventually, to his irritation, got itself released as the first VdGG outing. Aerosol Grey Machine (***½) isn't bad, but is rather 'of its time' and bears little relation to the sonic holocaust that was to come. Hammill then regrouped the band properly, recording the stunning The Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other (****½) and H to He Who am the Only One (****½), the title referring to 'hydrogen to helium', so pronounced 'aitch to aitch ee'.
Their third album in as many years, Pawn Hearts is an incredible piece of work; dark, progressive and manic, and that's just the first two minutes of Lemmings. Man-Erg is crushingly brilliant, from Hugh Banton's ripping organ work through David Jackson's screaming saxes to Hammill's, well, Hammill. Many fans hold side two's one track, A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers, to be their magnum opus, but I'm not personally sure if it holds up as well as some of their, er, 'shorter' material, but it's still a fairly stunning achievement. Pieced together in the studio, it was unperformable live, so when they turned up at a Belgian TV studio the following year, only to be told "You WILL perform Lighthouse!" they had to film it in bits, splicing it together in the editing suite. There's some suitably insane Mellotron strings on one part of the track, The Clot Thickens, but there can't be more than a minute or two on the whole album. They're an excellent minute or two, though...
Due to all the usual pressures, Van der Graaf split the following year, although all members helped Hammill out in his solo career, leading to the inevitable reformation in 1975. Their first album under the new arrangement was Godbluff (****½), closely followed by Still Life and World Record, before the band fractured again. To my ears, Still Life is the better album, and still getting better with every listen, but World Record definitely has its moments. Live, VdGG and solo Hammill were growing ever closer, with the band regularly performing several 'solo' tracks in their set, and World Record seems to me to be closer to solo Hammill than band, though I'm sure there are plenty who'd disagree with me. Both albums have Mellotron credited, but there's little audible evidence; maybe a touch of strings on the stupendous Pilgrims on Still Life, and a bit of flute on Wondering from the follow-up, but that's about it, really.
VdGG were one of the very best progressive bands of the seventies, and one of the very few with a still untattered reputation, almost certainly due to their general intensity and uncompromising attitude towards their music. Almost any of their albums are worth hearing, though the four from The Least We Can Do... to Godbluff are probably their peak. The only bit of Mellotron in their entire catalogue really worth hearing is the short burst on Pawn Hearts, so buy them for the sheer quality of the music on offer. Monumental.
See: Peter Hammill | The Tangent | Eyewitness: A Tribute to VdGG
Where is the Truth (2010, 45.01) ***/T
|Put My Trust in You
Where is the Truth
I Need Your Silence
Render the Voice
Mark Van Hoen worked as Locust throughout the '90s, releasing occasional albums under his own name, the fourth of which (after a several-year gap) being 2010's Where is the Truth (question mark clearly optional). It's a decent enough album of mostly instrumental electronica, although Your Voice, a vocal number with an irritatingly dance-informed rhythm, could've been left elsewhere without damaging the record's overall prospects.
Van Hoen plays Mellotron, amongst other keyboards, with strings on the title track (although the actual credit is for Yourself) and closer Soyuz A, while the solo voice on the latter sounds more like a Chamberlin than a Mellotron, though not very much like either. So; very competent electronica, should that be your bag, but very little Mellotron. Your choice.
Vanderhoof (1997, 57.43) ***/TT½
Take to the Sky
Falling to Earth
|50 Cent Sympony
Tons of Time
40 Days Down
Game is Played
A Blur in Time (2002, 53.28) ***½/TTT½
|30 Thousand Ft.
Electric Love Song
If There's a Song...
Brand New Light
|Surface of Another Planet
Metal Church's Kurdt Vanderhoof formed his own band in the late '90s, moving completely away from the parent band's power metal into '70s hard rock territory, and would you believe it, they do it rather well? OK, they sound almost exactly like classic Uriah Heep with a lesser singer and more Mellotron, but compared to sounding like a third-rate saddo metal band, there's no contest really, is there?
Their eponymous 1997 debut is so close to Heep in places that it could almost pass as a long-lost outtakes album, particularly on Take To The Sky, but I'm not actually complaining... Vanderhoof plays Mellotron himself, with distant choirs and upfront strings on Angel Now and Tons Of Time, lesser ones on Beg and strings and cellos on 50 Cent Symphony. While I understand Vanderhoof owns a real Mellotron (and loads of other old gear), it doesn't always sound genuine, but it stays here until/if I find otherwise.
2002's A Blur in Time carries on the good work while improving on both the style and production fronts, top tracks including Surface Of Another Planet and Sonic Blur. Loads of Vanderhooftron this time round, with strings on 30 Thousand Ft., Electric Love Song, Nowhere Train and Un-Changed, with a really full-on solo part opening If There's A Song... More strings and choir on 3 A.M. and choirs on Surface Of Another Planet, alongside what sounds like an analogue polysynth (Oberheim?), making for a surprisingly 'Tron-heavy release in an unexpected area. Mind you, Vanderhoof's gone on to form the exceptionally retro Presto Ballet, so should we really be surprised?
Overall, then, one reasonable and one really quite good retro hard rock efforts with Mellotron all round, particularly on their second. It looks like the band has split to make way in Vanderhoof (the man)'s life for Presto Ballet, but A Blur in Time, in particular, is worth hearing.
See: Metal Church | Presto Ballet
Pixel Revolt (2005, 53.43) ***/TT
|Letter to the East Coast
Peacocks in the Video Rain
New Zealand Pines
Radiant With Terror
|Dear Sarah Shu
Dead Slate Pacific
The Golden Gate
Romanian Names (2009, 37.18) ***/0
|Tremble and Tear
C & O Canal
Too Much Time
Sunken Union Boat
Pixel Revolt is ex-MK Ultra John Vanderslice's fifth album, although I believe if anything, he's known more for his production work; his style is a sort of indie take on the singer-songwriter thing, although that doesn't really describe it very well. Most of the album just drifts along, with the lyrics (Trance Manual, Angela) standing out more than the music, to be honest, although going by online reviews, Vanderslice is very popular, albeit in a non-mainstream kind of way. Mellotron (from Vanderslice and Matt Henry Cunitz) on three tracks, all credited properly (hurrah!). Flutes and (lesser) strings on Trance Manual and fairly unusual vibes on Angela, leaving Exodus Damage as the album's 'Tron highlight, with a major string part, backed with flutes, plus faint choir and (allegedly) pipe organ, though I can't hear the latter for the life of me.
Vanderslice's 2009 effort, Romanian Names, is a mixed bag of indie-ish singer-songwriter material, better tracks including opener Tremble And Tear, the E-Bow-driven D.I.A.L.O. and brief instrumental Forest Knolls. Cunitz is credited with Mellotron again, but I'll be buggered if I can work out where he uses it, all potential sounds (vibes, low strings) being covered by real instruments.
So; maybe one for the singer-songwriter fan who doesn't mind a few modern production tricks? Pixel Revolt isn't bad on the Mellotron front, though not essential, although you're wasting your time with Romanian Names. Middling.
See: MK Ultra
Sofa Livin' Dreamazine (1991, 44.31) **½/½
|Wilbur and Orville
She Cries Diamonds
Naked on a Train
Vanilla Trainwreck were a N. Carolina-based band, slotting somewhere in between indie and grunge, stylewise, which hasn't allowed their debut, 1991's Sofa Livin' Dreamazine, to age that well. For all the fuzz and dirt they put into it, it's a strangely lifeless record, vaguely psychedelic closer Naked On A Train being the least dull thing here, which isn't really saying that much.
Producer-of-the-day Sean Slade (Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, Blackfish) is credited with Mellotron, but the only even slightly possible use is some of the assorted sounds on Naked On A Train, which could, frankly, have been made by almost anything. I'd take that as a non-recommendation, then.
|7" (1969) **½/TT
Hitchin' a Ride
The Kent-based Vanity Fare (ho ho) had a handful of hits, the biggest being Hitchin' A Ride, from late 1969, chiefly due to cracking the US charts. The recorder and piano-driven effort is pretty typical of the era's lightweight pop, almost certainly the reason this isn't as fondly remembered as some of its contemporaries. The flip, Man Child, is rather better, in a toytown pop kind of way, but I can't imagine it would be anyone's first port of call when compiling the sub-sub-sub-genre.
Someone, probably the band's new keyboard player Barry Landemen, layers Hammond and Mellotron on Man Child, with an overt, quite clunky string melody that actually improves the song no end. Both sides of the single appeared on 1970's rather disjointed Early in the Morning, essentially an uncredited greatest hits, but I've no idea whether you can find Man Child on CD.
Nightwalker (1981, 36.35) ***/TNightwalker
Seek and You Will Find
Put the Weight on My Shoulders
Living Inside Myself
Stay With Me
Sally (She Says the Sweetest Things)
It seems Gino Vannelli has been around since the early '70s, and is still making music today. He unashamedly describes himself as 'pop', and going by 1980's Nightwalker, it's difficult to argue with this; a very musicianly, soul and jazz-influenced variety of pop, although unfortunately somewhat dated by modern standards. Vannelli has an amazing voice, however, and the more soulful material here (Put The Weight On My Shoulders, Sally) shows it off to great effect.
It seems Vannelli likes to keep things in-house, having worked with his brother Joe throughout his career, while another brother, Ross, co-produces here. Joe is credited with 'electric piano, acoustic piano, organ and synthesizer', strangely neglecting to mention the Chamberlin I'm assured is on the album. Several tracks feature real strings, but the Chamby can quite clearly be heard providing the string line on the opening title track, although the use on Put The Weight On My Shoulders and Sally (She Says The Sweetest Things) isn't either that upfront or even entirely confirmed, though the strings sound more Chamby than real. Living Inside Myself has been confirmed for me, although it's almost indistinguishable from the real thing...
So; a very musical album, but also a very mainstream one that really isn't going to appeal to most listeners at the rock end of the spectrum. Your jazz fan will find things to praise here, but the rest of you would really be advised to steer clear, despite the obvious quality of the material. Only one really obvious Chamby track, too, so I wouldn't really bother for that, either.
Er is Geen Weg Terug (1973, 47.27) ***/T
|Er is Geen Weg Terug
Ballade Van een Oude Vriend
Zal ze Dan Nog Voor Me Zorgen
Het is Nog Niet Laat
Toch is ze Zo Lief
Als Je Zomaar Weg Zou Gaan
|De Idioot van de Vrede
Als de Dood Toch Ooit Moet Komen
Langs de Spiegels van de Tijd
Zjef Vanuytsel is a Flemish singer-songwriter who released his first album, De Zotte Morgen, in his early twenties, in 1970. Its slightly belated follow-up, '73's Er is Geen Weg Terug (There is No Return), is actually a quite affecting album of mostly acoustic material, which manages to make its point even when you don't understand the words. Best tracks are probably Ballade Van Een Oude Vriend, Het Is Nog Niet Laat and the beautiful Als De Dood Toch Ooit Moet Komen, but, amazingly for the genre and era, nothing here offended me.
Jean Blaute plays Mellotron, with a chordal flute part and cellos on Ballade Van Een Oude Vriend and a beautifully arranged string part on Lusi, although the harmony flutes on Zal Ze Dan Nog Voor Me Zorgen and the strings on a couple of other tracks are real. Overall, then, a surprisingly decent album, although a long way from a lost prog classic. Worth hearing for fans of '70s acoustic albums, but not really for the Mellotron.
Moroccan Roll (1974, 35.14) ***½/TMoroccan Roll
I Don't Know Why
Kasbah - Tadla
Lord (Give Me Money)
All I Want to Know
Les Variations were a French band of Moroccan Jewish extraction, making for an intriguing smörgåsbord of influences, from the power-trio rock of Cream and Zeppelin to indigenous Moroccan and Sephardic Jewish music. Moroccan Roll (the pun pre-empting Brand X by a year or two, and more relevantly) was their third album of four, with its English-language vocals making it accessible to an international audience; the band toured the States at least once, and their last two albums were released there. There isn't really a bad track on the record, but Growing Stronger is the best 'rocking' effort, and Kasbah - Tadla probably the best at the folk end of the album.
Mellotron on two tracks, from an unknown player, with faint strings on Did It and a more upfront part on closer All I Want To Know, although not enough to make a purchase worthwhile merely for its 'Tronic content. So; an interesting effort, at least partially unlike anything much you'll have heard before, although some of the hard rock numbers are fairly generic. Not much 'Tron, but worth hearing if you're thinking of buying it anyway.
Sweet Life (1998, 48.26) **½/T
|Gulf of Mexico
Now You're Dirt
All About Love
While You Were Sleeping
This is the River
Underneath the Mountain
|Fuck and Fight
Beginning as Anders Parker's solo project, Varnaline had become a trio by the time they released Sweet Life in 1998. Bemusingly, I've seen them described as Americana/alt.country, as their sound is quite clearly positioned slightly towards the noisier end of the US indie spectrum, incorporating occasional hints of Neil Young-ish guitar work. Sadly, it's all a bit dreary, to the point where I don't even feel I can recommend any tracks, which is a bit tragic, really. Maybe the closing nine-minute title track? Maybe not.
Parker plays Mellotron, with occasional strings on opener Gulf Of Mexico, though that appears to be your lot, despite various other keyboards and string sounds (mainly real strings) elsewhere. Sorry, to be so down on this, but, frankly, it bored me rigid. Next to no 'Tron, either.
MySpace fan page
Official Anders Parker site
Nouvelle Vague (2007, 49.37) ***/0
|Il est Cinq Heures, Paris S'éveille
Le Temps de l'amour
Attends ou Va-t'en
Dans le Souffle du Vent
Les Yeux Ouverts
|Ya Ya Twist
Drive My Car
I'm a Believer
Et Je M'en Vais
Sylvie Vartan is one of those 'overseas' artists of whom the average Anglo-American-centric music fan has never heard, myself included, despite several decades of Gallic fame. She's actually been making records since the early '60s, shockingly, being one of France's original yé-yé girls (a popular strain of '60s French pop, for those not in the know), her subsequent career being largely informed by that remarkable decade. Married to 'the French Elvis' for fifteen years, Johnny Hallyday, she's also worked with later Spooky Tooth member and Foreigner mainman Mick Jones and had songs written for her by Paul Anka, amongst others.
2007's bilingually-punning Nouvelle Vague sums up her '60s-centric work perfectly; a good album, certainly, but it lacks originality, containing a slew of '60s covers, not least The Stones' Ruby Tuesday, Leonard Cohen's Suzanne and The Beatles' Drive My Car, plus French-language versions of Reach Out I'll Be There (J'attendrai) and Then I Kissed Her/Him (Et Je M'en Vais). Then again, why would a singer in her early sixties be bothered about being original? Her intention was clearly to make a good, professional and entertaining album that her fans would enjoy, in which I can say she's been entirely successful.
John Philip Shenale (Tori Amos, Willy DeVille) plays Chamberlin, although as so often, it's effectively inaudible, unless it provides some of the very real-sounding strings on the album. Nouvelle Vague isn't really an album for the international market, more for her domestic audience and Francophiles everywhere, so with no obvious tape-replay work, I can't honestly recommend it, despite its obvious quality.
99.9F° (1992, 37.42/39.38) ***½/T
|Rock in This Pocket (Song of David)
Blood Makes Noise
Fat Man and Dancing Girl
(If You Were) In My Movie
As a Child
When Heroes Go Down
As Girls Go
Song of Sand
[Some versions add:
Suzanne Vega is proof positive that singer-songwriters can still write relevant, tuneful material that doesn't just navel-gaze to the point where the music becomes entirely secondary to the lyrical content. 1992's 99.9F° is her fourth album, produced by the mighty Mitchell Froom, later her husband. It's full of material of the quality of Blood Sings, Bad Wisdom and the title track, and while some of her fans threw their hands up in horror at Froom's relatively 'electronic' production, his use of 'period' instruments stops it sounding like a relic, 17 years later. And Richard Thompson guests. Result!
I heard a rumour years ago that Froom plays Chamberlin on the album; he's stated that he used one on 'pretty much everything' he produced at the time, so it's hardly surprising. There's a large, composite sound on the Vega/Froom co-write Fat Man And Dancing Girl, but it's as likely to be a combination of organ and synth, but As Girls Go features possible cellos and definite strings, albeit briefly. So; a '90s singer-songwriter album that still sounds good now, due almost entirely to a combination of Vega's songwriting and Froom's production. Worthwhile.
See: Mitchell Froom
Saltbreakers (2007, 43.44) ***/T
Ocean Night Song
Don't Lose Yourself
To the Country
|Cast a Hook
Laura Veirs' sixth album, Saltbreakers, is probably best described as being at the pop end of the folk-rock spectrum, although several of its tracks betray no commercial influence at all, notably closers Black Butterfly and Wrecking. I would have given it a higher star rating had more of the material been in this vein, although I realise getting radio play in a crowded market isn't the easiest of things, and a few poppier tracks doubtless grease the wheels in the right places. There's nothing genuinely bad here, but a few more tracks of the quality of Pink Light and Ocean Night Song might have been welcome.
Chamberlin on a couple of tracks from either Veirs' regular keys man, Steve Moore or Karl Blau, with faint strings on opener Pink Light and a very overt flute part on Drink Deep, although that would appear to be it. So; a decent enough album in its own way, with one 'must-hear' Chamby track.
Beauty Has Grace (2005, 38.51) **/½
|I'm Not Looking Down
With All My Soul
Prayer to Love
Lay it Down
When You Hold Me
Reason to Believe
Love Will Find You]
Although it's not immediately apparent from the titles, Jaci Velasquez is a Christian singer-songwriter, whose fifth major-label English-language album (she also has Spanish releases), Beauty Has Grace, is a pretty slushy affair, though not as bad as some I could name. Nonetheless, it doesn't come close to containing anything to which I'd wish to hear again, although cheery pop/rock opener I'm Not Looking Down takes the prize for the least bad track.
Andreas Olsson is credited with Mellotron on With All My Soul, but while it's inaudible there, background strings sounding unlike those on the rest of the album and fairly like a Mellotron can be heard, briefly on closer This Love. So; not-quite-as-bad-as-usual-CCM, anyone? Thought not.
Fourfold Remedy (1998, 45.56) **½/0
Where Are We?
Get Yourself Together
That Ain't Mine
Velocette (named for the lesser-known yet iconic British motorbike), at least on 1998's Fourfold Remedy, sound like an irritating cross between that female-fronted Stereolab/Saint Etienne kind of pseudo-'60s lounge thing and generic '90s indie, although their tendency is to shift styles between songs, rather than blend them. I can't work out which approach is worse, actually. In fact, the only reason this gets the extra half star is the guitar workout and Riders On The Storm Rhodes on Someone's Waiting.
Jax Coombes (female, in case you were wondering) allegedly plays Mellotron (credited on opener Reborn), though entirely inaudibly, as far as I can work out. Plenty of real strings about, but no obvious 'Tron. So; I really must advise you against buying this album, unless weak-as-water naff pseudo-lounge indie happens to be your particular cup of gruel/bag of sick. It isn't mine.
Lucia (1997, 40.16/44.07) **½/T
Fast & Far Away
[Some eds. add:
The Man With the Child in His Eyes]
Velvet Belly (2003, 40.11) **½/½
Between the Words
Into the Open
Into the Wind
To Feel the Love
|To See the Light
Towards the Belief
Norwegians Velvet Belly (presumably named in honour of the This Mortal Coil song) are difficult to categorise: female-fronted goth pop? Post-rock/pop? Pop, certainly. Their fifth album, 1997's Lucia, despite being a sensible length, is still too long for its own good, much of its content sounding like filler; it's no surprise that it took the band six years to follow it up, before splitting, vocalist Anne Marie Almedal going on to a solo career. To be honest, I can't even pick out any individual tracks for either praise or approbation; they all just merge into a wash of over-effected dullness, the only standout in any way being the reissue's almost unrecognisable version of Kate Bush's The Man With The Child In His Eyes. Vidar Ersfjord plays Mellotron, with flutes all over Fast & Far Away and background strings on Drift, although it could be present at several other points; with everything that's going on in the mix, it's rather hard to say.
Their final release, 2003's Velvet Belly, doesn't differ markedly from its predecessor stylistically, although the material's marginally better all round. Highlights? I wouldn't go that far, although the particularly atmospheric Flow isn't too bad. Ersfjord adds Mellotron to two tracks, with background flutes on Between The Words and Flow, but they're so quiet that it's impossible to tell whether they emanate from a real machine, samples or something else entirely.
Anyway, you're not going to buy these for their Mellotron use, or quite possibly anything else. I know of another two relevant Velvet Belly albums; more reviews when I get to hear them.
See: Anne Marie Almedal
Teenage Symphonies to God (1994, 45.40) ***½/TT
|Hold Me Up
My Blank Pages
Why Not Your Baby
Time Wraps Around You
Something's Gotta Give
|This Life is Killing Me
Keep on Lingerin'
A Single Odessey (2001, recorded 1990-1999, 63.20) ****/T
|If Not True
One Thing Two Believe
Circling the Sun
Drive Me Down (acoustic)
Remember the Lightning
One Hundred Years From Now
Don't You Slip Away From Me
|It's Been Too Long and it's Too Late Now
Be Someone Tonight
The Thing That You Do
On My Side
Melody Freaks: A Collection of Demos & Outtakes, 1990-1996 (2002, 62.58) ***½/T
Time Wraps Around You
Hold Me Up
Further Over You
Seen Better Days
My Blank Pages
This Life is Killing Me
One Thing Two Believe
|If Not True
Goin' to My Head
Keep on Lingerin'
Velvet Crush coalesced from Choo Choo Train around 1990 and aside from a brief period of nonexistence in the mid-'90s, have been releasing records (ir)regularly ever since. In many ways a classic powerpop band, they have a heavier, less jangly edge than many of their genre-mates that makes them stand out from the good, if slightly identikit bands that typify the field. Their second release was 1994's naughtily-titled Teenage Symphonies to God (Brian Wilson's description of his music, if you don't know the reference), an excellent mixture of jangle and rock, with a smattering of country thrown in for good measure (notably on closer Keep On Lingerin'), highlights including opener Hold Me Up (good powerpop albums always open with their strongest track), Time Wraps Around You and the jammed-out Something's Gotta Give. Oh, and extra marks for the appalling pun in My Blank Pages. Mike Denneen plays Chamberlin, nicely audible for once, with strings on Why Not Your Baby, flutes and strings on Time Wraps Around You, probable strings on #10 (they could be real), some keyboard mangling (flutes?) on Weird Summer and a lovely string part opening Star Trip.
Although that seems to be it for studio albums, Velvet Crush have released two compilations containing extra Chamberlinism, the first of which is 2001's A Single Odessey (Zombies reference, of course), containing what appears to be most of their single/EP-only tracks from the preceding decade. Given that powerpop is, in many ways, a genre best heard on 7" vinyl, it's hardly surprising that the band clearly kept most of their best material for their singles, making this a killer compilation, featuring wondrous moments like the descending vocal harmony in One Thing Two Believe and the main riff in Circling The Sun, although the handful of countryish tracks let the side down slightly. The legendary Mitch Easter (R.E.M., The Orange Humble Band) plays Chamberlin, with a brief flute part on Be Someone Tonight and echoed strings on the instrumental Leisure 40, although there's nothing obvious on The Thing That You Do (a 'blanket credit', I suspect), clearly all recorded at the same session, although I can't trace the original release.
The following year's self-explanatory Melody Freaks: A Collection of Demos & Outtakes, 1990-1996 includes early versions of over half of Teenage Symphonies' tracks, alongside minor variations on other familiar material. I'm all for letting your fans hear everything, but I sometimes wonder just how much use albums like this really are. Are you actually hearing anything new? Or even newish? I suppose you can look at it as a compilation of some of their better album tracks, but it'll never match A Single Odessey for sheer class. Denneen on Chamby again, of course, with strings on opener Star Trip and flutes and strings on Time Wraps Around You, as on the originals, although whatever was on the album version of Weird Summer is missing here.
Overall, Teenage Symphonies is a very good effort from a band previously unknown to me; I suppose being produced by Mitch Easter gives the game away, but even the masters sometimes get it wrong. Not that much tape-replay, but worth hearing for lovers of great tunes. Of the two compilations, Teenage Symphonies is noticeably better than Melody Freaks, not to mention a better bet on the Chamby front, although the latter's still worth hearing.
See: Choo Choo Train
Sotto il Segno dei Pesci (1978, 40.25) **/TSotto il Segno dei Pesci
Bomba o Non Bomba
Chen il Cinese
Antonello Venditti is a mainstream Italian singer-songwriter, which should tell you everything you need to know about his music; vaguely folk-based pop/rock with lyrics that are probably important, but meaningless to non-Italian speakers. However, Venditti's Italian, so why should he pander to foreign audiences who probably aren't going to care one way or the other anyway? 1978's Sotto il Segno dei Pesci was his eighth album and is an entirely pointless listen for non-Italians (and many who are), frankly, consisting largely of cheery pop/rock with no obviously distinguishing features, which pretty much sums this up for an international audience.
Goblin's Claudio Simonetti plays Mellotron, with choirs on Francesco and Bomba O Non Bomba and strings on Chen Il Cinese, the choirs being so heavily reverbed that they're barely recognisable, which was probably the idea. Believe me, you don't need to hear this album.
Only Hits (1973, 71.03) **½/T
|Also Sprach Zarathustra
Killing Me Softly With His Song
Oh Babe, What Would You Say
|Yesterday Once More
Last Tango in Paris
Live and Let Die
The Morning After
Alone Again (Naturally)
|I Can See Clearly Now
The Twelfth of Never
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
Are You Man Enough
You Are the Sunshine of My Life
New Depths (1998, 68.21) ***/½
Drums a Go Go
Time is Tight
|Stop the Music
I Fought the Law
Cry for a Shadow
Kanari Kiteru Koi
|Flower of the Sun
Axel F/Miami Vice
The Ventures don't mean much past Walk Don't Run and Wipeout in the UK, but have now had a (count 'em) over fifty-year career, chiefly in the States and Japan, where they're apparently still huge. The chief reason for their general lack of UK success could be that they were seen as merely a Transatlantic version of The Shadows, operating in a similarly all-instrumental arena, although the Shads (at least early on) tended to write their own material, while The Ventures started playing covers straight away. By the early '70s, though, there was little to choose between the two, both playing slightly anodyne covers instrumentally, which is all well and good, but take the vocals out of most popular songs, and what's left? A vocal melody played on another instrument, with various musical devices used to cover for the lack of any lyrical input, that's what.
I've seen 1973's double Only Hits described as a greatest hits album, although minimal research uncovers the information that the 'hits' part of its title refers to the fact that the tracks were hits for other artists, here reimagined instrumentally, to greater or lesser effect. One of the album's most successful efforts is opener Also Sprach Zarathustra, then still in the popular imagination after 2001: A Space Odyssey, tackled here in a jazz/surf style, which really has to be heard to be believed. Most of the versions here are pretty forgettable, though, many of them bland takes on bland material, with little done to pep them up. I've no idea who plays the Mellotron, or indeed, any of the other keyboards here, as the band were effectively a twin-guitar foursome, but whoever it is sticks fake-orchestral strings on My Love, background ones on Last Tango In Paris and far more upfront ones on The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia. There is a slightly expanded version of this album on CD, adding four tracks, but I've no idea whether or not there's any more Mellotron on them.
I've also no idea whether or not The Ventures used a Mellotron again before 1998, but their album from that year, New Depths (apparently a follow-up to the previous year's Wild Again, on the same label) features David Carr on the machine. The album follows the basic pattern laid down by the band decades before, although its sound is much updated from their early '70s one, thankfully, better tracks including their updated take on Peter Gunn, the rare vocal track Kanari Kiteru Koi, featuring Japanese female troupe The Rice Girls (ho ho) and . The album's no classic, but it's far more listenable than Only Hits, with fewer obvious middle-of-the-road covers and far more than a nod to their surf roots. Carr plays 'Tron flutes on Cry For A Shadow, although that would appear to be your lot.
So; do you... no. You don't. If you're a Ventures fan, chances are you already own at least one of these albums, but if you haven't heard anything they've done since 1960, you're not going to find either of them very edifying, so without a lot of Mellotron work, I really wouldn't bother.
Grandimprese (2003, 43.56) **/T
Bisogna Metterci la Faccia
Un Attimo di Gioia
Le Grandi Imprese
|Di Cuore, di Braccia
Sant'Agata Su Marte
Mario Venuti, who has worked with Carmen Consoli, amongst others, is an Italian singer/songwriter type who's been recording since the early '90s. His fourth album, 2003's Grandimprese, is, to be honest, a thoroughly average pop/rock effort, with too many modern production tricks to make it particularly listenable a mere few years later. The eastern-flavoured Il Dono's about the best thing here, but that's slightly clutching at straws.
Roberto Battini plays Mellotron flutes on Il Dono, with a perfectly nice part that enhances the rather ordinary, mid-paced effort reasonably nicely, although it's a rare ray of light on an otherwise tedious album. If you understand Italian, you might get more out of this than I did, but only if you can bear the bland, mainstream music.
Miami Safari (2002, 20.07) **½/T½Miami Safari
Solo un Grande Sasso - Part I
Solo un Grande Sasso - Part II
Luna (2004, 20.09) **½/TLuna
Le Tue Ossa Nell'Altitudine
WOW (2011, 83.13) **½/TTT½
|Scegli Me (un Mondo Che Tu Non Vuoi)
Razzi Arpia Inferno e Fiamme
Il Nulla di O.
|Le Scarpe Volanti
Castelli per Aria
Sorriso in Spiaggia pt.I
Sorriso in Spiaggia pt.II
È Solo Lunedì
Tu e Me
Rossella Roll Over
Letto di Mosche
Lei Disse (un Mondo del Tutto Diefferente)
Radar (EjABBABBAjE) (2011, recorded 1993-2011, 31.41) **½/T½
|Rossella Roll Over (live)
Le Scarpe Volanti (live)
È Solo Lunedì (live)
Baby I Love You
A Capello (demo)
|Razzi Arpia Inferno e Fiamme (Drum 2)
Razzi Arpia Inferno e Fiamme (Aucan remix)
Verdena are a successful Italian 'alt.rock' band; going by their 2002 EP, Miami Safari, they are, indeed, an alternative to rock. Unfair? Maybe, but material like the two parts of Solo Un Grande Sasso have more in common with post-rock than anything. As I said, an alternative to rock. Admittedly, their take on The Melvins' Creepy Smell is punky enough, but they didn't write it, did they? On the Mellotron front, the two brothers who formed the band, drummer Luca and vocalist/guitarist Alberto Ferrari both play it, with cellos on the title track, distant flutes on Solo Un Grande Sasso - Part II, sounding very real at the end of the track, with more of the same on Morbida.
The Luna EP, from two years later, shifts between the near-punk of the title track, the straight acoustic cover of Neil Young's Harvest and the post-rock of Le Tue Ossa Nell'Altitudine and Omashee. Mellotronically speaking, the only identifiable parts are what sounds like the Chamberlin solo male voice on Le Tue Ossa Nell'Altitudine and the high cellos on Apice, making me heavily doubt its veracity. Without further proof, however...
2011's overlong two-disc WOW is, essentially, more of the same from their EP days, nine years on. With some heavy pruning, this could be a passable album, but the fatal decision to make it a double sinks the whole enterprise, at least to my ears. There are a couple of best tracks: disc two's opener, Attonito, where the band discovers a killer riff that I've never heard used before and the unsurprisingly almost-unaccompanied vocal number A Capello. Mellotron variously this time from bassist Roberta Sammarelli and Ferrari (A.), sometimes both on the same track, with strings and cellos all over opener Scegli Me (Un Mondo Che Tu Non Vuoi), upfront strings on Per Sbaglio, Razzi Arpia Inferno E Fiamme and Castelli Per Aria, background ones on Mi Coltivo and Sorriso In Spiaggia Pt.I, strings and male choirs on Adoratorio, strings and flutes on Sorriso In Spiaggia Pt.II, strings and distorted flutes on Badea Blues, a rising string line on Rossella Roll Over and, finally, flutes on Letto Di Mosche. However, there's nothing audible on Loniterp, while the strings on disc two's Tu E Me are real.
2011's strangely-titled Radar (EjABBABBAjE) (so what's with the palindrome, chaps?) is a short odds'n'sods collection, better tracks including a live È Solo Lunedì and Razzi Arpia Inferno E Fiamme (Drum 2), although it's difficult to say just how much the latter differs from the version on WOW. Two Mellotron tracks, with strings on Razzi Arpia..., as on their previous release and skronky flutes and surprisingly melodic strings on the raucous Baby I Love You, recorded right back in 1993, presumably both from Ferrari, not to mention string samples on the live Rossella Roll Over (don't tell me they were using an M400 live; they weren't).
Italian-language alt.rock? Thought not. There are a handful of decent tracks spread across these two releases, but with so much wishy-washy filler, it's difficult to appreciate their better moments. Not awful, but a very long way from 'good', too. Their one real bonus point is the Mellotron use, sounding pretty real, which makes a nice change.
Diary of a Liar (1998, 41.59) ***/½
|Through My Teeth
Dumb Rock Song
When I Snap Out of This
Fall Down in Three
Keep This Up
|Everything's Your Fault
Baltimore or Less
The Porch Song
The Baltimore-born and Boston-based Jules Verdone is one of those American 'alternative' artists that the '90s coughed up in unfeasible numbers, although biographical information on her seems to be in short supply. 1998's Diary of a Liar is not only her debut, but seemingly her only release to date, which is a shame, as it's not a bad album of its type, tracks of the quality of Fall Down In Three or the slightly off-kilter Everything's Your Fault pointing to a potential future as, at least, a Lilith Fair regular with respectable record sales.
Jon Lupfer plays Chamberlin, with a skronky but faint flute part on Little, although that would appear to be it. This album only just misses out on an extra half star, to be honest, but lines have to be drawn somewhere... So; good at what it does, but forget it for the Chamby.
Le Trésor de Valliesres (1994, 66.08) ****½/TTLe Serment des Damnés
Une Saint Barthelemy Dévote
Avec Tous Mes Hommages
Le Trésor de Valliesres
French proggers Versailles, despite being a '90s outfit (actually formed in 1985), are superb, unlike so many other 'Musea bands' of the era, taking their influences more from the likes of Genesis and (naturally) Gallic prog heroes Ange than the horrid Marillion, say. Although their second release, 1992's Don Giovanni, is apparently their most celebrated, it's their follow-up, '94's Le Trésor de Valliesres, that concerns us here. It's a theatrical, very French progressive album, full of musical twists and turns, typified by its centrepiece, the eccentric, twenty-minute Une Saint Barthelemy Dévote, although almost every track does something unexpected, which is a joy to hear. Incidentally, I shall presume that brief acoustic guitar piece Jadis is named for the Narnia character rather than the neo-prog band...
The band have boasted of 'buying a Mellotron from Yes', which seems slightly unlikely, as I've always been under the impression that any machines used by that band actually belonged to Rick Wakeman personally, not to mention that the chances of Yes still owning anything Mellotronic in the early '90s seem low to nonexistent. Anyway, Alain de Lille adds occasional strings to all highlighted tracks above, although his most full-on use is a major string part in the closing minute of the lengthy Dégénérescence Obsessionnelle. All choir sounds, incidentally, are quite clearly generic samples from the era.
So; a triumph of will in a time of famine, plague, death and, er, the other one. This is the kind of album for which trad prog fans were crying out in the '90s, unaware, like myself, that it even existed. Highly recommended to anyone who ever liked Ange, but wanted the theatricality toned down a little, although not worth it for Mellotron obsessives. Incidentally, after another of their influences, Mona Lisa's vocalist, Dominique le Guennec, joined Versailles for their fourth and last album, the band effectively became the new Mona Lisa, using Mellotron samples on 1998's De l'Ombre à la Lumière.
See: Mona Lisa
Go (2003, 43.11) *½/T
|When You Cry
I'm Still Here
One of You
|Won't Go Away
Vertical Horizon are one of those utterly faceless rock/pop/indie-style bands who seem to do well in America. Maybe here, too; I'm totally out of touch with what 'young people' listen to, and if it's anything like Vertical Horizon, I'm keen to keep it that way. Most of their fifth album, 2003's Go, is that awful kind of 'confessional' tosh that so many bands feel the need to foist on us these days. No, we don't care. Shut up. The occasional track picks itself up and dusts itself down, surprisingly, principally the slightly Rush-ish Sunshine, but please don't take that as some kind of recommendation (just in case).
Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin thing on a few tracks, with background strings on I'm Still Here, Forever and closer Underwater, none to any great effect, sadly. This is pretty godawful, I have to say, with little Chamberlin use. Avoid. Incidentally and bizarrely, the band's 2009 release, Burning the Days (forthcoming at the time of writing) features no less a drumming deity than Rush's Neil Peart on three tracks, one of which he wrote the lyrics for. Why, Neil? Why? Maybe they've got better in the last six years. Let's hope so.
Urban Hymns (1997, 67.06) **/T
|Bitter Sweet Symphony
The Rolling People
The Drugs Don't Work
Catching the Butterfly
Space and Time
In Urban Hymns, The Verve (they had to add the 'The' after threats of legal action from the legendary US record company) produced a late-period mainstay of the Britpop movement, with the huge success of both Bitter Sweet Symphony and The Drugs Don't Work. Amusingly, their initial failure to credit the sample running through Bitter Sweet Symphony, from a mid-'60s album of orchestral Rolling Stones songs, led to a court case, resolved by the band allegedly paying out not only 100% of the song's royalties to Jagger/Richards, but also another sum to another interested party, ending up with them making a minus figure on the song. Still, it helped them sell a great many albums, so let's not shed too many tears for them. The Rolling People is also heavily plagiaristic, this time of The Four Horsemen from Aphrodites Child's seminal 666 (thanks, Matt); not very original, these chaps, are they?
The album itself is pretty much as you'd expect, with the usual whiny indie vocals from the irritating Richard Ashcroft and weak drumming, but it sold loads, so what do I know? I presume guitar/keyboards man Simon Tong played the Mellotron on the relevant tracks; Space And Time and This Time have some wavery strings, but that would appear to be it. So; background 'Tron use, boring songs and bad attitude. Avoid.
See: Richard Ashcroft
O Som do Sim (2000, 38.20) **½/½
História de uma Bala
In Between Days
|Eu Não Sei Nada
Une Chanson Triste
Herbert Vianna's career kicked off as frontman of Os Paralamas do Sucesso, 2000's O Som do Sim being his third and (to date) last solo album, released just months before the appalling light aircraft accident that crippled Vianna and killed his wife. It's a Portuguese- and English-language (as you can see from the titles) pop/rock effort, occasionally slipping into something akin to the Latin mainstream, notably Hoje Canções, while História De Uma Bala features some messing about with turntables and closer Une Chanson Triste plays with dub stylings. Better moments include opener O Muro and the slide guitar solo on the rootsy Mr. Scarecrow, but, sadly, too much of the album coasts along in a decidedly average kind of way.
Carlo Bartolini plays (presumably real) Chamberlin, with flutes on História De Uma Bala, although all other possible parts are probably something else. Although this album does what it does perfectly well, I can't honestly recommend it, with too few tracks that do anything different to sustain any real interest.
Kahden Kuun Sirpit (2009, 45.11) ****/TTTTAutio Pelto
Kahden Kuun Sirpit
The fact that Finns Viima owe a debt to Focus on their second album, 2009's Kahden Kuun Sirpit, is obvious from the off, but that's so much more welcome than the usual half-arsed range of influences that forgiveness is easy. Very easy indeed. If I have a criticism, it's that they choose to use vocals, if only occasionally; the lengthy instrumental sections are so good that it seems a shame to spoil them with rather below-par vocalising. All four tracks on the album differ, from the Focusisms of opener Autio Pelto through the jaunty, folkish Sukellus to the jazz/folk feel of the slightly overambitious 'side-long' title track, making Viima a very rare beast in the modern progressive scene.
Kimmo Lähteenmäki plays keys, including real Mellotron this time round, with strings and/or choir on every track, plus possible flutes doubling strings on Sukellus. Given that I knew next to nothing about Viima before hearing Kahden Kuun Sirpit, this is an extremely pleasant surprise; not jaw-dropping, but an interesting, genuinely progressive album, within the genre's usual limitations, although their debut is rather less interesting.
The Time Will Come When We Find Our Home (2005, 17.30) ****/TTLife - a Slight Change
End of Love Street
Put on More Make-Up
A Few Good People
Vijaya (2006, 35.00) ****/TTTTÖrby Slott
Life - a Slight Change
Great Big City
Commuter Train (Time Theft)
End of Love Street
Your Gun Will Never Set You Free
A Few Good People
Pale From the Bright Lights
Vijaya is a Swedish singer-songwriter, active since the mid-'90s, although she is only now (mid-2005) in the process of recording her debut album. The Time Will Come When We Find Our Home is her second EP, and (I believe) the first to feature Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, Pineforest Crunch etc.)'s production work, including (of course) his inimitable Mellotron, Optigan and so forth. Vijaya specialises in laid-back, melancholy little songs (now there's a surprise, given Mattias' involvement), sung in English, which would almost certainly appeal to a sector of the British (and maybe American?) indie crowd, if only they were actually exposed to it. My personal favourite is 'Tronless opener Life - A Slight Change, but there's little to criticise in any of the tracks here present. 'Tron? A full-on string part closes End Of Love Street, while a flute melody runs through the verses of Put On More Make-Up, with strings towards the end, and Mattias' Chamberlin Rhythmate on A Few Good People, although you're unlikely to spot the latter unless you actually know it's there.
And the following year... Vijaya carries on her good work from the EP, with more melancholy, muted low-fi singer-songwriter stuff. It seems the Time Will Come... EP was a taster for the album; two of the three tracks they have in common seem to be the same versions. The rest of the material follows similar lines, and it's fair to say that if you like previous Mattias Olsson productions, you'll like this. Conversely... Loads of Mellotron, with particular highlights being the very full-on strings (various sounds) on Örby Slott, End Of Love Street and Pale From The Bright Lights, with some of the 'Tron parts being so high in the mix that they drown out everything else. Yes! Apart from the Rhythmate in A Few Good People, you can spot the 'Tron in every highlighted track, although chances are you'll miss sounds such as the Chamberlin piano/lap steel/harp, MkI 'Tron moving cellos/violins and woodwinds, clarinet, boys choir and Hammond with pedals, but they're all in there somewhere. Plenty of Orchestron and Optigan, too, not to mention several strange organs, including the Silvertone (played by Vijaya), the Elgam and the Malmsjö 500. Anything new? Thankfully, no.
As previously stated, if you like Roth-Händle productions, you will assuredly like Vijaya. Despite the writing credits, most of Mattias' productions are effectively his albums with different people writing and singing, and these are no different. Recommended.
Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011, 46.49) ***/T
Puppet to the Man
Society is My Friend
In My Time
|Smoke Ring for My Halo
'Kurt Vile' (ho ho), real name unknown, is an American singer-songwriter with a Dylanish edge, whose fourth album, 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, combines his core style with something of an alt.rock edge, not to mention occasional mock-Spectoresque touches. To be honest, a few tracks go on a bit - the album might have been better had it not topped forty minutes - but the overall effect is decent enough, within its limitations.
For some unknown reason it takes both Vile and Adam Granduciel to play the Mellotron on Society Is My Friend, with flute and string parts scattered throughout the song, though rarely to any great effect. Overall, then, not bad, not great, one so-so 'Tron track.
Private Paradise (2007, 54.40) *½/T
Why Did You Come?
Women Come Women Go
Jacques Villeneuve's story has to be one of the oddest on this site: a respected Formula One racing driver, he took the unusual step for someone from his profession of diversifying into music with 2007's Private Paradise. It shouldn't come as any great surprise to learn that it's pretty terrible; Villeneuve's not always fully in-tune vocals spout his frequently risible lyrics on a succession of tedious, overlong, self-written ballads, possibly best-heard on Father: "Father, I miss you so/Father, why'd you have to go?" Pure genius. A handful of tracks are no worse than 'dull', but with so many painful clunkers, the album was doomed to failure.
Fred Jaffre plays Mellotron, with a full-on flute part opening Lullaby, although that would appear to be your lot. I think it would be fair to say that the album was not a success; by the end of its year of release, it had apparently sold under a thousand copies across the entire North American continent. Ouch. OK, it's bland and dull, but so is most music; surely his name should've sold more copies than that? Presumably not.
Why Do Birds Sing? (1991, 42.23) **½/½
Out the Window
Look Like That
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me
Hey Nonny Nonny
Used to Be
He Likes Me
|Life is a Scream
Lack of Knowledge
More Money Tonight
Rock!!!!! (1995, 32.12) **½/T
|Living a Lie
Thanksgiving (No Way Out)
Dahmer is Dead
Life is an Adventure
She Went to Germany
|I Wanna See You Again
Sweet Worlds of Angels
I'm told the Violent Femmes were at their peak in the '80s, and 1991's Why Do Birds Sing? is their first real letdown. I can believe it, I have to say; dullard 'alternative' stuff with a slight Americana bent doth not make for an especially fun listen, round these parts, at least. Keyboards throughout from producer Michael Beinhorn, including Mellotron on two tracks. Yes, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me is a cover of the execrable Culture Club song (is there any other kind?), made surprisingly palatable by the Femmes' approach, albeit with no more than a hint of 'Tron strings halfway through. Used To Be has a more overt strings part, though nothing you haven't heard a thousand times before, in all honesty, mixed with real strings into the bargain. Nowt special.
Rock!!!!!'s sleeve is a heavy-handed, not to say several years too late satire on late-'80s L.A. hair metal, but the group were well past their sell-by date by this point, so I suppose we shouldn't be that surprised. OK, there's an awful lot worse about, but it all seems rather uninspired, certainly in comparison to their cutting-edge '80s albums; the fact that it was initially released only in Australia says it all, really. The only track that stands out in any way is Didgeriblues (so what's all this Aussie business, then?), which seems to've been mastered louder than the rest of the album, and has a ripping didgeridoo part from bassist Brian Ritchie. Mellotron on one track, from the inimitable Sigmund Snopek III; closer Sweet Worlds Of Angels has a really very nice flute part, from someone who knows his Mellotrons. Sadly, it's the best thing on the album, so if you liked their early stuff, I think I have to recommend that you stick to that and avoid their reformation material.
So; two very unexciting albums, unless, I suppose, you're a diehard Violent Femmes fan, in which case you're not going to take a blind bit of notice of these reviews anyway. One decent 'Tron track between the pair, so don't go too far out of your way.
See: Sigmund Snopek III
The Virgineers (1999, 45.47) ****/T
Places That I've Never Been
How Far Does Space Go?
The Morning Moon
|Be My Guru
Despite their apparent claims to be from Antarctica, The Virgineers hail from the Chicago area by all accounts and in their self-titled debut, have produced one of the best '60s psych albums released since... well, the '60s, I suppose. A duo, they're augmented here by a few friends, although I've no idea how they might do this stuff live. Material-wise, the dreamy, lysergic feel of Floating or The Morning Moon contrast with the space glam-boogie of Be My Guru or the sitar frenzy of opener Love Circus, making for a pleasing pot-pourri of psychedelic styles. Of course, as with the Dukes of Stratosphear, several tracks here sound more like homages than original compositions, the caveat being that the Dukes were a deliberate spoof... How Far Does Space Go? has a Syd's Floyd vibe about it, and is that an early Quo reference on Floating's chorus?
Anyway, one of the aforementioned friends is Ray Muirwood, who sticks some Mellotron on a few tracks, with string parts on Sun, Floating and Diesel Train, although I have to say I'm not convinced by its veracity, truth be told. However, it isn't 'sampled' enough to automatically move it into that section, so it stays here until/if I find out for sure. All in all, then, a great little album, if slightly derivative. The writing's excellent and the overall feel takes one straight back to the era of joss sticks, funny cigarettes and too much paisley (can you have too much paisley? Discuss), knocking yer typical indie-schmindie rubbish into the proverbial cocked hat, whatever that is. Buy.
A Moment Beyond Time (1991/1999, 43.49/51.26) **½/0 (T½)
|Behind the Curtain
A Moment in Time
Chasing the Skyline
Seeking the Moon
The Faded Years
A Moment Beyond Time
Beyond the Curtain
Narcissus Goes to the Moon (1996, 68.27) ***/TTT
|A Succulent Anachronic Pastiche
By the River
Join My Soul
Race on a Pseudo Flying Carpet
|Nothing Left to Hide
Camel Ride Dream
A Bubble Burst
Prisonnier du Temps
The Preacher in the Desert Quicksand
The Mad Tryst
A New Reality
Barb-à-Baal-a-Loo (2001, 54.19) ****/TTT
Dans le Vide
Qui Sème le Vent...
Visages de Sable
I Was There
Visible Wind are another English-as-second-language band who haven't understood the comic potential of the word 'wind' in the wrong context; Belgian band Now have to be the worst offenders with their debut, Complaint of the Wind (stop laughing at the back), but these guys aren't that far behind, sadly. It seems they've been going since the early '80s, although they've managed to shuck off some of their more overt neo-progisms over the years. I haven't heard '88's Catharsis, thankfully, but much of '91's A Moment in Time is pretty awful neo-prog, top offenders including The Faded Years and the title track, although parts of Chasing The Skyline are pretty inventive, while Solitude is a beautiful classical guitar piece. Now, a minor conundrum: how is it that a Mellotron-free album, recorded several years before the band's purchase, can suddenly become a Mellotron album? Because, dear readers, for reasons best-known to themselves, the band reissued their by-then out of print title eight years later, adding not only a couple of bonus tracks (italicised above), but overdubbing Mellotron onto both bonuses and the title track. Stephen Geysens adds string swells to Running Backwards and chordal strings to new closer Beyond The Curtain, with strings and choirs added to various parts of the lengthy title track, to passable effect.
While I haven't heard '94's Emergence, '96's Narcissus Goes to the Moon is a considerable improvement over the band's early work, although the song structures are still rather simplistic by symphonic standards. Improvement it may be, but even on the longer material, I find myself wishing the band would be more adventurous and that the guitarist would stop pretending he was playing in a part-time metal band (a common problem in current prog). Originality is an issue, too; there's a direct Saga rip on Intravenus, and what sounds like a Jadis vocal line on Lunar Doubts, though I'm probably being a bit harsh; much of the material holds the interest, despite its over-reliance on Geysens' vocals, which, to his credit, are almost accentless. At some point in the mid-'90s, Geysens bought a Mellotron and uses it a reasonable amount here; choir chords on Fuzzy Concept, a polyphonic flute part on Xenophobia, followed by some full-on, top-of-the-mix strings. More choirs on the lengthy Intravenus (as against the short instrumental Introvenus) and another upfront string part on Race On A Pseudo Flying Carpet. A couple of the highlighted tracks above only feature a few seconds, mind you, with the strings at the beginning of Nothing Left To Hide being no more than a hang-over from the end of the previous track, but overall, Geysens uses his 'Tron imaginatively and doesn't overdo it, unlike some I could name.
Well, give a band a few years... Five years on, the strangely-titled Barb-à-Baal-a-Loo (no, I don't know what it means either) sounds almost nothing like its predecessor, never mind the band's highly derivative early work. Heavier than before, it's also far more inventive, sounding like... well, no-one, really, and it's not often you can say that in the progressive world these days. There are still some standard song structures dotted around (Lost Ideals), but the band take interesting and unexpected twists and turns all over the place, which is more than you can say for 99% of their neo-prog contemporaries. Geysens' keyboard work is even better than on Narcissus..., too, with plenty of ripping (in a 'has to be real' vein) Hammond, and plenty of Mellotron, mostly strings, with some highly effective swells in Dans Le Vide, slightly recalling Crimson's Epitaph. Even where he uses polysynth patches (analogue? Digital?), as on Recommencement, he manages to keep them interesting and original, rather than the awful 'this one's straight outta 1988!' approach that still seems all too common amongst his contemporaries.
According to the band's website, there are a huge number of unofficial recordings available from the band; well over a hundred, dating back to 1983, if they can be believed, so it seems highly likely that many of the later ones also feature their M400. So; do you buy these albums? A Moment in Time: not unless you're a neo-prog fan. Narcissus Goes to the Moon: do you have a tolerance for fairly inventive neo-prog? Do you object to a lack of key-changes in your progressive listening? If these aren't problems, there's some nice (real) Mellotron work on the album. Barb-à-Baal-a-Loo: What a surprisingly excellent record - if only more current prog bands would make this much effort to do something new, while not forgetting the all-important exhortation to 'write some songs!' Recommended.
The Uncertainty Principle (1997, 61.33) ****/T½
|Caught in a Combine
One Minute of Thought...
...In Two Seconds of Time...
...(Incompete, Broken, and Abstract)
Black and White
Sadly, it seems that Volaré split within a year of their sole album release, The Uncertainty Principle. I've seen reviews comparing them to the incomparable Happy the Man and the Canterbury scene, but to my ears they sounded more like a slightly easier-on-the-ears version of Present, or maybe Thinking Plague, with a side helping of King Crimson, although none of those really describes them. They've also been reviewed on jazz sites, but they're not jazz either... Basically, we're talking complex instrumental music that doesn't entirely forsake melody in its race to be 'weirder than thou'. Best tracks? I'll need to listen to it some more to really nail it, but the gentle One Minute Of Thought... stands out on a first listen.
Keys man Patrick Strawser plays Mellotron on a few tracks, with fractured strings and choir parts, rarely using it for more than a few seconds at a time, although that fits in with their overall style. It's possible there's a little more here and there, buried in the mix, but with several other synths on the album, both analogue and digital, it's hard to say. As a result, you couldn't really call this a 'Tron album, but it's very good indeed at what it does. Highly recommended to all of you who are after something a bit more challenging.
Estelar (2004, 44.25) **/T
Donde Quiera Que Voy
Si Tu Deseas
Although based in Miami, Volúmen Cero (who released their debut album in 1996 as Orgasmic Bliss) are comprised of expat South American musicians seemingly in thrall to The Cure and other post-punks, going by their third (?) album under this name, 2004's Estelar. Frankly, it's a pretty dullsville effort, its least bad tracks including the jangly Luces and closer Universe, which shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation at all.
Rubén Parra plays skronky Mellotron strings on Si Tu Deseas and cellos and strings on Universe, buried deeply enough in the mix to make it difficult to tell whether or not they're real. Well, Latin rock used to mean Santana; now it means Volúmen Cero. Not a trade-off for the better, frankly.
Charity Von (2004, 42.58) **/T
|Weight of the World
I'll Be (the Pleasure's Mine)
Take Me Through it
In Your Presence
You Make it Fine
I Believe in Miracles
Charity Von is a current Christian artist whose eponymous 2004 debut starts well, in a fairly rocky vein, then quickly descends into the pits of slush with tracks like I'll Be (The Pleasure's Mine) or You Make It Fine, by which time the lyrics have shifted into Full-On Christian Mode. I don't know which style Von prefers (assuming either), but a handful of better tracks do not a decent album make.
Blair Masters (Human, Erin O'Donnell) plays Mellotron flutes on the rather vocally overblown I'll Be (The Pleasure's Mine) and, despite rumours, that appears to be it. Well, a handful of listenable tracks are scuppered by as many or more entirely unlistenable ones, all with an unappealing veneer of God. Pity.
Singing From the Grave (2010, 50.34) ***/½Move on
Track of Time
Singing From the Grave
Lost at Sea
Old Beauty/Du Kan Nu Dö
I am Leaving
Anna von Hausswolff is a new Swedish singer operating at the Kate Bush end of the spectrum, if you'll excuse the cliché. 2010's Singing From the Grave is her debut, full of her gothic piano work and other muted instrumentation, doing a fair job of soundtracking an imaginary film based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Better tracks include Lost At Sea and the intense, nine-minute The Book, although Pills, with its more 'rock' instrumentation, doesn't work so well in context.
Anna plays the Mellotron on closer I Am Leaving herself, although the only audible evidence is a few string chords that don't really sound that Mellotronic. Anyway, one for those of you who prefer to wear black and might be considering a future career as a vampire. Perfectly good at what it does, but a bit overblown and slightly wearing if it's not your bag.
Baile de los Locos (1997, 34.49) ***/0
|Baile de los Locos
Here We Are Again
My Soul is Sick
Los Hombres No Lloran
The Kids Will Have to Pay
Nowhere Left to Go
This Ain't No Disco
The Voodoo Glow Skulls play that peculiarly American crossover, ska/punk, and to my ears, they seem to make a perfectly good job of it. I don't know who first decided to speed the snare up to thrash levels, but it's quite an effective trick. I have to say, most tracks on their fourth album, 1997's Baile de los Locos ('dance of the madmen') are indistinguishable from each other, although the odd exception leaks through, not least the almost Cardiacs at their most ska-tastic soundalikes Here We Are Again and Elephantitis.
Jim Goodwin is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be fucked if I can hear it under the manic brass section. I'm sure it's in there somewhere, but you know how it is... Anyway, a good example of a strange (and strangely popular) genre, just not somewhere you'll go to hear any Mellotron.
Holocauste à Montréal  [a.k.a. Vos Voisins] (1971, 33.36) ****/TTVoisins (Mon Chum)
Sous la Lune
Le Monstre de la Main
Ya Just de T'Ca
Le 3/4 de l'Archevèque
Vos Voisins ('your neighbours') were one of Québec's (and probably Canada's) first progressive bands, taking their cues from the first Gentle Giant album and Ekseption's mad, Hammond-fuelled takes on the classical canon, amongst others, with maybe a hint of Deep Purple's organ filth. To my knowledge, 1971's Holocauste à Montréal was their sole album, quickly re-released as Vos Voisins after some long-forgotten fuss over the sleeve design. Despite the above influences, the band had already found their own voice by the time they recorded the record, knocking spots off, say, the early Ange albums (to pick the biggest French-language prog band of the, or probably any time), combining classical, rock and jazz in a slightly different way to pretty much anyone else I can think if, which is probably enough to count as 'original', especially when you consider when this was made.
Keys man Jacques Perron played their friend Yvon Deschamps' M300, with strings on Tania and strings and flutes on Le Monstre De La Main, although nothing on probably the album's best track, closer Le 3/4 De L'Archevèque. Although of slightly variable quality, this really is an outstanding album in places, well worth tracking down. The ProgQuebec label are rumoured to be reissuing it at some point, but I don't have any more information at the moment.
Live (1987, 48.57) ****½/TTT½
|Introduction - Beat of Metal Motion
Doncha Wanna Come (Hangar 15)
Too Late to Turn Back
Mask of Flesh (Masquerade)
Pains of Love
|Shot in the Dark
Hard Rock Night (1987, 73.29) ****½/TTT½
|Introduction - Beat of Metal Motion
Doncha Wanna Come (Hangar 15)
Guitar Solo (Snow Flakes) - Pains of Love
Too Late to Turn Back
Mask of Flesh (Masquerade)
Vocal Solo (Cry Me a River)
I'll Wait a Lifetime
|Keyboard Solo (including Arabesque)
Signs of the Times
Shot in the Dark
Guitar Solo (CCG) - You Got it Made
V (1987, 47.19/53.16) ***/T
|Don't Tell Me Lies
Somewhere in the Night
The Girl in Red
Cry No More
Born to Die
Waited for a Lifetime
|Don't Leave Me Now
Don't Leave Me Now (extended)]
Vow Wow formed in the early '80s from the ashes of Bow Wow, one of Japan's best-loved homegrown rock outfits. Instead of the original band's two guitar lineup, Vow Wow went for one guitar (band leader and wunderkind Kyoji Yamamoto) and keys (the superb Rei Atsumi), and a far more sophisticated sound than their previous incarnation. Sadly, several of their albums have never been available outside Japan, but Live and V were the second and third of four to be released in the West. Live is actually an edited version of the Japanese-only Hard Rock Night, which may have been a double on vinyl; it's certainly a full-length CD.
Live/Hard Rock Night's an excellent record; the best of their repertoire up to that point recorded in front of a partisan home crowd. From killer opener Beat Of Metal Motion to their classic, Hurricane, they can do no wrong. Atsumi's keyboard rig consisted of the best from all eras; MiniMoog, Jupiter-8, DX7 and, of course, a Mellotron M400. There are some nice string swells on Doncha Wanna Come and some epic chords in the short introduction to Hurricane, Premonition, but he gives the full five-star treatment to big ballad Pains Of Love. A picked guitar intro, Snow Flakes, with Genki Hitomi's plaintive (if strongly-accented) vocal leads into a massively effective key change and a blast of 'Tron strings, which Atsumi keeps up for the rest of the song, plus a short flute solo and a burst of choirs at the end. Absolutely magnificent. The longer version of the album adds mucho 'Tron choir and strings on Atsumi's keyboard solo, much as I remember it live from the time, while it becomes apparent that Love Walks has a brief string part and Hurricane features some background choir stabs.
Although the band used their Mellotron to great effect live (I still have fond memories of several London Marquee gigs at the time), it barely pokes its head above the parapet on their next studio effort, V (as in 'Five'). In fact, it's extremely difficult to work out what might be 'Tron and what might be generic string sample, or choir for that matter. It sounds like choir on a couple of tracks, but I'm willing to be proved wrong. The album's best track, Waited For A Lifetime, actually features what sounds like DX7 brass, despite my general dislike of the instrument.
So; if you can trace Live/Hard Rock Night, get it 'cos it's a great album, and has one total 'Tron classic. If you like the band's style, buy V, but otherwise I really wouldn't bother. The band headed further towards the mainstream after this, and the Mellotron was quietly retired from the road. Apparently Rei still has his machine, and it's been spotted on a relatively recent release, so at least he hasn't dumped it, like so many other past players.
Here they are playing Pains Of Love, allegedly live, although it all looks very 'staged', one nice close Mellotron shot (also one Taurus pedal, for those who care).