Rob de Nijs
William D. Drake
Shimmering Lights (2006, 48.30) ***Shimmering Lights
They Come and Grow
Hide From the Sun
What is Done is Done (Rat)
End of the Recess
The Sagarmatha Dilemma (2008, 48.59) ***Closer to My Soul/Closer to Heaven
The Sagarmatha Dilemma
The Red Mountain
Even if I Was Wrong
I'm Coming Down (I Shall Go Back)
D Project are another project from the prolific Stéphane Desbiens (Sense, Red Sand, Ère G, Mélia), this time in a heavy prog vein, unfortunately crossing over into full-blown prog metal in places. Their debut album, 2006's Shimmering Lights, starts excellently - the first two minutes of the title track are superb - but the quality slackens off as it progresses, parts of closer That's Life being the album's nadir. Too much formless prog metal, too many neo-prog influences... Desbiens and The Flower Kings' Tomas Bodin both play credited 'Mellotron', but I think we know how much that's worth, don't we? Anyway, plenty of (presumably) M-Tron, with string and choir parts on most tracks, the samples being particularly evident on End Of The Recess' solo choir intro and halfway through That's Life.
I believe The Project's second album, 2008's The Sagarmatha Dilemma, is a concept effort based on an expedition to the Himalayas a few years earlier. It's more self-consciously 'modern prog' than before, actually managing to be more formless than its predecessor, although given some of the guff that clutters up the prog scene, I've heard an awful lot worse... Desbiens pulled in a few friends to play on the record, not least Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X) on keys and our very own Stu Nicholson (Galahad) singing on one track. Next to no fakeotron this time round, with naught but distant choirs on Even If I Was Wrong, although it's possible there are some string parts hidden away amongst the wash of generic modern keyboards.
I can't say I found either of these albums that exciting, to be honest, although stood up against the appalling neo-prog nonsense that's still being spewed out by certain bands (naming no names), at least it doesn't actually offend. Personally, I prefer some of Desbiens' other projects, but if you like the metal end of the genre, you may just go for these.
See: Sense | Tomas Bodin
Observator de un Uni-verso (1999, 45.37) **½Observador del Universo I
Luz, Asombro, Obscuridad
Retorno a Kadiem
Kiñe We Mapu Ta Ñi Yalalun
Observador del Universo II
To be honest, this review of Daltonia's first album, 1999's Observator de un Uni-verso (they belated followed it with 2007's Fragmentos de un Viaje), will be less than glowing; I'm all for bands in all corners of the world trying their hand at this prog thing, but I'm afraid Daltonia simply aren't that good at it. In fairness, and going by my * rating above, they're not utterly horrendous, but the album's generic and lacking in any memorable songwriting, and many of the tracks go on for a geological epoch or two too long. Their style is loosely 'modern prog', with a heaviness on the guitar front that has crept into the genre over the last couple of decades or so, with a dollop of neo-prog stylings. The vocals are spoken, which is the one thing about this record that smacks of any sort of originality, although I suspect that it's more out of necessity than choice.
Cristian Céspedes Bascuñán plays keyboards, but apart from a short part in ¿Es Hora?, it's all digital synths, with some truly horrific sampled choir in places. The one diversion from this is in the aforementioned track, where he plays a sampled 'Tron string part for a minute or so. Do I know it's sampled? Well, Mellotrons are in pretty short supply in South America generally (read: none until recently), never mind Chile specifically, and, er, they sound like samples. Anyway, this one's more for the rabid prog completist than the casual listener, and I'm not sure I'd even recommend it to the genre fetishist.
No One Listens to the Band Anymore (2011, 49.29) **
|No One Listens to the Band Anymore
Feast of Hearts
She Goes Around
The Great Unknown
Let's Be Civilized
Last Day of the New Age
The Same Way
The Damnwells are a fairly appalling proposition; imagine an indie outfit who want to be Counting Crows, displaying a similar unswerving dedication towards making the blandest possible indie/Americana/powerpop crossover imaginable. Yes, that good. 2011's No One Listens to the Band Anymore (well, we can but hope) is absolute drivel, heartfelt to a T yet simultaneously as empty as interstellar space; example: closer The Same Way strongly resembles an Oasis discard. It has no best tracks.
Peter Adams is credited with Mellotron, but going by the strings on Werewolves and The Experts (although the easier-to-fake flutes on Sophia aren't so bad), all I can say is, "You have to be joking". Smooth as shite, just like the rest of their pre-digested sound. Awful.
UnonoU (2008, 54.53) ***½UnonoU
Where Beauty & Terror Dance
The Emerald Snow of Sleep
A High or a Low
Spinning Temple Shifting
Down From a Cloud, Up From the Ground
One Mind Gone Separate Ways
Danava are a 'prog metal' band who actually sound (mostly) like themselves, and nothing like all the other bands, who all sound exactly the same anyway, as far as I can tell. UnonoU is their second album, and probably actually fits more in to the 'epic hard rock' non-category than the prog metal one, with a distinct (and merciful) lack of screaming vocals, widdling guitars and, well, widdling everything else. I'm not saying the material's top drawer - it isn't - but it ain't bad, and I suspect, given time, they'll turn into a good little band eventually.
Although there are vaguely Mellotron-like strings on several tracks, closing epic One Mind Gone Separate Ways is the only definite use, and it is definite, with a horribly stretched high note at one point. The track itself is quite outrageous, too; how can you rip Zeppelin's Achilles' Last Stand so openly and get away with it? Anyway, not a bad record, if no classic, with some excellent moments. Worth a punt.
Drowning (2010, 35.53) ***
Symbol of Love
They Got You
Within a Minute
Is it OK?
I'm having trouble finding any English-language information on Fiona Daniel, so all I can really tell you is that she's a native of Zurich, Switzerland, is in her mid-twenties and has released two solo albums to date. The first of these, 2010's Drowning, has something of a gothy bent to its folky singer-songwriter feel, better tracks including string-laden opener War, the percussive Moon and Symbol Of Love, although I'm not sure what's going on with the rather out-of-place jazz/blues of Mrs. Lonelyheart.
Fiona supposedly plays Mellotron on Is It OK?, although I'll be amazed if the background flute part on the track turns out to be anything other than samples. A decent enough record, then, if all a bit unexciting. Perhaps I should be listening to the lyrics or something.
Dancing (2006, 35.37) **½
Avec Ses Yeux la
My Way of Life
La Belle Vie
|Via Con Me
Quand Je Monte Chez Toi
Gérard Darmon (born 1948) is a French actor who has slightly diverted into a late-flowering singing career, 2006's Dancing being his second release. As you might expect, it consists largely of French- and English-language jazz-flavoured easy-listening material, impeccably done, should you happen to like that kind of thing, better tracks including the rockabilly-lite Svalutation, the gypsy jazz of Via Con Me and knowingly sleazy closer That's Life.
I shall admit to being unconvinced by Nicolas Neidhart's 'Mellotron' strings on Mes Mains: far too smooth for their own good, not to mention what sounds quite like MkII 'moving strings' on opener Mambo Italiano; if so, an absolute sample giveaway. Not really a Planet Mellotron album, is it? Difficult to actually knock, but not one most of you are going to want to hear, methinks.
Caveman Files (2011, 26.10) **½
Shut the Blinds
Red Light Gargoyle
E = T(HC) Interlude
Yeah So (part deux)
Da$h (pretty duff use of the old 'non-letter used as letter' trick, sir) is far from your average hip-hop artist, although I'm not entirely sure that makes the download-only Caveman Files any the more listenable. Saying that, you're not going to hear anything like the slowed-down voice on E = T(HC) Interlude on, say, an Eminem album, ditto what sounds like a sample of a prehistoric computer game on Apache.
Sean O'Connell (a.k.a. Da$h??) is credited with Mellotron, but the too-even and played-too-quickly strings on Ave., Instrumental and Jar Gang are exceedingly suspect, clinched in the sample stakes by the high choir notes on 18-0. OK, it's a long way from the commercial end of the genre, but Mr. Da$h still makes that irritating noise better known as 'rapping'.
Eindelijk Vrij (2010, 40.49) **½
Het is Al Laat
Een Badplaats in de Winter
Iemand Moet Het Doen
Nog Steeds Geen Rock & Roll
Dingen Waar Je Niks Aan Kunt Veranderen
Laat Me Niet Alleen
De Weg Ligt Er Altijd
Het Enige Geluid
To my surprise, Rob de Nijs has been around practically forever, born in 1942 and starting his career in the early '60s. As a result, it's hard to say just how many albums he's released over the decades; suffice to say, 2010's Eindelijk Vrij is a perfectly acceptable collection of countryish rock'n'roll with a little folk thrown in for good measure. No, not that exciting, but given that it emanates from a man approaching his 70th birthday, it ain't too shabby.
Daniël Lohues is credited with Mellotron on Schemering, but while the (easily-sampleable) flutes pass muster, the strings are clearly the 'moving strings' from the left-hand manual of a MkII, which is pretty much a guarantee of sample use these days, as the M-Tron features loads of otherwise obscure sounds. To be honest, few outside De Nijs' fanbase are going to take any notice of this, anyway; good at what it does, but no Mellotron.
Old Growth (2008, 50.38) ***
|Ain't Got Nothing (to Go Wrong)
Between Me and the Ground
What Needs Must Be
'Till Kingdom Come
The Great Deceiver
|The Queen of All Returns
Keep on Walking
Hard People/Hard Times
Dead Meadow would probably like people to think of them as 'guitar-driven psych', although 'slightly psychedelic indie' might be closer to the mark. OK, there are tracks on their fifth album, 2008's Old Growth, with a psychedelic edge, but more often than not, they just limp along in an aimless kind of way (The Great Deceiver is typical). It's not all bad, but it's mostly rather average, unfortunately.
Rob Campanella's Mellotron strings open 'Till Kingdom Come, reiterating throughout the song, although with an attack like that, they have to be sampled. In fairness, they don't actually put 'Mellotron' in the credits, so we'll let 'em off. This time. Overall, then, really not that exciting, although probably OK to have playing in the background. Damning with faint praise?
Missiles (2008, 58.14) **
Crisis 1 & 2
|Meltdown in A Major
I've been directed towards The Dears in the past as supposed Mellotron users, but 2008's Missiles is the first of their albums to actually credit it. Like the one other album of theirs I've had the privilege to hear, 2003's No Cities Left, it consists largely of a bombastic kind of 'orchestral indie', succeeding in merging the band's symphonic ambitions with the one-dimensional song structures with which the indie scene is infested. As a result, it's dull as ditchwater if you don't actually think that The Velvets define popular music as we know it. Several overlong tracks on an overlong album don't help, either.
Mainman Murray Lightburn and Patrick Krief are credited with Mellotron, but the string swells on Dream Job and occasional flute line on Berlin Hearts, amongst other parts, sound sampled to my ears, an impression exacerbated by what sounds like decidedly uncredited Chamberlin solo male voice on the title track. So; not worth the effort and almost certainly samples.
Il Nome del Vento (2009, 58.59) ****
|Intro (Dio del Silenzio Reprise)
Il Nome del Vento
Verso il Naufragio (incl. Theme One)
L'Acquario delle Stelle
Profeta Senza Profezie
Note di Tempesta
|Dopo il Vento
Italy's Delirium were one of a host of relatively short-lived '70s progressive bands from that country, releasing three albums in their original 'lifetime'. Like many others, they're back for a second (or in some cases, third) go, in a hugely different scene to the one in which they first appeared, where the idea of a 'career' is effectively redundant, progressive festivals and the Internet keeping bands alive on a project basis. Their reformation album, 2009's Il Nome del Vento, is an on/off excellent work, its best tracks (including Ogni Storia and Dopo Il Vento) mildly sabotaged by some slightly half-baked material, not least the fusion attempt on closer L'Aurora Boreale. And what exactly, chaps, is with Verso Il Naufragio? Half way through, they suddenly launch into George Martin's Theme One, known to most of us from Van der Graaf's version, of course, for no readily apparent reason.
Although original keys man Ettore Vigo is credited with Mellotron, are we really expected to believe that we're hearing one in the polyphonic flutes on L'Acquario Delle Stelle, amongst others? Even if the credit's only referring to the Mellotronic strings on several tracks (particularly evident on Profeta Senza Profezie), they simply don't have that ring of authenticity about them, I'm afraid. Surprised? Nope. Had Delirium edited their material more efficiently, this could've gained an extra half star; as it is, it's still a fine album, with minor reservations. No real Mellotron, though.
O Aoratos Anthrwpos (O Aóρατoς Άvθρωπoς) (2010, 35.46) **
Θαθελα Nα' Moυvα Eκεí
H Άλλη Kαρδιά
To Σκoτάδι Tωv Δύo
To Φεγγάρι Aυτó
Given that this is an English-language website, Foivos Delivorias (Φoíβoς Δεληβoριάς) presents us with something of a problem, as 2010's O Aoratos Anthrwpos (O Aóρατoς Άvθρωπoς) is clearly aimed at the Greek and only the Greek market, with no transliterations; I had to scrabble around the interweb to find anything at all. The album delivers a weird combination of Greek folk-influenced pop and electronica that may well (or may not?) go down well in Delivorias' home country, but is unlikely to make inroads anywhere else.
Although George Katsanos is credited with Mellotron on Mηδέv Eισερχóμεvα, the only thing that even might be vaguely Mellotronic is the long-attack sound near the beginning of the track, which struggles to even sound like a sample. Who knows what they were actually using? Frankly, you're probably not going to want to hear it for yourself, anyway.
August in the Urals (2006, 71.03) ***½Inaugural Bash
August in the Urals
Abandoned Mansion Afternoon
The Solitude of Miranda
The Form of the Good (2009, 53.53) ****Before the Common Era
The Tree Factory
Common Era Caveman
The Form of the Good
The oddly-named Deluge Grander have risen from the ashes of the Maryland-based Cerebus Effect, presumably with the intention of moving away from the fusion area. I have to say that they've achieved this with aplomb, producing, in August in the Urals, a full-on progressive album, although like so many modern efforts, a little editing may have been a good move. They wear their influences on their collective sleeves, with Genesis coming high on the list, although I definitely spotted some Happy the Man in places, particularly on opener Inaugural Bash. They're at their best when playing instrumentally, which is where (say) the exceedingly long Inaugural Bash wins out over the still quite long title track. Some nice (real?) Clavinet work on A Squirrel livens the piece up, although vocals are definitely not the band's strong suit.
Keyboard/guitar (and sometime vocal) man Dan Britton has told me that although they use Mellotron samples liberally, they're taken from an actual machine, rather than being third-party efforts from the M-Tron or whatever. They mostly sound very good, I have to say, with the usual strings/choirs/flutes being smeared over much of the album's length - this would probably be a TTTT effort, were it applicable. So, a pretty good modern prog effort, without any obvious neo- stylings (hurrah!); I suspect their second effort will sound more cohesive, and will probably be written over a shorter period of time. Not bad at all.
Three years on, and they're at it again, with The Form of the Good. Have they raised the bar? I think so, yes. The vocals are almost gone (hurrah!), and a Yes influence seems to have crept in from somewhere, but given some of the crud they could have been listening to... The album's intensity ratings are up all round, too, with some truly cataclysmic climaxes to be heard; makes me quite glad I'm listening to this on small speakers... Not all that much fakeotron this time round, maybe surprisingly; possibly a TT½, were it relevant. All in all, chaps, an excellent little prog album with only one completely monster track, and even that doesn't outstay its welcome. Splendid.
See: Birds & Buildings | All Over Everything
Midnight of Hope (2000, 53.27) *½
|On These Raging Streets
What Kind of Church
Fifty Years From Now
As Far as My Heart Can See
Why Do You Love Me
This Heart of Mine
At the Cross
Midnight of Hope
Labor of Love
Andy Denton was vocalist with Christian AOR also-rans Ruscha (told you they were also-rans), then with breakaway faction Legend/Legend Seven, so we're not exactly talking 'Wembley headliners' here, unless it's the Wembley Dog & Duck (which may possibly be rhyming slang). For some reason, this gave Denton the idea that he could have a solo career, releasing the gospelly-inclined Midnight of Hope in 2000. So, let's see: Christian (I prefer 'Xian', 'cos it sounds like the aliens in a particularly schlocky SF series), AOR, ego. Not a promising mixture, eh? Correct. The album's horrible, veering between soft AOR (On These Raging Streets, As Far As My Heart Can See), vaguely funky AOR (At The Cross, Forgiveness) and the expected slushy ballads (Fifty Years From Now, Remember Me, nearly everything else). Lyrically, it's exactly what you'd expect, preaching to the converted. Oh, and me, but it's wasting its time there. The title track's especially obnoxious on this front, but they're all pretty grim.
I was hoping that the album's Mellotron sighting would prove to be erroneous, so I wouldn't have to write this guff, but there's a repeating flute part on Plastic Paradise which initially sounds like a 'Tron, but seems far too, I dunno, 'steady' to be the real thing, not to mentioned its uncredited status (most Mellotron users these days are keen to advertise the fact). All in all, then, a very nasty record with a little fake Mellotron. Please don't.
Trouble in Dreams (2008, 52.54) **½
|Blue Flower/Blue Flame
Dark Leaves From a Thread
My Favorite Year
Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of
a Night's Ape)
Leopard of Honor
Libby's First Sunrise
Vancouver-based Destroyer sound like they should be a metal band, but aren't; think: indie/singer-songwriter crossover and you might be nearer the mark. 2008's Trouble in Dreams is actually their eighth album (they formed back in '95) and despite the occasional song where it all comes together, the bulk of the record sounds, at least to my ears, like a bit of a mish-mash of influences, Neil Young sitting next to Guided By Voices, or any one of a hundred other indie darlings.
In case there was any doubt over the matter, Ted Bois is credited specifically with M-Tron; the Mellotron string sounds are actually pretty good, although I doubt if they'd hold up too well if used solo. Anyway, they're used on Foam Hands, My Favorite Year and another three or four tracks, to reasonable effect, although I can't really say they improve the material. So; maybe TT½ if it was real.
Hand it Over (1997, 48.11) ***
|I Don't Think
Never Bought it
Nothin's Goin' on
Can't We Move This
Sure Not Over You
I Know Yer Insane
Dinosaur Jr used a Mellotron a couple of times in the early '90s, after their supposed heyday, so I wasn't entirely surprised to read that there might be one on 1997's Hand it Over, despite the lack of any specific credit. The album seems to be Dinosaur Jr-by-numbers; perfectly competent Neil Young/Hüsker Dü-influenced tuneful post-hardcore, but despite the occasional use of unusual instrumentation (notably the solo trumpet on I'm Insane), somehow it never really catches fire, existing in a twilight world of J Mascis' own creation, where the normal rules of physics don't apply, and entropy as a concept no longer exists. Best track? Probably the lengthy, jammed-out Alone, where Mascis finally perfects his Like A Hurricane guitar tone, although his playing (intentionally?) lacks Neil's total wig-out quality.
Potential 'Mellotron' on a couple of tracks, with a repeating flute line in Never Bought It and very Mellotronic string chords in Can't We Move This, but the giveaway is in the closing seconds of the former, where the sustained flute note over the fade lasts too long, and you can actually hear the loop point. Ouch. Overall, though, a passable album which probably sounds better to non-fans than to fans, who will always compare it unfavourably with their early work.
See: Dinosaur Jr
La Mécanique du Cœur (2007, 59.57) ****
|Le Jour le Plus Froid du Monde
La Berçeuse Hip Hop du Docteur Madeleine
When the Saints Go Marchin' in
Flamme à Lunettes
Symphonie pour Horloge Cassée
Cunnilingus Mon Amour!
Thème de Joe
L'école de Joe
L'homme Sans Trucage
|La Panique Mécanique
King of the Ghost Train
Le Retour de Joe
Tais Toi Mon Cœur
Whatever the Weather
Eats Music!!! (2009, recorded 1996-2009, 131.38) ***
Ciel en Sauce (acoustic)
Tokyo Montana (acoustic)
The Return of the Frog
Art Love Stamps
Don Diego 2000 (acoustic)
Song for Jedi (live)
L'homme Sans Trucage (live)
|Mister Chat (live)
Old Child (demo)
Le Retour de Bloody Betty (remix)
La Cane de Jeanne
Thank You Satan
Tais Toi Mon Cœur
Des Scolioses de Partout dans le
Corps... et dans le Cœur
Rid of Me
La Sorcière du Désert (demo)
I Belch Your Kiss in the Wind
|No Friends No More
Ferry Boat Shoes
No Tongue Doll
The Moon is My Favorite
La Plus Heureuse des Mamans
Monsters in Love (demo)
No Sense Words Harmony
Maintenant qu'il Fait Tout le
Temps Nuit sur Toi
Longboard Train (demo)
Lips Story in a Chocolate River
Neige (Mellotron version)
Song for Jedi (demo)
It's difficult to know how to describe Dionysos' sixth album, La Mécanique du Cœur: its lyrical concept is based on a novel written by vocalist Mathias Malzieu, The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart, about, well, a boy given a clockwork heart and how well it does, or doesn't serve him. Musically, the album is full of mechanical-devices-as-instruments, not least a cuckoo-clock on more than one track, set to a very European kind of almost pre-rock'n'roll aesthetic which has gone down startlingly well in their home country, despite several tracks being sung in English, gaining the band a gold record. I'm not sure if a Mellotron's actually credited, but the flutes on La Berçeuse Hip Hop Du Docteur Madeleine are decidedly sampled, although, as with most sampled Mellotron flute, sounding rather better than copies of the other common sounds.
2009's Eats Music!!! (or Dionysos Eats Music!!!) is not so much a career retrospective as a mopping-up operation, collecting together demos (including tracks from a pre-first album cassette), live tracks, remixes and outtakes into a two hour-plus concoction of Dionysosness that will have their fans in raptures, or at least the ones who delve any deeper than their current hit (ouch). The rest of us will sit there, slightly bemused; an hour-long concept album about a boy with a clockwork heart is one thing, but an uncohesive trawl through their past is another one entirely. It's perfectly good, but a bit tiresome if you're not especially into their thing. The only reason this is here is a track hidden away on disc two, Neige (Mellotron Version), a slightly Morricone-esque number with a 'Mellotron' flute line running through it, recorded in 2004.
I wasn't that blown away by the other Dionysos album I've heard, 2005's Monsters in Love, but La Mécanique du Cœur is unusual enough to refresh the jaded musical palette. I'd give Eats Music!!! a miss, though, unless you're a major fan...
|7" (2012) **½
I'm a King Bee
Dirty Beaches is essentially Canadian Alex Zhang Hungtai's solo project, of the 'multiple annual releases' variety. 2012's Tarlabaşi 7" could be described as 'experimental indie', I suppose; a sparse, bass sax-driven dirge, probably aimed at the hipster market, I suspect, while the flip is a remarkably authentic '50s-sounding recording of Slim Harpo's I'm A King Bee, which seems slightly pointless, but there you go.
Hungtai supposedly plays both Mellotron and operates a Chamberlin Rhythmate drum machine on the 'A', but I can't hear the former, in an extremely sparse mix, while the latter is more likely than not sampled. Cue: aggrieved e-mail saying it's genuine... One for avant- fans who don't actually want anything too avant-, then.
A Night for Baku (2003, 59.56) ****Dream Portal
Heads of Ni-Oh
The Falafel King
The Red Thread
Djam Karet's 2003 album, A Night for Baku, doesn't actually credit 'Tron, and I've had it confirmed by the band that it's samples. It seems to be slightly more reflective than most of their work, particularly opener Dream Portal, which reminds one more of Pink Floyd than anything. As for the sampled 'Tron, it isn't overused, as usual with the band; strings on opening and closing tracks Dream Portal and The Red Thread, with rather unconvincing choirs on Hungry Ghost and Chimera Moon, particularly on the latter. So; another excellent album; are these guys incapable of playing badly?
See: Djam Karet
Reflections (2009, 40.41) ****
Winter Gone Spring
Mayfly Over Pendle Water (Part One)
Mayfly Over Pendle Water (Part Two)
September (For Karen)
Winter Gone Spring (alternate version)
sometimes my head feels like this
Manir Donaghue is a British guitarist of my acquaintance, one of the uncountable number of excellent musicians unknown to the general public. He'll probably hate me for saying so, but he and everyone else involved with his debut album, Reflections are or have been intimately associated with the UK Genesis tribute scene: Manir has managed ReGenesis and played in the short-lived Strictly Banks, amongst other projects, his friend and mine, Mark Rae played in In the Cage and plays in the non-Genesis related Sanctuary Rig) and flautist Tony Patterson plays with various artists (ReGenesis, Nick Magnus, John Hackett). Unsurprisingly, Donaghue's style (acoustic and electric) is occasionally redolent of Steve Hackett, without copying him slavishly like, hmmm, many others I could name. The material is pastoral and very English; think: acoustic Hackett with more variety and you won't be a million miles off, although the album holds a surprise or two in store, not least the 'drumless powerful bit' in September (For Karen) and the synths in sometimes my head feels like this, and yes, it's meant to be in all lower case.
Rae plays Mellotron samples, with strings on Frozen, Mayfly Over Pendle Water (Part Two) and Flame, with flutes on Angelus, distinct from Patterson's real one; although he used my M400 on Sanctuary Rig's Khnosti, I'd imagine the recording schedule here prevented a repeat performance, sadly. The samples are good, but... Overall, then, a fine album that should appeal to both guitarists and those looking for the kind of gentle, pastoral album suitable for the end of a busy day, if that isn't too clichéd. Recommended, and available from Manir's website.
Kingdom of Rust (2009, 50.01) *½
Kingdom of Rust
The Greatest Denier
Birds Flew Backwards
House of Mirrors
Doves are one of those inexplicably popular bands, i.e. I'm so out of touch with the taste of 'ordinary people' that I have absolutely no idea what they see in this mainstream, part-indie, part sub-post-rock, part guitar pop stuff. Their fourth album (after a four-year gap), 2009's Kingdom of Rust, is pretty much as irritating as their earlier releases, the bulk of it consisting of the variety of mock-transcendental nonsense peddled by the kind of band who are used for incidental music on the telly (note: this is not a dig at the mostly excellent Sigur Rós). Compulsion and House Of Mirrors are about the least bad things here, with the former's vaguely '70s funk feel and the latter's marginally more rocky approach, but that shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation.
In an interview for Sound on Sound mag, producer Dan Austin commented, "It'd be great to have a real Mellotron, but I've had such problems with trying to record real ones in the past, I've actually ended up using the plug-in, 'cause half the notes on the real one don't work and they're noisy". Oh dear. Noisy, is it? Might spoil your super-clean stadium production, might it? Find one that works, for fuck's sake. Ironically, the only place you can definitely hear their M-Tron is on the two tracks produced by the legendary John Leckie, with an obvious flute part on Winter Hill and more of the same on 10:03. Anyway, this sucks monstrously. Avoid.
Turning Season Within (2008, 52.30) ***Seasons Apart
When I Wake
The Failure Epiphany
The Empty Stare
Draconian are a fairly typical Scandinavian metal/goth crossover band, featuring wafty female and grunting male vocals in equal measures, at least on their fourth album, 2008's Turning Season Within. It's a perfectly acceptable example of its genre, even if the male vocals are a bit silly (how could they not be?), although no one track stands out particularly from the pack.
Keyboard programmer Andreas Karlsson adds 'Mellotron' strings and occasional flutes to several tracks, all to very good effect; just a shame it's not real, eh? This kind of epic metal responds well to Mellotron sounds, particularly the strings, but so few of this type of band actually use the real thing. So; good at what it does, all assuming the usual.
William D. Drake (2001, 38.51) ****
Good to Be Meek
Sky in Yer Lap
Love in an Overcoat
The Great Adventurer
Lists of Clay
The Perfect Crime
Freedom and Love
The Rising of the Lights (2011, 45.08) ****½
In an Ideal World
The Rising of the Lights
Song in the Key of Concrete
|Me Fish Bring
Homesweet Homestead Hideaway
The semi-legendary William D. Drake played keyboards and wrote the (very) odd track for the mighty Cardiacs during their salad days in the '80s (not often I can say that). After leaving at the beginning of the '90s, Bill has kept in close contact with the band, releasing his eponymous 2001 album on their side-project label, All My Eye & Betty Martin Music (also home to Spratleys Japs); to no-one's surprise, its varied contents sound like a cross between Cardiacs themselves, their mid-'80s Mr. & Mrs. Smith & Mr. Drake offshoot and various other projects, including Lake of Puppies. Think: somewhere between pre-war tea-dance music and Henry Cow, or '70s kids' TV programme music played by a distressed ballet lesson pianist. Possibly. Is telling you that the album sounds like it was recorded in a church hall somewhere in suburban England any use? Thought not. Although he used the Planet Mellotron M400 on his 2002 Melancholy World EP, Bill uses samples here, with strings on opener Miaow Miaow, Poor John and Freedom And Love, although they're hardly one of the album's defining features.
I haven't heard Bill's two interim albums, 2007's simultaneous releases Yew's Paw and Briny Hooves, but 2011's The Rising of the Lights is a near-masterpiece, possibly best described as far less... creaky than his earlier work. Although still a deeply eccentric album, the intervening decade seems to've smoothed out Bill's rough edges, but in a good way, resulting in an album every bit as individual as William D. Drake, but also far more listenable. Highlights include jolly opener Super Altar, the proggy, Cardiacs-esque The Mastodon, Laburnum and beautiful closer Homesweet Homestead Hideaway, but you'd be hard-pushed to find a surplus track here. Bill uses Mellotron samples here and there, notably the flutes on In An Ideal World, although the same sound seems to be hanging around in the background elsewhere, too.
Bill Drake is a major unsung talent, although his wonderful music lacks any kind of mainstream appeal - entirely the fault of the mainstream - ensuring that he'll remain in the 'Cardiacs' ghetto for the foreseeable future. While William D. Drake is good, The Rising of the Lights is quite excellent. I can only urge you to buy a copy as soon as possible.
See: William D. Drake | Cardiacs | Nervous
Light Years Later (1997, 62.29/71.34) ***½
|We're Not Alone
It's a Beautiful Day
My Girl Overseas
Winter in Peru
Here's to You
Come Back to Me
Who is That Girl?
|Back in Acapulco
Be With You
I Don't Care About That
Light Years Later
Terry Draper was one third of Klaatu, not that you'd know it from their early albums, during the 'it's The Beatles!' excitement of their debut. Over fifteen years after the band's dissolution, he released his first solo effort, 1997's Light Years Later (yes, I ignored the gross scientific inaccuracy, too), a collection of classy 'intelligent pop' material, although it could easily have been trimmed by anything up to twenty minutes and been tightened up in the process, top tracks including My Girl Overseas, complete with tuned ship's foghorn, the rocky Here's To You, the balladic Fly Away and epic closer Sunset Years.
Draper uses fairly obvious Mellotron samples (well, it was the '90s) on over half of the album's tracks, with string and flute parts everywhere you look, original album closer Sunset Years being its 'Mellotron' highlight. You're never going to mistake the samples here for the real thing, but Light Years Later is a mostly excellent album, well worth hearing for anyone who ever liked Klaatu.
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002, 96.24) ***½
|The Glass Prison
The Great Debate
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
About to Crash
War Inside My Head
|The Test That Stumped Them All
About to Crash (Reprise)
Losing Time / Grand Finale
Systematic Chaos (2007, 78.41) ***In the Presence of Enemies - Part I
The Dark Eternal Night
Prophets of War
The Ministry of Lost Souls
In the Presence of Enemies - Part II
After their excellent Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes From a Memory (****½ - probably Dream Theater's most cohesive piece of work, despite its overindulgences), it's back to business as usual with their sixth full album, the lengthy double Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, which has more in common with the overblown Awake (***) than their better releases; far too many solos and far too few tunes, although it does have its moments. The Great Debate is not among them, however, being (seemingly) about embryo stem cell research, with plenty of spoken-word samples. It's difficult to tell what the band's stance actually is from the lyrics, though they seem to be sitting on the fence a little, which makes me wonder why they bothered. As many of our mothers have been known to say, "If you can't say anything pleasant, don't say anything at all".
I've been assured by Mike that the 'making of' video for the album shows their third keyboardist Jordan Rudess (ex-Dixie Dregs) plonking away at a Kurzweil K2600xs while recording 'Mellotron' parts, those being so-so strings on Misunderstood and a choir part on Disappear; this doesn't actually surprise me in the slightest, but I hadn't previously had any firm evidence to back up my suspicions. The second disc is another concept piece and I have to say, DT seem to work better in the long format; dunno why, but while this isn't as good as Scenes From a Memory, it's an awful lot better than anything on disc one. Plenty of choirs, too, though I don't think they're (pseudo-)Mellotron-generated, meaning the album has even less (fake) 'Tron than their other relevant release, Falling Into Infinity.
Despite several mistaken sightings, the only other Dream Theater fakeotron I can trace is on 2007's Systematic Chaos, which I've been told by friends (yes, I have some that like the band. OK, yes, I have some) is 'more progressive'. Hmmm. And hmmm again. If fitting eight tracks into almost eighty minutes is 'progressive', then yes, maybe it is. Otherwise, it's effectively just the same old same old, better than 2003's Train of Thought, while worse than its successor, 2009's Black Clouds & Silver Linings, which is just about all I can think of to say about it. Actually, I have to make a point here that's just occurred to me: Dream Theater's lyrics. Now, is it just me, or is their almost-autistic literalness on a level that makes, say, Iron Maiden's look like the epitome of expressionism? Oh yeah - fakeotron: a few string and choir parts on Repentance. That's it.
So; two so-so albums, little fake Mellotron. Honestly, stick with Scenes From a Memory, or go and listen to something else entirely.
See: Dream Theater
Unexpected Falls (2007, 48.03) *½
|Delayed By 5
With Nothing Left
Where Has Everyone Gone
An Array of Davids
Standing at 42"
|Edit Makes Right
Take the Stairs
Ireland's Dry County have confused the issue heavily by changing their name to Alias Empire, then reissuing 2007's Unexpected Falls under that moniker. Better than Buffalo Nickel's Long Play 33⅓ (to name but one example), I suppose, which was reissued two years later under both a different artist and title... Anyway, Dry County/Alias Empire's album is an overlong, horrible indie/electronica mash-up with no, I repeat, no worthwhile tracks. No, none.
Phil Porter is credited with Mellotron, but are those flutes on Another Idea really supposed to be Mellotron? Really? Yeah, right... I suppose they are at least samples, as against 'a vague flute sound we'll call a Mellotron anyway'. New name? Believe me, this wasn't worth reissuing.
Guitars, Sitars & Shangri-las (2011, 63.31) ***½
Streetcar (for Tennessee Williams)
City of Love
My Google Girl
Rock the Ashram
|Dreaming of You
The Wizard & the Mystery Girl
The Ghost of Sgt Pepper
Straight Through My Heart
Guitars Sitars & Shangrilas
Peter Dunne's Guitars, Sitars & Shangri-las is a contemporary psych album that harks back to the genre's late '60s origins, while managing to sound at least vaguely modern; quite a trick, to be honest. Notable tracks include an interestingly 'lazy', loping version of Day Tripper, the folky The Wizard And The Mystery Girl (mediaeval touches singled out for recommendation) and The Ghost Of Sgt Pepper (which, unsurprisingly, owes a debt to Come Together), other highlights including a capella opener Lenora, Jackdaws and the dreamlike title track. The album's only real downside is Dunne's eclecticism; '50s rock'n'roll pastiche Rock The Ashram and mock-early '60s ballad Dreaming Of You are two of the album's weakest tracks, but that's what programmable CD players are for, isn't it?
Plenty of samplotron in evidence, with 'Strawberry Fields'-esque flutes on Jackdaws, a beautifully full-on part on The Wizard And The Mystery Girl, more of the same on The Ghost Of Sgt Pepper and a melodic part on the title track. Much of Guitars, Sitars & Shangri-las is excellent, but I can't help thinking that the album would've been improved had Dunne whittled his material down to an excellent forty minutes or so, rather than a merely good hour. Either way, worth hearing for its best tracks.
Let's Go Do What Happens (1998, 54.14) ***½
|My Own Reality
Crazy is a Pitstop
Riding on the Back
Crazy Little Heart of Mine
|Home in My Heart
Whoever Brought Me Here
Give Up Your Day Job
Cumbrian Francis Dunnery split It Bites at the peak of their success, moving on briefly to Robert Plant's band before kicking his solo career off with '94's Fearless. Let's Go Do What Happens was his fourth release, and I've never been wholly sure about its inclusion on this site, due to its multiple credits for 'Doug Petty and his probable Mellotron'. Upon finally hearing said instrument it turns out to be, of course, samples, with the biggest giveaway coming at the end of opener My Own Reality, with an overly smooth, way over eight-second string chord that doesn't sound anywhere near as gritty as a real 'Tron.
As far as the album itself's concerned, it's quite aggressive singer-songwriter fare, by and large, with Dunnery using the stage (so to speak) as a platform for him to air his many grievances about, ooh, just about everything. Mind you, it's difficult to fault the sentiments behind tracks like Revolution or Give Up Your Day Job; I did the latter a few years ago and never looked back, but not everyone can just pack it all in and still get by. So, don't buy this expecting any genuine 'Tron, but it's not a bad album, and the samples are pretty decent.
Chemistry (2002, 45.54) ***
New Sad Song
Secret About Myself
Driven By Desire
She's the One
The Most Beautiful Girl
Not What You Think
Through the Door
Arizona's Dygmies (who appear to be synonymous with Randy Forte & the Reconstruction) released Chemistry in 2002, a minor powerpop delight, top tracks including opener Chemistry I, the balladic New Sad Song and the propulsive, vaguely Knack-esque She's The One. So why only three stars? I have to admit that I found most of the material slightly samey, while, despite the album only being around three-quarters of an hour long, with fourteen tracks, it slightly outstays its welcome.
Someone called Marvin plays fairly obviously sampled Mellotron, with strings and flutes on Behemoth, upfront strings on New Sad Song and Chemistry II and background ones on Through The Door. You can (as I did) listen to the entire album on Soundcloud, but should you do so and like what you hear, I believe it's still available on CD.