Bible of the Devil
Big Tent Revival
Birds & Buildings
Phillip Boa & the Voodooclub
Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine
Tight Empire (2004, 47.44) ***½Shit to Pimp
Ball Deep, Mountain High
Sexual Dry Gulch
Born in Jail
The superbly-named Bible of the Devil tread the fine line between garage rock and balls-out metal, ending up sounding like early AC/DC crossed with something even dirtier, with a side-helping of Thin Lizzy twin guitar. On their second album, 2003's Tight Empire, vocalist/guitarist Mark Hoffman has his Bon Scott impression down pat, screeching incomprehensible-yet-clearly-filthy lyrics to songs called things like Shit To Pimp, Ball Deep, Mountain High and Sexual Dry Gulch, although my personal favourite veers between Fuckin' A and Born in Jail, although, thinking about it, Iron University's pretty cool, too... The music? Sub-AC/DC, but there's worse things to be.
Somebody calling themselves Iowa Blackie allegedly plays Mellotron, but the squawking strings on Kicking Birth sound little like a real one. If you're after yet another (minor) variant on kick-ass rock'n'roll, you could do an awful lot worse than pick up a copy of Tight Empire, though you won't want to bother for the Mellotron.
Big Big Train (UK) see:
Amplifier (1998, 65.20) **½
God Made Heaven
Someday (Time and Space)
Star in the Book of Life
Wouldn't it Be Cool
|What Would Jesus Do?
Ready, Steady, Go
West Memphis Lawyer
Come on People
Unsurprisingly, given their name, Big Tent Revival are a Christian rock band, so at least we're not talking generic CCM, although it's still pretty irritating stuff. Musically, it falls into a vague Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen area, were those artists given to singing brain-mush about how much they love their lord (sorry, Lord), etc. And what the hell's going on with the ten minute-plus Thanks, which appears to be the album's credits, spoken by the band. Er, y'wot? CD inserts for the illiterate? Good of them to cater for their core audience I suppose...
David Alan's credited with various elderly keyboards, including Mellotron, although I have to say, the strings on Lovely Mausoleum sound Mellotronic, but are played far too fast and outside the Mellotron's range, although the ones on God Made Heaven sound a little more authentic. Strings on several other tracks and flutes on the Christian mantra (ho ho) What Would Jesus Do? (aargh!), but I'm pretty sure it's samples across the board, although I've been wrong before. So; Christian rock that doesn't even appear to feature a real Mellotron. Just don't.
Binário (2008, 55.09) **½
E ai Galera Voitei
Brazil's Binário combine Tropicalia, post-rock, jazz, electro and various other styles into an unusual and sometimes (but far from always) danceable mixture of Latin and European musics. Their eponymous 2008 debut is rather overlong, but works well enough in its field, assuming, of course, their field is yours, too...
Producer David Brinkworth is credited with Mellotron, with a flute line on Experimental (Catnip), however... Given that the album was recorded in Brazil, not a country known for its Mellotron surplus and that Brinkworth has already used samples with Harmonic 33, I think it's safe to assume that it's fake. So; good at what it does, but personally, I'll be happy never to listen to this again.
Bantam to Behemoth (2008, 69.25) ****Birds Flying Into Buildings
Caution Congregates and Forms a Storm
Chronicle of the Invisible River of Stone
Yucatan 65: The Agitation of the Mass
Sunken City, Sunny Day
Birds & Buildings are a Deluge Grander side-project, featuring their Dan Britton on keys/guitar/vocals and Brett d'Anon on bass and guitar. Their sole album to date, 2008's Bantam to Behemoth, has much in common with the parent band, being in the more (relatively) experimental area of current progressive, as against the neo-neo- (you guessed it: a poor copy of a frequently poor copy) or metal/metal-ish fields, both oversubscribed (particularly the latter) and both stuffed with third-rate drivel. Despite being rather overlong, the album keeps things interesting with its offbeat approach, although Brian Falkowski's sax on several tracks won't be to everyone's taste, ditto the occasional, unnecessary vocal interjections. Best tracks? Probably the opening title track and Caution Congregates And Forms A Storm, although I'm less convinced by the punning title and Canterburyisms of Chakra Khan.
Britton adds samplotron strings, choirs and/or flutes to most tracks, some parts sounding more authentic than others. Overall, then, a fine album, although losing the odd ten-minute epic might've actually tightened the release up a little. Incidentally, a very public apology to Dan; he sent me this CD three years ago, making this a rather belated review. I know it's important to bands to have several online reviews of their new album, not their three year-old one. Sorry, Dan.
See: Deluge Grander | All Over Everything
Krausened (2013, 34.28) **½Krausened
Bitchin Bajas are essentially Cooper Crane from Chicago psych outfit Cave, whose 2013 release, Krausened, although generally referred to as an EP, is actually short LP length, following three full-lengthers. Its electronica sounds like a heavily updated take on the 'Berlin School' template to my ears, indie and trance influences thrown into the pot in an attempt to disguise its origins.
Either Crane or Dan Quinlivan play pseudo-Mellotron flutes on the title track, with almost random melody lines popping up here and there. The samples actually barely sound like a Mellotron, but are played in 'the style of', so this just about makes it in here. I wasn't blown away by this, but you may be.
Water on Stone (2009, 33.42) ***Tonight We Cross the River
Walk on Frozen Water
Tomorrow is Another Night
I Hate You (Don't Leave)
What Makes a Fool
|MP3 (2009) ***
I thought Black (a.k.a. Colin Vearncombe) rang a faint bell... He had his fifteen minutes in the late '80s, so all power to him for continuing to write, record and tour over twenty years later. 2009's Water on Stone is a gentle singer-songwriter type of record, all '80s influences thankfully left where they belong (duh: in the '80s), better tracks including haunting opener Tonight We Cross The River, What Makes A Fool and Grievous Angel, the more upbeat tracks working less well, at least to my ears. Given the album's brevity, I'm not sure why the download-only Agnes' Prayer wasn't included; a gentle, Americana-influenced effort, it could do very well indeed with a slightly older audience, were they to actually hear it.
Although one Andy Patterson is credited with Mellotron on both the album and the download, I'd be quite surprised to discover that the vague, background strings and/or choir on a couple of tracks had any connection with a real machine. I don't know whether fans of Vearncombe's earlier work will like this or not, but listeners attuned to a more 'timeless' take on the singer-songwriter style should possibly give this a go.
Phosgene Nightmare (2011, 25.27) **½Melanie's Melody
The Boat Song
Choose to Choose
Entrance Song (Rain Dance Version)
Indigo Meadow (2013, 45.49) **½
Don't Play With Guns
Love Me Forever
War on Holiday
I Hear Colors (Chromaesthesia)
Black Isn't Black
Unsurprisingly, Black Angels are clearly in thrall to The Velvet Underground, although thankfully not in the usual eighth-hand indie manner; this lot have actually gone back to their source material. 2011's vinyl-only Phosgene Nightmare EP (after 2010's Phosgene Dream album) was released for 'Record Store Day 2011', an initially good idea that (surprise surprise) has been co-opted by the leeches of the music biz and eBay whores; it's supposedly a collection of b-sides, but I can't actually trace any of its contents to anywhere else. They channel Lou and friends with aplomb: opener Melanie's Melody perfectly captures those few months just before psychedelia hit, Ronettes is Be My Baby reinvented as a funeral dirge as played by the Velvets battling it out with The Byrds, while Entrance Song (Rain Dance Version) is early psych squeezed through Phil Spector's tortured worldview. The Boat Song features cello and high-end string parts that sound a lot like a Mellotron, without sounding fully like one; is this M-Tron/Memotron/whatever? The sounds work well in context, but it doesn't seem that likely that the band actually sourced a real machine for the recording. Go on, prove me wrong.
2013's Indigo Meadow throws the band's following a curveball by shifting a few years forward and aping The Doors instead, not least vocalist Alex Maas' on/off spot-on Jimbo impression. I can't honestly say that the songs did very much for this reviewer; perhaps I prefer my psych a little more, y'know, psychedelic? The album manages a site 'first' by actually crediting Manetron, which, I'm reliably informed, is a Mellotron sample app for the iPhone, although they don't overuse it, the only obvious usage being some murky flutes on Holland and slightly more audible strings on War On Holiday.
You're not going to find a physical copy of Phosgene Nightmare at all easily, so the 'sample use' point may be rather academic, Indigo Meadow being the precise opposite on both counts.
Blackfield (2004, 36.59/47.40) ****
|The Hole in Me
[bonus disc adds:
Where is My Love?
Cloudy Now (live)]
Blackfield is a collaboration between Israeli musician Aviv Geffen and Porcupine Tree's inimitable Steven Wilson and, rather unsurprisingly, sounds a lot like the 'Porkies', as they're often appallingly known. The songwriting is of the type that grows on you with familiarity, while the sound is towards the darker end of the Porcupine Tree spectrum, without the metal edge they've developed over their last couple of releases. It's difficult to pick standout tracks on only a listen or two, but, basically, everything sounds good, in a melancholy singer-songwriterish kind of way, with plenty of Steven Wilson touches.
With real strings on several tracks, it's difficult to spot the sampled Mellotron, although there's a high, warbly string line on Glow that's a definite, as are the flutes throughout The Hole In Me. So; a very good album indeed that's bound to be a 'grower', although pretty low on the fake 'Tron front, along with most Porcupine Tree efforts. Buy anyway.
See: Steven Wilson | Aviv Geffen | Porcupine Tree
Science Fiction (1999, 49.33) **
Gone Too Soon Too Far
The Fjords of Zimbabwe
Dental Research '72
3,000,000 Years From Here
Soon Too Far Gone Far
Friend or Foe? (2003, 43.18) **½
It Could Be Yours
On the Tightrope
Nobody's Home (in My Home I'm Alone)
Blackmail are a fairly unusual thing: a German heavy-end-of-indie band, singing in English, who could easily be taken for American. I'm not saying this is a recommendation, just that it is. 1999's Science Fiction is their second album, apparently completely remixed and reissued the following year as Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?. If it wasn't for the grungy, downtuned guitars, this could be yer typical wussy indie stuff, with those rather fey vocals that make you want to give the vocalist a slap. Why do these bands bother? Rumoured Mellotron on the album, but upon listening, it seems it isn't to be. Opener Londerla features flutes and choir, although a choir chord at the end of the song holds several seconds too long to be 'real', giving the sample game away, with more flutes on Mu.
2003's Friend or Foe? is marginally better, largely due to being more energetic; its predecessor's strong undercurrent of wussy indie has been replaced by a steelier backbone, which isn't to say it's a great album, merely better. Best track? Probably nine-minute closer Friend, if only for its epic scope. On the fakeotron front, we get strings on openers Airdrop and Evon plus choirs on All Mine for good measure, all fairly muted. In all honestly, Science Fiction bored me rigid; landfill indie? Friend or Foe? is better, but that shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation.
Bleach (1999, 48.31) *½
Once Again Here We Are
All That's Sweet
|All to You
Sun Stands Still
What Will Your Anthem Be
Bleach are the kind of Christian rock band whose lyrics are largely un-overt enough not to offend the public at large, although their music still sucks. 1999's Bleach is a tedious pop/rock effort, replete with the obligatory whiny vocals and insipid melodies that the style seems to demand these days, even when the band rocks it up a bit, as on the strangely lifeless Sun Stands Still.
Pete Stewart allegedly plays Mellotron, but when it finally appears on closer What Will Your Anthem Be, the strings are quite clearly samples, especially obvious on the high notes. So why have you credited this guy with 'Mellotron', eh? Usual sample bullshit... If it's samples, don't credit fucking Mellotron, OK? Bah.
King of Circles (2011, 42.53) ***
|Til it's Over
Afterthought to War
Red Light, Green Light
Anything But This
|Your Heart Left Town
Top of the World
King of Circles
Mike Bloom has connections with Rilo Kiley and The Strokes, amongst others, releasing his first solo album, King of Circles, in 2011. Although flawed, it's vastly better than the usual run of weepy singer-songwriter drivel, male or female, highlights including Red Light, Green Light and Dry Land, although, at least in my opinion, his talents become more dissipated when he attempts upbeat material (case in point: Anything But This).
Bloom is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Anything But This, Dry Land (under real ones) and the title track are fairly clearly sampled, particularly noticeable during the record's closing seconds. An album of two halves, then; not all of its poppier tracks are failures, but enough are to knock stars from its rating.
Target Heart EP (2009, 18.52) ***Target Heart
Clean the Clock
Gone for Good
Hell or High Water
Blue Giant are something of a Portland, Oregon 'indie supergroup', comprising members of The Decemberists, Swords and Viva Voce, amongst others, whose first release, 2009's Target Heart EP, is a decent enough country/indie/psych/folk affair, without being anything startling. Its male/female vocal approach works better on some tracks than others, to be honest, better efforts including Clean The Clock and closer Hell Or High Water.
Evan Railton plays what's credited as Mellotron on Hell Or High Water, although given that at least one of the outfits that contributed members to the band (specifically, Viva Voce) have used samples and that the flute part on the track sounds a bit ropey, into samples it goes. Incidentally, the vinyl version adds versions of Goffin & King's Wasn't Born To Follow (as covered by The Byrds) and The Kinks' Got To Be Free, but I've no idea whether or not the 'Mellotron' turns up on either of them.
The Blue Seeds (2008, 44.31) **½
Outside the Rain Falls
That Night in Amsterdam
A Quick Killing in Art
Lost and Delirious
Cars Go By
My Fair Weather Friend
Words From a Fairytale
I Dream a Little Dream
The Blue Seeds are a female-fronted French-Canadian noirish outfit, whose eponymous 2008 debut has echoes of the pre-psych mid-'60s and Burt Bacharach amongst its influences. It's one of those albums where a couple of tracks sound really impressive, but a whole (even if 'vinyl-length') record starts to drag after a while. The lengthy Words From A Fairytale is probably the best track, at least for readers of this site, but a little goes a long way, I think.
Producer Dustin O'Halloran, from The Devics, plays 'Mellotron', with strings on Barcelona, choirs on Words From A Fairytale and flutes on I Dream A Little Dream, although since the choirs are quite clearly samples, it seems reasonable to assume that the other sounds are, too. Overall, then, a pretty downbeat release that definitely has its moments, just not quite enough of them to give it a higher rating.
Zero (Ovvero la Famosa Nevicata dell'85) (1999, 66.38) **½
Finché Saprai Spiegarti
Always Crashing in the Same Car
Niente X Scontato
Punto di Non Arrivo
On their third album, 1999's Zero (Ovvero la Famosa Nevicata dell'85), Italy's Bluvertigo attempt an indie/electronica/rock/dance thing, sounding like the bastard sons of, say, Depeche Mode that veers between appalling and actually quite acceptable. Better moments include the rock'n'roll of Finché Saprai Spiegarti, where the band mock-claim to've been working with a host of famous names, from Fellini to Eno and the Arabic strings on Autofraintendimento to the sparse Numero, although trimming maybe twenty dead minutes from the disc would've actually improved it on several levels.
A certain David Richards is credited with Mellotron on their cover of Bowie's Low centrepiece Always Crashing In The Same Car, to which I can only say:
bullshit rubbish. Those strained, heavily effected strings? I think not. Anyway, an album that could be listenable if judiciously edited, but ends up being overlong and indigestible.
Loyalty (2012, 52.18/65.55) **
Til the Day We Are Both Forgotten
Sunny When it Rains
My Name is Lemon
Under a Bombay Moon Soon
|Lobster in the Fog
You Are Beautiful and Strange
Dream on Planet Cherry
When the Wall of Voodoo Breaks
Blue Film and the Jilted Lover
In Pastel Blue]
As stated in my regular reviews, Ernst Ulrich "Phillip Boa" Figgen is a German new wave type who has released albums regularly since the mid-'80s, seemingly changing musical style with the current fashion. As a result, 2012's Loyalty has a 'so contemporary it'll be out of date next year' production, combining indie guitar pop, alt.rock and electronica into a rather unappetising stew typified by tracks like Want or Til The Day We Are Both Forgotten.
Detlef "Tött" Götte is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Til The Day We Are Both Forgotten, Under A Bombay Moon Soon, Lobster In The Fog, You Are Beautiful And Strange and When The Wall Of Voodoo Breaks really don't convince, despite Boa's previous (presumed) genuine Mellotron use. As if that makes any difference. Sorry, but I can't recommend this on any level; some of Boa's earlier work is OK, but this is just tiresome.
See: Phillip Boa & the Voodooclub
Listening Suicidal (2000, 54.36) ***
|Listening 40 (Burn Up the Club '99)
Goodbye My Strange Number 28
Giniro Utsu Jikan
Daida Destroy & Search
Kumo Bannin B to Tsuribito A
Listening 40 (Close Your Eyes '00)
So who are BOaT, anyway? Little-known in the West, it seems, they combine metal guitars with pop and funk rhythms, sampled and distorted vocals mixing with poppy harmonies in an unusual juxtaposition. I won't pretend I got an awful lot out of what appears to be their third album, 2000's Listening Suicidal, but at least it doesn't just meekly copy whoever's top of the bloody pops whenever it's recorded, like [insert one of a million names here].
A.S.E. apparently plays Mellotron, with flutes in a few places, notably on Kumo Bannin B To Tsuribito A, with an interesting pitchbend just before the song steps up a gear, but also a way, way over eight-second note towards the end, making me think... Samples. So; sort-of interesting. sort-of not, but at least you can say it doesn't sound like anybody else.
Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine (2009, 22.14) ***½
|I am a Clock
We R Super Heroes
Hey Little Puppy
Fee Fi Fo, Fee Fi Fum
The Little Duck
The Mighty, Mighty Elephant
I Love the Animals
The Tiny Sheep
Robbert Bobbert (& the Bubble Machine) is the alter-ego of Robert Schneider, a.k.a. head honcho of the Elephant Six label and mainman of Apples in Stereo, whose eponymous debut mini-album is aimed fairly and squarely at the under-fives' market. And why not? Schneider channels what is clearly his encyclopaedic knowledge of rock and pop history into an exceedingly engaging set of songs that will appeal to his target audience without patronising; think: a modern, pop/rock version of Tom Paxton's kids' albums of a few decades earlier. Stylistically, this is as all over the place as you'd expect; The Beach Boys crop up, not least on charming opener I Am A Clock and Hey Little Puppy, while We R Super Heroes and Gravity channel early '80s synthpop, Boom Boom is more generically 'psych' and closer The Tiny Sheep is, fittingly for its position on the record, a lullaby.
Schneider is credited with 'Mellotron', choir samples finally turning up on The Tiny Sheep, in suitably drifting fashion. There are two obvious reasons to buy Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine: 1) You love Schneider's work. 2) You have small children. Or 3) both. It feels slightly weird listening to this at my age, but surely great pop is great pop? Recommended.
See: Apples in Stereo
An Ordinary Night in My Ordinary Life (1996, 66.12) ***½
|Entering the Spacebike
Into the Dreamscape
The Ballerina From Far Beyond
Daddy in the Clouds
An Ordinary Nightmare in Poor Mr. Hope's Ordinary Life
In the Land of The Pumpkins
The Magic Rollercoaster
Samuel - The Knight
Adam - The Prophet
Miranda - The Queen
Pinup Guru (2002, 70.54) ***½
What's Going on?
Me & Liz
The Day I Saw My Beautiful Neighbour
New in the 'Hood
|The Ballerina is Not Getting Closer
The Last Eagle
The Final Swig
Sonic Boulevard (2003, 64.21) **½
The Hero From Cloud City
Back to the African Garden
The Horses From Zaad
A Beautiful Mind
|The Happy Frog
Morning Will Come
The Night Will Fall
I AM (2005, 63.23) ***
Day By Day
They'll Fight for Me!
War is Over
The Angel of Dreams
Take Me Home
The Tree of Knowledge
The Path of Decision I
The Path of Decision II
Close the Deal
The Path of Decision III
The Tube of Reverse
In the Land of Retrospect
"Why/7 Days at Kingdom's Inn"
The Halls of Future
The Path of Light I
The Path of Light II
Cinematograaf (2008, 51.55) ***An Ocean in Between
A Spanish Ballerina in Love
Six Six Six
Tomas Bodin is, of course, keyboard player with The Flower Kings and one of only two consistent members other than leader Roine Stolt. He's clearly an important part of the band's sound and the only other writer besides Stolt, but he not only finds time for a solo career amongst the chaos, but guests on many other artists' projects, not least Jonas Reingold's Karmakanic and Stéphane Desbiens' D Project.
Much of his first solo album, 1996's An Ordinary Night in My Ordinary Life, sounds as if it could easily slot into a contemporaneous TFK release, although Bodin flexes his stylistic muscles on the experimental An Ordinary Nightmare In Poor Mr. Hope's Ordinary Life (cut-up with funk bass) and the mad electronica of The Magic Rollercoaster. Best tracks? Probably church organ piece Daddy In The Clouds and the lengthy, symphonic prog of Three Stories, although the album could easily lose ten minutes or more without affecting its integrity. 'Mellotron' strings and/or choir on most tracks, with flutes (and cellos?) thrown in here and there, all obviously sampled, even if Mr. Bodin hadn't confirmed that for me in person some years ago.
I presume TFK business and other projects kept Tomas from his solo career for the next six years, but 2002's Pinup Guru was worth the wait for those who consider him possibly the most talented member of the parent band (ouch). It's not all good and (of course) is far too long, but there's enough quality material here to make a very good 45-minute record indeed; unfortunately, that would involve considerable editing of individual tracks, but there you go. Plenty of samplotron, with choirs all over What's Going On? and strings, choir, flutes and 'Tron cellos present across most of the album's length.
The following year's Sonic Boulevard, however, displayed either a Bodin content to spread his musical wings, or one suffering from overwork, probably depending on viewpoint. It starts well enough, The Hero From Cloud City (symphonic prog) and Back To The African Garden (fusion jamming) doing pretty much what you'd expect, but by the end of the overlong disc, eighteen tortuous minutes of the last two tracks, Morning Will Come and The Night Will Fall, are enough to make you want to ditch the whole thing. Plenty of samplotron dotted throughout, some so obviously sampled that you can only imagine Bodin has no real interest in the sounds as anything other than prog tropes, rather than for their own sake.
2005's I AM is something of a return to form, although, as ever, you could probably trim a good twenty minutes from its considerable length and end up with a better album. Three lengthy multi-part tracks constitutes 'none more prog', ditto the concept that is quite inevitably involved, though irrelevant to all but the most hardened of prog lyric-watchers, usually a slightly sad breed. Plenty of fine moments, though not enough to hold this listener's interest for a whole bloody hour; reasonable levels of samplotron, including a few 'solo' moments, but it all sounds so... sampled. Probably unsurprisingly, 2008's all-instrumental Cinematograaf has a distinctly soundtracky feel about it, although the overall mood of the album remains one of long passages of musical exposition interrupted by somewhat shorter ones of real musical content. Nonetheless, it's a decent listen, if rather unengaging for much of its length, while once again, samplotron use is sparing but effective.
Only a fool would attempt to deny Tomas Bodin's obvious talent; however, like many excellent musicians, I'm not sure he isn't better employed as a sideman than as a solo artist. Saying that, if you already have a soft spot for The Flower Kings' repertoire, I can probably recommend all the above save Sonic Boulevard.
See: The Flower Kings | Roine Stolt | D Project | J J Marsh | Karmakanic