Emmerhoff & the Melancholy Babies
Eva & the Heartmaker
Evripidis & His Tragedies
Gert Emmens (Netherlands) see:
Gert Emmens & Ruud Heij (Netherlands) see:
Electric Reverie (2005, 49.56) **½
Sticks & Stones
Into the Black, Towards the Within
Emmerhoff & the Melancholy Babies are a Norwegian indie/psych outfit, whose second (?) album, 2005's Electric Reverie, is one of those infuriating releases that could be really good, but isn't. It certainly has its moments - Into The Black, Towards The Within takes the prize for 'most psych track on the album', complete with Leslied vocals - but too much of it wallows around in the indie shallows, not to mention that it's probably ten minutes too long for its own good.
Jørgen Træen plays 'Mellotron', with squeaky string lines on opener Meltdown and Major/Minor and regular strings on Into The Black, Towards The Within, although I find it highly unlikely, from the sound of it, that they actually sourced a real machine. So; an album with definite moments, but too few of them to make it particularly worth your while.
Slow Down Kid (2003, 35.40) *½
Privacy Attracts a Crowd
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The Patient Patient
Slow Down Kid
Val Emmich (a geezer, in case you were wondering) is a modern indie singer-songwriterly type with a vaguely punky edge, displayed on a couple of tracks on his first full-length album, Slow Down Kid. Confusingly, the album first appeared in 2002 on Childlike records with a different sleeve and tracklisting, being reissued the following year on Red Ink (an Epic subsidiary), the version reviewed here. Now, far be it from me to lay into something with a twenty-pound sledgehammer (what, me?), but this is truly awful, from the unimaginative, sub-sub-Velvets rhythm guitar work to Emmich's largely wispy vocals, doubtless relaying messages of great portent, or possibly merely whining on about his shit life. Actually, mate, you've just made mine slightly worse, too, as I've now spent a thankfully relatively brief thirty-five minutes listening to your dreadful record.
Emmich and Wayne Dorell allegedly play Mellotron, but the faint background strings on Medical Display and vague stringy things heard briefly elsewhere sound little like a genuine M400 (or, indeed, any other model). I'm not even sure this should go into samples, but given that it's credited, I'll grudgingly make an exception. Incidentally, not only has some of Emmich's music been used in TV shows, but he's even acted in some. You have been warned.
Driven By Rock (1996, 46.08) **½
|Why Why Why
A New Found Love
'Been Around Momma
Do You Really Love Me
Across the City
Driven By Rock and Roll
My Life's on Hold
Hung on You
|In & Out of Love
You Can't Stop Love
Night Club Home
It Really Won't Matter to Me
Baltimore's Empire formed from the ashes of Basement Floor, apparently, almost certainly a covers outfit; while their debut, 1996's Driven By Rock, is all-original, the overwhelming feel of the album is 'bar band records own second-rate material'. Musical pointers? Midwest '70s rock, Bon Jovi, '80s Kiss. Sounds like your bag? Good luck. In fairness, many of the songs are as memorable as the material on lesser albums by major names, but this is music to drink by and bellow along to having done so.
Vocalist Tim Miskimon is credited with Mellotron, amongst various other keys, but the flutes and not-very-Mellotronic strings on the balladic Do You Really Love Me and You Can't Stop Love (guess what: another ballad) sound more like the then-recently-released Roland sample set than anything. So; not one for anyone wishing to hear a real Mellotron, or, for that matter, anything more ambitious than bar-band material. And what, exactly, is with the 'jokey introduction to jokey country song' that ends the album? Amateur hour, guys.
Weiland (2002, 50.45) ***½
|Kein Hirtenfeuer Glimmt Mehr
Die Schwäne im Schilf
Das Blau-Kristallne Kämmerlein
Empyrium were the duo of Markus "Ulf T. Schwadorf" Stock and Andreas Bach, one of those European death metal offshoot bands of the kind that discover their inner dark, Germanic symphonic folk side (see: their offshoot Noekk). 2002's Weiland (presumably not a tribute to the 'legendary' Scott?) was their last album and second non-metal release, which, despite its on-off overly-gloomy approach, is actually a very listenable record, highlights including opener Kein Hirtenfeuer Glimmt Mehr, classical guitar duet Nebel, the lengthy Waldpoesie and Fossegrim, although the gothic male vocals (not to mention the very occasional metal grunting) on a few tracks doesn't work so well.
Sample use is obvious from the off, the album opening with (realistic) 'Mellotron' flutes on Kein Hirtenfeuer Glimmt Mehr and a string part that drops well below its operating limits, with more strings on Heimwärts, although the rest of the album's string parts appear to be either synth or real. Overall, then, an album that probably takes itself a little too seriously for its own good, but if you don't mind a little pompousness and a dark prog/folk crossover sounds like it might appeal, you could do a lot worse.
Juggling 9 or Dropping 10 (2000, 64.24) **½
|Paint the Picture
What to Say
Bite My Tongue
Black Eyes & Broken Glass
|Shell of a Man
Tug Of War (2003, 65.42/72.10) **½
Tug of War
Holding the Wind
Queen of the Informed
Living in a Movie
Long Way Down
See No Evil
[Some versions add:
Below Zero (live)]
Enchant's debut album, 1995's A Blueprint of the World (***½) is actually rather good, being progressive metal without sounding too much like Dream Theater, although displaying a noticeable Rush influence. Sadly, it seems that their own sound has slowly been subsumed over the years into 'prog-metal by numbers', at least going by 2000's Juggling 9 or Dropping 10, which displays few signs of a band attempting to progress in any manner whatsoever. No, it's not all bad, but it's extremely derivative (the first notes of opener Paint The Picture are copped almost directly from Rush's Xanadu, of all things), overlong and, I'm afraid to say, rather dull, with the tracks merging into one long widdle-fest, with guitarist Doug Ott showing off a few too many times. 40 minutes of this might be just about acceptable; over an hour approaches torture. Oddly, the rather surprising Mellotron isn't played by keys man Mike Geimer, but by Ott and drummer Paul Craddick, with background strings on Bite My Tongue and something credited but entirely inaudible on Broken Wave. 'Strings' are credited on three tracks, too, but sound like real ones.
Two albums and three years later, Tug of War is, basically, more of the same, only fewer tracks spread over slightly more time, which is not a good thing. Far too many of Enchant's songs really don't have enough ideas to sustain their lengths, to be honest, although this album's best bits are generally better than Juggling 9's. I've also just realised: vocalist Ted Leonard's voice really grates after prolonged exposure - he sounds like he'd be just as happy in an AOR band; also not a good thing. New keyboard player Bill Jenkins doesn't get to play the 'Tron any more than his predecessor, with Doug Ott having another go on the naffly-titled Progtology on what are quite clearly rather poor 'Tron choir samples. 'Mellotron' indeed... As a result, I think it's more than likely that it's samples on Juggling 9, too, so that's where these are going.
So; two rather lacklustre albums, I'm afraid, although if you're into that prog metal thing, you may find them very listenable - certainly more so than Vanden Plas and their ilk. Dodgy 'Tron samples, too. Avoid.
See: Spock's Beard
|7" (1999) **
Burning the Bread
I believe Enon were led by John Schmersal, a.k.a. John Stuart Mill, releasing six albums and a slew of singles in their decade of existence. Motor Cross is their second single, a mournful piece of low-fi drone, as is its flip, Burning The Bread. Indie, Jim, but not as we know it...
Speaking of Jim, alt. hero Jim O'Rourke is credited with 'Melotron' on the flip, but the distant strings aren't even good samples, frankly. This stuff has its adherents; sadly, I am not among them.
Monumension (2001, 59.40) ***½
|Convoys to Nothingness
Vision: Sphere of the Elements -
A Monument Part II
The Cromlech Gate
Sleep: Floating Diversity - A Monument Part III
Outro: Self Zero
Below the Lights (2003, 46.21) ***½As Fire Swept Clean the Earth
The Dead Stare
Queen of Night
A Darker Place
Isa (2004, 51.07) ***
|Intro: "Green Reflection"
Bounded By Allegiance
Return to Yggdrasill
Secrets of the Flesh
Outro: "Communion" (excerpt)
Ruun (2006, 46.01) ***Entroper
Path to Vanir
Fusion of Sense and Earth
Tides of Chaos
Heir to the Cosmic Seed
The Sleeping Gods (2011, 28.30) ***½Heimvegen
The Sleeping Gods
Enslaved seem to be yet another Scandinavian metal band who have discovered that it's more interesting to be interesting, keeping a foot in both the extreme and progressive metal camps, as have Opeth and Spiritual Beggars, amongst others. The end result of this cross-fertilisation is a slightly uneasy compromise between silly 'cookie monster' vocals (no, you don't sound 'scary') and other black metal clichés and complex, progressive riffery with refreshingly unusual song structures, although they're probably too heavy to appeal to your 'trad' prog fan.
I believe Monumension is their sixth album, the band having been active through most of the '90s and the first to take this more progressive approach. There are no straightforward thrashers here, although they do slip into cliché territory every now and again. Most interesting track? Has to be closer Sigmundskvadet, which can only be described as, er, a Nordic tone poem with chanted vocals, 'tribal' drumming and octave guitar? Completely unique, anyway. Guest Dennis Reksten is credited with 'MiniMoog, vocoder, synths/effects', while the 'Mellotron' is apparently sampled, with flutes on Convoys To Nothingness and strings on The Voices, Hollow Inside and Smirr, although none of it sounds that convincing, to be honest.
2003's Below the Lights carries on in a similar vein, unfortunately still featuring those rather silly vocals, although every bit as good musically. Opener As Fire Swept Clean The Earth actually opens with a 'Mellotron' string part; heard solo like this, they're quite clearly samples, as can also be heard on Ridicule Swarm, sorting out the 'real/sample' debate for once and for all. The following year's Isa (would YOU name an album after a form of UK tax-free saving?), sadly, sounds like the band's 'fresh' approach is growing stale, with a plethora of pointless riffs blasting away like they were going out of fashion, but ultimately going nowhere fast. The only obvious 'Tron samples are the strings on Lunar Force, with most of the other string parts sounding like generic samples, all of which adds up to: if you're going to buy an Enslaved album, don't make it this one.
Unfortunately, 2006's Ruun strikes me as more like its immediate predecessor than the band's earlier work, although some of the intro riffs work well before the songs themselves kick in. Best track? Probably mid-paced, mostly instrumental closer Heir To The Cosmic Seed, featuring reasonably sensible vocals. The album actually opens with a samplotron string part, with more of the same on a couple of other tracks, notably Fusion Of Sense And Earth, plus vague, not-very-Mellotronic choirs in places. Some years on, 2011's The Sleeping Gods EP is a proper return to form, diverging from the expected on several tracks, including the ambient electronica of Synthesis, the (relatively) complex instrumental Nordlys and the dark, folkish title track. Not much samplotron, although strings turn up on the first two tracks.
So; Monumension and The Sleeping Gods are about the best of the above bunch, likely to appeal to the more adventurous prog and/or metal fan, who can deal with Enslaved's 'black' past. The Mellotron samples, however, are far from the most important thing about these albums, so I really wouldn't bother on their account.
Dwell (2007, 43.03) *
|Wires & Wool
Sylvia (the Beekeeper)
Keys to Good Living
Before the Gold Rush
Iowans The Envy Corps' second album, 2007's Dwell, would be an odious enough effort in its own right, but listening to it straight after Djam Karet's latest blinder really shows it up for the shower of shite it is. Vocalist/guitarist Luke Pettipoole's dulcet tones are not only frequently way off key (yeah, yeah, he's 'playing with the melody', or somesuch), but his infuriating falsetto and Bono-isms are enough to make one beat one's head against the wall. This kind of horrid, sub-sub-U2-esque indie really should be outlawed; I mean, who the fuck listens to this kind of crap? Party Dress is an especially bad example, but when the best I can say about an album is 'about twenty seconds of 99, 100 is almost worth hearing', you know you're in trouble.
Pettipoole supposedly plays Mellotron, but the background strings on Keys To Good Living and 99, 100 and flutes on Rooftop (particularly the latter) sound little like the real thing. This is a fully hateful album, of the kind that makes the discerning listener fear for not only the future of music, but for his or her sanity.
Second Sephira Cella (2004, 69.26) ***
|Entrance to the Ancient Flame
To Enter the Tower of Shadows
Rule of Utukagaba
Miss Over Masshu
Sixth Throne of Asaru
Fashioning the Winds of 7
|He Who Makes the Name of Masshu Abundant
Where the Watchers Mourn
Nindinugga Nimshimshargal Enlillara
Reflection of the Last Rays of the Moon
Seemingly named for a Bathory 'song', Equimanthorn roots lie in the world of extreme metal, although what they do has progressed so far down that path that it's evolved out of the metal genre entirely. Their third album, Second Sephira Cella, is an intensely gothic work, without actually being 'goth', heavily influenced by Dead Can Dance, not least in the use of what sounds like a hammer dulcimer. More electronic than metal, singing isn't an issue here, all vocals being either chanted or intoned, while the instrumentation tends to be either modern synths or devices with their roots in the Middle East. Are you getting the picture? It's a shame the band seem determined to go for the 'Norwegian church burner' look, as it's bound to put potential non-metallic audience members off; at least they've dropped the corpsepaint... incidentally, every track title features a (sometimes lengthy) subtitle in parentheses, dropped here for the sake of brevity and common sense.
"Emperor Proscriptor Magikus" allegedly plays Mellotron and VCS3 (misspelt 'VC3' on the sleeve), amongst other devices, but what little 'Mellotron' appears on the album sounds somewhat sampled to my ears, with naught but a few string chords near the end of Refulgent Splendour (7 Conquerors And Their Multitude Part II). So; definitely interesting, certainly compared to the landfill's-worth of mainstream crud I seem to get through every few days, although also definitely not for everyone. Next to no 'Mellotron', either way.
See: Absu | Proscriptor
Eutheria (2008, 67.49) ***Hyracotherium
Equus are a Swiss post-rock/prog/metal crossover outfit, if that makes any sense, whose debut, 2008's Eutheria (a genus of mammal, apparently) is essentially one long track, split into three to make it look less scary to the uninitiated, I suspect. It has moments of great beauty, particularly in the proggier parts (I preferred closer Epona to the rest of the album), but the downside is its sheer length; concentrating on something this ethereal for this long is actually fatiguing. I would imagine it's meant more as mood music, in a manner of speaking; allow it to drift over you and it's an excellent listen.
David Mamie is credited with Mellotron, but I don't think I'd be wrong in labelling it sampled; most of its use is on thirty minute opener Hyracotherium, with a major string part six minutes in, a flute melody around ten minutes and some muted choir towards the end, with more strings near the beginning of Epona. So; one for prog fans looking for something more ambient or metalheads looking for something a lot more ambient. Borderline boring in places, but seems to do what it sets out to do.
Für die Nicht Wissen Wie (2005, 39.54) **½
|Für die Nicht Wissen Wie
Au Pair Girl
Lied Über Gar Nichts
Farbe, der Man Schwer Einen Namen Geben Konnte
Ich Wollte, die Welt Ginge Immer Bergab
Nah Bei Dir
|Am Arsch, Welt, Kannst du Mich Kaputtschlagen
Was Ich an Deinem Nachthemd Schätze
Für die Nicht Wissen Wie (2)
Nichts Zu Verlieren
I can't tell you an awful lot about Erdmöbel, as they're one of those continental Europe outfits who only really appeal to their home audience, so English-language info is hard to come by. I can tell you that they've been around since at least the mid-'90s, though and that 2005's Für die Nicht Wissen Wie seems to be a lounge tribute of some kind, including Bacharach & David's Close To You and Nothing To Lose by Henry Mancini, in German, which is a little weird. I can't say this especially appeals, to be honest; much of the band's own material is irredeemably cheesy, although I'd imagine that's the point, Farbe, Der Man Schwer Einen Namen Geben Konnte being a particularly bad example. Want to hear autotuned German? Thought not.
Now, what exactly is credited here? Some sources have (Wolfgang) Proppe and Ekki "Ekimas" Maas playing Mellotron and some Mellophone. Huh? What we actually get is what sounds like sampled Mellotron strings on Was Ich An Deinem Nachthemd Schätze and flutes on Für Die Nicht Wissen Wie (2) and Nichts Zu Verlieren, all clustered together at the end of the album, for what it's worth. I can't honestly recommend this to any but Bacharach fans who have a strange yen to hear their deity's works sung in another language. Next...
Au-Delà des Ombres (2002, 46.10) ****La Course aux Papillons
La Rose de Stalingrad
Au-Delà des Ombres
Ère G are the brainchild of Robin Gaudreault, who plays just about everything, drums excepted, on his debut album, Au-Delà des Ombres. By and large, he's influenced by '70s progressive outfits from his region (Harmonium, Morse Code et al.), although bits of neo-prog leak through occasionally and disconcertingly. Overall, though, the album's excellent, with inventive song structures and unexpected melodic interjections; what more could you ask for?
I was actually fooled by the 'Tron samples (no!), until I read that he uses the M-Tron plug-in; very good at what it does, and holds up well without being buried in the mix, but there are plenty of working 'Trons in Québec... Anyway, recommended, but can we have some real 'Tron next time round, M.Gaudreault?
See: Mélia | Sense
Pictures of the Big Vacation (1999, 45.09) **
Round and Round
Sooner or Later
7 Bottles of Bristol Cream
When She Walks By
New Yorker Mike Errico's second album, 1999's Pictures of the Big Vacation, informs the listener from the off that he'd end up writing music for TV, even before a quick Wikipedia check confirms it. Errico makes the kind of insipid, mainstream-friendly singer-songwriter guff that clogs up the ether, pushing more worthy artists to the margins with its lacklustre sentiments. Worst track? Hard to say, although the Christian message of God is fairly puke-inducing, while the occasional rockier effort (prime example: 7 Bottles Of Bristol Cream) does little to improve matters. Is there a best track? Possibly When She Walks By, Errico's rather premature rumination on ageing, although that isn't saying much.
Rob Arthur (Danielia Cotton, Giant Sand) is credited with Mellotron, but are we supposed to believe that those squashy sampled strings on Sooner Or Later are genuine? And what does this say about Arthur's other half-dozen or so Mellotron credits? The strings on 1000 Miles are real, incidentally. This album seems a lot longer than its vinyl length, so with no actual Mellotron, that's a 'no'.
Fin de Siecle (1999, 52.55) ***½Charles' Unhealthy Pictures
Absolute Dance Party III
Fin de Siecle
Tales of Ardour & Deceit (2003, 59.38) ****
|The Song of Marsh Stig
The Lady of Castela
Inês de Castro
The Ghost of Yang pt.I
War and Escape
The Ghost of Yang pt.II
Etcetera (not to be confused with '70s Québecois Et Cetera), released two demo albums in 1998, following up with their first 'proper' release the year after, Fin de Siecle (properly fin de siècle: 'end of the century'). It's an eclectic effort, veering between choppy opener (and amusingly-titled) Charles' Unhealthy Pictures, the (fake?) Clavinet-driven Gongtric, which starts off as a dead ringer for Gentle Giant before shifting into (guess what?) a Gonglike jamming section, the dancey, synth-and-drum-machine Absolute Dance Party III and the album's best track, the Yes-ish Fin De Siecle itself. Guitarist/keyboard player Frank Carvalho (the band are only a trio) adds a vaguely Mellotronic string part to Infinite Chords, although the only major samplotron part is the skronky strings on the title track, so not exactly a major player on that front.
Their second album, Tales of Ardour & Deceit, is a damn' good slice of post-millennial prog, mostly influenced by the '70s 'greats'; Songs has a distinct Gentle Giant feel to it and the overall vibe is of a classy first-wave outfit with the odd modern bit thrown in to keep you on your toes. Much of the material's instrumental, although the vocal stuff's fine, too, while the instrumental work is excellent throughout. The band boast that they're 'the only active progressive rock unit in Denmark, as far as they know', to which I can say; almost the only full-on symphonic outfit I've ever heard from that country, although I don't know what Zaragon sound like. Carvalho gets a fair bit of Mellotron samples (although he owns an M400) down here, mostly strings, with particularly fine work on Lament and The Exit, but there's a brief flute part in Kentish Suite and some coruscating choirs on The Ghost Of Yang Pt.I, too.
Frank promised that he'd going to use his real M400 next time round, but I believe the band split the year after the release of Tales..., putting the kibosh on that one. Anyway, Tales... is the better of these albums, although both have their moments.
Long Day's Flight 'Till Tomorrow (1999, 74.15) ***
Down the Road of Golden Dust
|Rock & Roll Farmacia
As I've already stated in my regular reviews, Norway's Kåre & the Cavemen formed around 1990, becoming the Euroboys in the late '90s for the international audience (good call: I can't imagine what most non-Scandinavians would make of the 'å'). 1999's Long Day's Flight 'Till Tomorrow is their third album and the last to be released under their original name for the Norwegian market, an overlong, '60s-inspired effort that succeeds despite its outrageous length. More notable tracks include eight-minute opener Deliverance, with its dreamy late '60s feel, Invisible Horse, featuring a full-on Doors-style organ solo, the borderline proggy (and superbly titled) Electric Dandruff and the ripping Ambulance Cruiser. I forgot to mention: the album's mostly instrumental, a rare vocal on 99° Degree (guys, that '°' symbol replaces the word 'degree') proving the point that they should leave the singing to someone else.
Kåre Joáo Pedersen and Knut Schreiner are pleasantly honestly credited with Mellotron samples, although the only possible use I can spot is some faint strings on closer Gibraltar. And it took two of you to do this? Were it relevant, this would barely rate a half T, although the album itself is actually surprisingly good, certainly better than 2004's (supposed) Mellotron-containing Soft Focus.
War of Kings (2015, 54.16) ***½
|War of Kings
Hole in My Pocket
The Second Day
Nothin' to Ya
Days of Rock'n'Roll
Children of the Mind
Angels (With Broken Hearts)
Light it Up
Europe are, of course, remembered chiefly for the terrible The Final Countdown, their massive '86 hit, cheesy parping synth line and all. Casual listeners assumed it was from their debut, although those of us with our ears to the ground not only owned their first two albums, but hated the third with a passion, recognising a dog when we heard one. I knew they'd reformed after the obligatory '90s 'grunge hiatus', but I didn't know that original guitarist John Norum had rejoined; admittedly, he appeared on that terrible third record (although, to his credit, he wrote none of it and left during its tour), but that's also him on the deathless Stormwind and Wings Of Tomorrow from Wings of Tomorrow itself, mostly redeeming him.
2015's War of Kings is their fifth album since reforming (tenth overall) and is, would'ja believe, really rather good? Unlike some of their '80s contemporaries, they've pretty much put that hideous decade behind them, at least on record, making the kind of melodic-yet-not-overly-commercial hard rock that they'd probably have carried on doing, had the '80s not turned out the horrible way they did and they hadn't been sidetracked into bouffanted fame and fortune. Top tracks? Probably the title track, California 405 and the mini-epic Rainbow Bridge, but, to my astonishment, not one track here made me curl my lip in distaste. Well done, gentlemen. Going by a video I saw and now, infuriatingly, can't find (although I've unearthed a pic, right), long-term keys man Mic Michaeli plays one of the new Swedish hardware digital Mellotrons, the M4000D Mini, on the album. It crops up on most tracks, more overt use including the string and flute lines on Nothin' To Ya and the strings on Angels (With Broken Hearts), although his top use is the string line running through Rainbow Bridge.
A quick amusing (well, to me) anecdote to finish: having loved their first two albums, I foolishly expected them to play chunks of them on their first UK tour, in early '87, so bought a ticket for their Hammersmith gig. Urk. They opened with the predictable Final Countdown, then proceeded to run through the entirety of their new album over the course of a stupidly short set, only briefly diverging to play first album highlight Seven Doors Hotel, before winding up within the hour (!), doing their level best to avoid Wings of Tomorrow, although Setlist.fm assures me that they actually tackled three of its more commercial tracks in one form or another. Then they came back for an encore and... played The Final fucking Countdown again. Just to add insult to injury, this is the only gig I've ever attended filled with screaming girls; amusingly, one of them turned out to be my (far) future partner, in her mid-teens at the time. To add even further insult to injury, bootleg evidence revealed that they played some of the better second album material on the Swedish leg of the tour, before dropping it for everywhere else. Pah.
Sequel (2011, 50.11) **½
|The Great Escape
Cruel All By Myself
Words often used to describe Denmark's Euzen tend to include 'electronica', 'alt.' and 'trip hop', which pretty much saves me from having to come up with a description myself. 2011's Sequel is, unsurprisingly, the female-fronted outfit's second album, the kind of record that is roughly comparable to a backlit sheet of cardboard perforated with tiny pinholes: light comes shining through, but only in very small places. Which are? Er... Proggy opener The Great Escape, which fooled me into thinking this was going to be a good listen, Surreal Medley, which has its moments and Maria Franz' mock-medieval multi-overdubbed a capella vocal harmonies that close the record.
Mellotron? Someone adds occasional string chords to Cruel All By Myself, although they're far too smooth to be genuine, so straight into samples this goes. Is it worth hearing? Depends on your tolerance for the above descriptors, I suppose. Most of it bored me shitless, although a compilation of all its good bits would make a nice single.
Let's Keep This Up Forever (2009, 40.08) **½
|Let's Hit the Road Jack
A Potion of Lust
Life Still Goes on
Made of Honour
Possible Escape/Possible Mistake
Eva & the Heartmaker are the Norwegian retro-pop duo of Eva Weel Skram and her husband, Thomas Stenersen, whose second album, 2009's Let's Keep This Up Forever, hovers on the edge of classic pop, but never quite manages to fully commit. Better tracks include Life Still Goes On and closer Possible Escape/Possible Mistake, but too many tracks are surrounded by the stale whiff of filler: Scando-pop-by-numbers.
BÝrge Fjordheim is credited with Mellotron, but the overly-smooth strings (especially the initial ascending line) on Life Still Goes On are seriously bogus, at least to my ears. Although it's nowhere near as bad as many, I was hardly going to recommend this, anyway...
Sens (2005, 47.03) **
|Zero's and Three's
Dans ce Moment
Half Ready to Half Believe
The Evan Anthem are an American Christian indie outfit, of the 'transcendental' persuasion, whose second album, 2005's Sens, is every bit as buttock-clenchingly bad as that suggests. If it has a highlight, it's that the lyrics are relatively indistinct and not too overtly God-bothering. That isn't really saying much in its favour, is it? OK, Dans Ce Moment's its least-bad track, which isn't saying much, either.
The credited Mellotron choir samples on Some Truckstop from Rob Roy Fingerhead were never likely to convince; nor do they especially enhance this clunker of a record, I'm afraid.
A Healthy Dose of Pain (2011, 52.18) **½
The Bluest Summer
Before it's Over
My Little Sister
I Always Cry at Weddings
Just a Kleenex
Waves to Ride
|LS Make the World Go Round
A Healthy Dose of Pain
You'll Have to Learn
Uncle Drives Again
Evripidis Sabatis seems to have led a rather peripatetic life, moving from Athens to London, then on to Barcelona, where he assembled his ever-changing Tragedies. His/their second album, 2011's A Healthy Dose of Pain, almost defies categorisation, incorporating elements of pre-psych '60s pop, fey '90s indie and pre-rock'n'roll popular musics, an obvious touchstone being Scotland's Belle & Sebastian (they even borrow one of their lyrics for the title track). Does anything here stand out at all? I Always Cry At Weddings amusingly incorporates the Wedding March, in true Rocky Horror style, but the bulk of the album's contents are more likely to appeal to fey indie types than anyone else.
Sabatis gets a general 'Mellotron' credit, while Juanjo Alba supposedly plays it on Waves To Ride, to all of which I can only say, "You effin' kiddin', mate?" I struggle to even work out what samples might've been used, not to mention where, but the chances of a genuine Mellotron being used at the sessions is infinitessimal, frankly. So; Belle & Sebastian and Scott Walker fans might wish to give this a go, but the rest of you should probably take the proverbial raincheck.
Standby (2009, 32.41) ****
|Fujeira in My Dreams
|Dance Trance Pants
All Over Again
My Name is Paul
Sketch (2010, 30.27) ***½
You're Elastic Over Me
|Acting on an Island
Tired of Dancing
House Music (2012, 28.39) ****
Not a Mouse
Spin Win it
Choice of Friend
Join the Fray
Tong as in Pete
Crack (2013, 29.53) ***½
|Your Own Swing
Bibi Kan Werk it
I'm a Fighter, Not a Lover
Full Time Lover
Say What You Want
|The Faces Demo Heads
Wasted Lines (2014, 35.15) ***
All the Time
You Could Be Someone
It's Too Late
|Only the Clues
Unfair to Compare
Pure Gold (2015, 33.12) ***½
|It's a Game
Asking Too Much
On the Sidelines
Keep Under Cover
|Close My Case and Move on
Tell Me Your Plans
Ex Norwegian are nothing of the sort, apparently getting their name from a Monty Python sketch (uselessly, I can't recall which one). 2009's Standby is their first album, a pleasing mélange of powerpop and psychedelic styles, just for once not immediately traceable to the mid-to-late '60s, making them that rarest of things in the loosely 'retro' field: a band with their own voice. Also a band with great, memorable songs, something that's in short supply in their chosen genre(s); too many bands settle for getting the sound right, then thinking about the material later, if at all. Top tracks? Well, they're all good, but the riff on Fresh Pit is to die for, while Add Vice features several hooks on various instruments, not least voice. Roger Houdaille plays self-confessed samplotron, although the strings on Don't Bother have an especially 'real' feel, going by the hanging chord at the end of the track. We also get wispy choirs on Pow3rfull, strings on Sudeki Lover and another exceptionally pseudo-'real' part on Add Vice, alongside a snarling analogue synth, with more strings elsewhere. A real treat for those who value quality songwriting over image or flash, then, although I'm not so sure about the Beatles steal on Gross You...
2010's Sketch is more of the same, essentially, although somehow it's slightly less appealing than before. Over-exposure? Dunno, but it hasn't grabbed me in quite the same way. And why the horrible Autotune on rather cheesy closer Tired Of Dancing? Plenty of samplotron from Houdaille again, with background strings on opener Jet Lag and Mind Down, more upfront ones on Sky Diving and Seconds, brass on Turn Left and flute and cello (?) on Acting On An Island. 2012's amusingly-titled House Music picks things up again, its overall sense of joie de vivre making an oh-so welcome change from the usual raft of indie miserablists. Highlights? Opener Ginger, Baby's subtle key changes lift an already excellent song, while Choice Of Friend matches it on the quality front. Plenty of samplotron, with choirs and strings on Ginger, Baby, high strings on Not A Mouse, background strings on Initiative Rock, upfront strings on Choice Of Friend and Rearrange It and ludicrously over-stretched strings on Tong As In Pete. The following year's Crack, while a fine album, seems to lack its predecessor's high points, although material such as opener Your Own Swing, Aventura and The Faces Demo Heads cut them close. Little samplotron this time round, with naught but background strings on Aventura and Done, plus strings and brass on The Faces Demo Heads.
Having not heard their interim releases, the modern-indieness of 2014's Wasted Lines comes as a bit of a shock, the larger part of their powerpop/psych past all but gone. Better tracks include the driving, melodic All The Time, First Time and It's Too Late, although too many tracks fall into the 'generic trap', which may, perversely, increase the album's chances of success. Houdaille's samplotron use is largely fairly buried, with background strings on Be There, more of the same (with what sounds like interesting tuning issues, strangely) on Much Rooms, Unstoppable, Only The Clues, Unfair To Compare and Love Is, with occasional strident strings on First Time, although I'm not hearing any other sounds utilised. I'm sorry to mark Ex Norwegian's latest down on both counts, but I'm afraid I'm not hearing the sheer joy of their earlier releases.
2015's self-released semi-covers release Pure Gold is a return to form, thankfully. 'Semi-covers'? To quote the album's press kit, "Pure Gold consists of 11 tracks with the majority being re-interpretations of slightly obscure songs by artists like The Shirts, Melanie, String Driven Thing/Bay City Rollers, Paul McCartney". Although it's fun playing 'spot the cover', I rather wish the band had been slightly more specific, forcing me to track the information down on their website. For what it's worth, they are:
Obscure enough for ya? Highlights include It's A Game, Asking Too Much, Beeside, Tell Me Your Plans and the band's own Pure Gold, making for an odd, yet satisfying compromise. Once again, somewhat sparse on the sample front, with rather obviously sampled strings on the title track and flutes on Tell Me Your Plans.
Frankly, I really have to recommend all of Ex Norwegian's output, even Wasted lines. While there are any number of American powerpop acts doing the rounds, this lot are one of the most consistent, not to mention faithful to the genre's roots.
Burdened Hands (2004, 65.59) ***½
Just a Body
|Time Will Tell
Consumption (2005, 63.58) ***½
|All Sales Final
Valid for a Week
Code of Tripe
i) Ground Zero
iii) Omega Land
vi) Vox Populi
Eyestrings are (or possibly were) essentially a Discipline side-project, featuring two members of that outfit and mainman Matthew Parmenter's nephew Ryan, running the show. Their debut, 2004's Burdened Hands, shifts between slightly Spock's Beard-esque 'modern prog' and a quirkier, more Gentle Giant/Van der Graaf-influenced form of progressive rock, other influences including Styx and more straightforward rock on a couple of tracks. Highlights? Anachronism and Funnel are particularly strong, although I'll probably skip over Itchy Tickler, Slackjaw and Time Will Tell next time I play this. Parmenter is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Dead Supermen give the sample game away immediately, with more of the same on Slackjaw and Empty Box, plus choirs here and there.
Second (last?) time round, the following year's Consumption, manages, paradoxically, to be both more and less adventurous simultaneously. Huh? Two lengthy, multi-part pieces give the band room to stretch out compositionally, but when they do, the end result, while still good, seems to lack their debut's je ne sais quoi, although it's definitely more consistent. Suffice to say, on some levels, it's as good as Burdened Hands, but it didn't quite grab my attention in the same way. And I'm not sure rhyming 'toilet' with 'spoil it' was a good idea, either. Or was it meant humorously? Far more samplotron this time round (and better samples), with string and choir parts dotted across the record, still not actually sounding real.
Given their associations, I'm surprised Eyestrings aren't better-known, but I suppose there's something of a glut of similar bands at the moment, so it's easy for the less pushy (note: not 'less good') to cut through the background noise. Two good 'trad/modern' prog albums, then, without being in any real danger of being labelled 'outstanding', with reasonable levels of samplotron.