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Bible of the Devil  (US)

Tight Empire  (2004,  47.44)  ***½

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.

Big Big Train  (UK)  see:

Big Big Train

Big Boss Man  (UK)

Winner  (2005,  46.56)  ***
Last Man on Earth  (2014,  46.11)  ***

Big Boss Man apparently formed after randomly meeting on a ferry (as you do); given that two members were the boat's house band, it's hardly surprising that a broad 'lounge' streak runs through their music. Their second album, 2005's Winner, opens with a pretty cool soul/funk instrumental, the amusingly-titled Kelvin Stardust, several other tracks mining a similar lounge/Latin vein, although the vocal tracks tend to let it down a little, largely due to organist Nasser Bouzida's frankly rather weak voice. Best tracks? Kelvin Stardust, Everybody Boogaloo and closer Deception, although pretty much any of the instrumentals are worth hearing. Morgan Nicholls and Bouzida supposedly play Mellotron, with a murky harmony cello part on Fall In Fall Out (which cops a riff from Status Quo's early hit Pictures Of Matchstick Men) and a flute line (that runs a full three semitones below the instrument's range)) on Tu As Gaché Mon Talent Ma Chérie from the pair, flute chords and melody on B.O.O.G.A.L.O.O. from Nicholls and vibes on Jackson 16 from Bouzida. The album's best features, though, are Bouzida's Hammond work and the overall vibe, rather than its fairly minor samplotron use. Take a copy to the next '60s mod night at your local dance emporium.

2014's Last Man on Earth carries on the good work, in what I'm guessing is a kind of vague concept work, featuring several vocal tracks (male and female) from guest artistes. The whole is, once again, a record that almost defines the term 'groovy', chock-full of '60s Hammond riffs and references. Best tracks? I liked the extremely brief, Eastern-ish Bombay Mix, while The Bear does something particularly good with their influences, at least to my ears. Mellotron? Bouzida's credit counts for even less than last time round, I'd say. What's it even meant to be? Surely not the female voices on Blow Your Own? The strings on Changing Faces are closer, but no cigar. Cellos on Painted Rainbow? Anyway, a decent album, but no Mellotron.

Big Tent Revival  (US)

Amplifier  (1998,  65.20)  **½

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.

Big Wheel Stunt Show  (US)

Wonderful Life  (2012,  46.03)  ***½

Tacoma's Big Wheel Stunt Show seem to have found a hitherto-undiscovered combination of influences on Wonderful Life, coming across as the bastard psychedelic child of the MC5 and Black Sabbath when they started getting clever on our arses and playing fifteen different riffs in one song. Best tracks? The six-minute Bud'der, Jakes Black Rainbow (Of Unicorn Death) and groovy closer Soul And Sound. Patrick Baldwin's credited with Mellotron, by which I think they can only mean the vague, stringlike sound under the Hammond on To Believe In. Great album, but Non.

Bilal  (US)

In Another Life  (2015,  39.15)  **½

Bilal (Sayeed Oliver) is apparently a 'neo soul' singer, which, going by his fourth album, 2015's In Another Life, consists of using '70s soul vocal tropes over modern programmed rhythms and samples. You might be able to guess that I'm not going to like this, and you'd be right. It's not all painful, mind; Lunatic sounds not unlike Adrian Younge, which figures, given that he plays a wide range of instruments on the album, although, funnily enough, not the 'Mellotron'. Ali Shaheed Muhammad is credited with Mellotron, but it's very obvious sampled, with improbable pitchbends and way-over-eight-second string notes proliferating, particularly on opener Sirens II. Mind you, if the flutes that open Love Child were the only time anything Mellotronic cropped up, I might just be fooled, but then, the flutes always sampled well.

Binário  (Brazil)

Binário  (2008,  55.09)  **½

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.

Ryan Bingham  (US)

Tomorrowland  (2012,  62.44)  ***½

Ryan Bigham's fourth album is a solid slice of Americana, at its best on bluesy opener Beg For Broken Legs, the epic Western Shore and the doomy, acoustic No Help From God. Justin Stanley's 'Mellotron', however, turns out to be nothing more exciting than a vague stringy thing on a couple of tracks.

Birds & Buildings  (US)

Bantam to Behemoth  (2008,  69.25)  ****

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.

David Bisbal  (Spain)

Sin Mirar Atrás  (2009,  41.43)  **

David Bisbal's breezy adult Latin pop is unlikely to appeal to many outside his own market, as amply displayed here. Any best tracks? Al Andalus' Moorish influence makes it slightly more palatable than its bedfellows, but not by much. As always, Armando Avila's 'Mellotron' is barely apparent even in sampled form.

Bitchin Bajas  (US)

Krausened  (2013,  34.28)  **½
Bitchitronics  (2013,  44.08)  ***

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. Bitchitronics heads more towards drone territory, in a contemplative (read: druggy) kind of way, with, once again, a smidgeon of vaguely samplotron flutes.

Anders Björler  (Sweden)

Antikythera  (2013,  38.44)  ***½

Despite being from a metal background (notably At the Gates), Anders Björler's first solo album, Antikythera (as in 'mechanism') has more of a prog/post-rock vibe about it, not unlike Porcupine Tree, in fact. Its twelve tracks are a chimera, as it plays as one album-length track, essentially, in a 'listen to in one hit' kind of way. Mellotron? If those wishy-washy choirs are supposed to even be samples I'd be amazed.

Black  (UK)

Water on Stone  (2009,  33.42)  ***
Agnes' Prayer  (2009 download)  ***

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.

Black Angels  (US)

Phosgene Nightmare  (2011,  25.27)  **½
Indigo Meadow  (2013,  45.49)  **½
Death Song  (2017,  48.49)  **½

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. On 2017's Death Song, Black Angels finally officially own up to their influence (singular), another slightly overlong album of woozy indie/psych. Touches of samplotron, principally on closer Life Song.

Black Label Society  (US)

Unblackened  (2013,  124.42)  ***

Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society's Unblackened (also on DVD) is supposedly a 'live acoustic' album, but large chunks of it don't sound very 'unplugged' to my ears. I believe that's Wylde's guitarist (who has to field an identical setup to the Great Man, apparently) playing many of the solos, but you wouldn't know the difference, frankly. This would've been better had it been shorter; there's some pretty decent (albeit Skynyrd-channelling) material here, but it's all a bit one-paced, while Zakk's 'wounded buffalo' vocal style quickly grates. Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, many others) plays keys, including an M4000D stuck on top of the Hammond, going by the video, although, aside from the definite strings on Rust, you'd be hard-pushed to spot where he plays it. Choirs on the pointlessly lengthy Throwin' It All Away?

Black Light White Light  (Denmark)

Gold Into Dreams  (2014,  57.44)  **½

Black Light White Light's second album, 214's Gold Into Dreams, supposedly sits somewhere between shoegaze and psychedelia, which suggests to me that no-one's hearing the album's Britpop hangover vibe, particularly noticeable on Revolutionary Sound Squad and Song For Astrid. In fairness, the woozy Gold Into Dreams and We See The Light fit the original description like a glove, while And The Devil combines their influences into possibly the most pleasing thing here. The longer tracks rather outstay their welcome, though; worst offender: the ten-minute Running. Chris "Frenchie" Smith is credited with Mellotron, but the loosely Mellotronic strings on Hide and closer Fade Out fail to convince (those on And The Devil are real), while the string-ish sound on Operators and elsewhere is a definite non. Hmmm. This one can only aspire to become a curate's egg; very few parts of it are genuinely good, I fear.

Blackfield  (Israel/UK)

Blackfield  (2004,  36.59/47.40)  ****
II  (2007,  42.35)  ***½
Welcome to My DNA  (2011,  39.42)  ***
IV  (2013,  31.29)  ***
V  (2017,  44.43)  ***½

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 on their debut 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 Mellotron front, along with most Porcupine Tree efforts.

II carries on in a similar vein, highlights including Miss U (spot the Lamia cop), Christenings and Some Day, with Mellotron samples (as against the album's real strings) on opener Once, possibly elsewhere. By Welcome to My DNA, Wilson had taken something of a back seat, which probably explains why the next two albums are a little samey, although songs of the quality of Go To Hell, Far Away and closer DNA are fairly unarguable. Samplotron flute on Waving, strings on On The Plane and choirs and strings on Zagota, amongst other potential use. By IV, the law of diminishing returns had really kicked in, although opener Pills and Firefly are pretty decent, with samplotron strings on Pills, possibly elsewhere. Given that, by 2017, Wilson owned a Mellotron, you might think that V would feature it, but no. Musically, it's an improvement, better tracks including Family Man and Life Is An Ocean, but Geffen and Eran Mitelman's credited 'Mellotron' on the latter and The Jackal really aren't.

Blackmail  (Germany)

Science Fiction  (1999,  49.33)  **
Friend or Foe?  (2003,  43.18)  **½

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.

Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band  (US)

Landmarks  (2014,  53.13)  ***½

Jazz drummer Brian Blade formed the Fellowship Band in the late '90s, the ensemble moving away from 'traditional' jazz as their career's progressed. 2014's Landmarks is their fifth album, a not especially jazzy release that uses standard jazz instrumentation (sax, piano) in frequently extended compositions (notably Ark.La.Tex and Farewell Bluebird) in a style I can only describe as 'tense yet relaxed', which probably makes no sense to anyone except me. Highlights include the title track and Marvin Sewell's ripping guitar work on Farewell Bluebird, but, aside from being a little overlong, there's very little to fault here. General opinion seems to be that producer Jon Cowherd's Mellotron use is limited to woozy, just-under-a-minute opener Down River, but the handful of low flute notes don't inspire me to leap up and down, crying "Real Mellotron!" I could be wrong, but... Overall, then, a fine, understated record that shouldn't upset too many haters of the genre. Jazz for people who don't like jazz.

Sarah Blasko  (Australia)

I Awake  (2012,  46.47)  ***

Sarah Blasko's fourth album features less stylistic variation than her earlier work, concentrating on rather mournful, heartfelt balladry, albeit in a good way. She's credited with Mellotron on Illusory Light, but the vague flute part on the track sounds somewhat doubtful to my ears.

Bleach  (US)

Bleach  (1999,  48.31)  *½

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.

Mike Bloom  (US)

King of Circles  (2011,  42.53)  ***

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.

Blue Giant  (US)

Target Heart EP  (2009,  18.52)  ***

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.

Blue Seeds  (Québec)

The Blue Seeds  (2008,  44.31)  **½

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.

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers  (US)

Loved Wild Lost  (2015,  41.27)  ***

Californian Nicki Bluhm assembled The Gramblers in 2008, her husband Tim hailing from The Mother Hips, although it seems that he's subsequently separated from both his wife and the band. His last album with them (their fourth), 2015's Loved Wild Lost, is that seemingly rarest of things, a really good country record, clearly country, yet without the schmaltz. Top tracks include the vaguely Byrdsian Waiting On Love, Heartache, Heart Gets Tough and one of the most countryish songs here, perhaps surprisingly, High Neck Lace. Tim is credited with Mellotron, but, given that those are real strings on Love Your Loved Ones and High Neck Lace, the only possibility is the very background strings on Queen Of The Radio; if so, I'm quite sure they're sampled, so here it is and here it stays until/unless I hear anything to the contrary. So; a country album for those allergic to country, but almost certainly no real Mellotron.

Der Blutharsch & the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand  (Austria)

The End of the Beginning  (2012,  60.06)  **

Der Blutharsch etc. are, effectively, Albin Julius' solo project, often described as 'dark ambient', although 'goth metal' might be more appropriate. How he has the cheek to credit 'Mellotron' here is beyond me; the background choirs on Get Back (not that one) barely even qualify as samples. Am I allowed to say 'fucking nonsense'? I believe I just did.

Bluvertigo  (Italy)

Zero (Ovvero la Famosa Nevicata dell'85)  (1999,  66.38)  **½

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.

Phillip Boa & the Voodooclub  (Germany)

Loyalty  (2012,  52.18)  **

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.

BOaT  (Japan)

Listening Suicidal  (2000,  54.36)  ***

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  (US)

Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine  (2009,  22.14)  ***½

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.

Bob3 Rocks  (US)

Songs for Insomniacs  (2009,  29.39)  **½

Bob3 Rocks employ a fairly noisy kind of alt.rock thing, all clattering drums, guitars, samples... Everything, really. Obvious samplotron strings and flutes on Cigarette.

Tomas Bodin  (Sweden)

An Ordinary Night in My Ordinary Life  (1996,  66.12)  ***½
Pinup Guru  (2002,  70.54)  ***½
Sonic Boulevard  (2003,  64.21)  **½
I AM  (2005,  63.23)  ***
Cinematograaf  (2008,  51.55)  ***
You Are  [as Eggs & Dogs]  (2009,  77.08)  ***
She Belongs to Another Tree  (2015,  64.15)  ****

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.

2009's You Are, while frequently listed as a Bodin album (er, as here), was actually released under the one-off band name Eggs & Dogs, for no known reason. In fairness, while much of it sounds like a typical Bodin release, parts don't, not least the oddly bluesy opening title track, while the barbershop quartet vocals on Dad Is Coming Home are far from standard. As usual, the music has originality issues - the bit on Private Skies when they suddenly start playing The Cinema Show should've been dropped - but, unless you completely deconstruct the genre and rebuild from the ground up, modern symphonic prog is unlikely to sound overly different from its progenitors. Plenty of samplotron, as you'd expect, notable use including the clunky flute melody on Poor Lucille, with background strings at the end of the track, the flute solo that opens American Standards and the flutes in lengthy closer Silicone Bimbo Run.

After a lengthy gap, 2015's She Belongs to Another Tree is a minor revelation, in that it a) doesn't sound like The Bloody Flower Kings and b) is really rather good! It's a distinct left turn for Bodin, being an instrumental electronic album - well, of sorts. He actually plays quite a bit of piano on the record, not least on opener Dried Leaves From The Sky and the title track, but drums and vocals are notable by their absence. Highlights? Dried Leaves From The Sky (why am I reminded of The Enid?), the heavily electronic Damn, I Was Stung By A Zap Goblin and the title track, possibly, but this really is the best thing Bodin's done in a long time. Or, I suspect, the best thing period. Perhaps he's finally finding his own voice? Very little samplotron, however, with naught but the occasional choir part sticking its head up above the parapet.

Hanne Boel  (Denmark)

Private Eye  (2007,  52.29)  **½

Going by the evidence presented here, Hanne Boel plays a kind of soulful Americana, fine in small doses, but tiring over the course of a whole album. H.H. Præstbro's credited with Mellotron on Boel's cover of Al Stewart's Year Of The Cat, but... no.

Benjamin Booker  (US)

Benjamin Booker  (2014,  44.27)  ***

Benjamin Booker plays a raw, authentic kind of soul/garage/blues, if you can imagine such a mixture. His eponymous 2014 debut combines his major influences in a way that, say, Black Keys fans looking for more of the same, but more so, might appreciate. Best tracks? I'll admit that the album doesn't especially appeal to me, but opener Violent Shiver, Slow Coming and Have You Seen My Son? seem to do the most with their component parts. Ben Trimble's credited with Mellotron. Where? I think I heard a background something that wasn't the album's ubiquitous Hammond, but, given that the recording venue, 'all-analog' Nashville studio The Bomb Shelter, doesn't own one, I think the chances of there being any genuine tape-replay involvement are minimal. Good at what it does, then, assuming you like what it does.

Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles  (US)

Diamonds in the Dark  (2007,  40.29)  ***
The Stars Are Out  (2009,  34.46)  ***

Sarah Borges (with or without her Broken Singles) is the kind of country singer it's vaguely acceptable to like in hip circles; influenced more by X than, say, Patsy Cline (although I believe she's acceptable-to-hipsters, too), her punk sensibilities lurch through the otherwise calm surface of her second album, Diamonds in the Dark. The rest of the album's taken up with low-fi maudlin 'cry in your beer'-type alt.country, which, while doubtless entirely unacceptable to the poor sods who grew up with this stuff for real, is actually listenable to those of us to whom C&W is a quaint diversion from another country. Er, so to speak. Paul Q. Kolderie is credited with Mellotron, but assuming it's actually present at all, it's so expertly hidden in the mix that it's entirely inaudible, at least to my ears, so 'samples' it is. Her/their follow-up, 2009's The Stars Are Out, while still essentially alt.country, is a far more rocking proposition than its predecessor, the more rock'n'roll end of things including opener Do It For Free and the harmonica-fuelled I'll Show You How, while better ballads included Ride With Me and closer Symphony. Someone calling himself Jabe "Charlie the Bubble Palantino" Beyer allegedly plays Mellotron, with what sounds like sampled strings under real ones on Symphony, although the strings on No One Will Ever Love You are quite clearly real.