Fantastic Plastic Machine
Father John Misty
Forest City Lovers
Free System Projekt
Future Kings of England
Future Sound of London
The Black Cat Neighbourhood (2010, 40.03) ***
Use it for Good
You Don't Care
I Lay My Head
The Black Cat Neighbourhood
|Give Us a Little Love
Hold Your Horses
Back and Forth
New York, You're My Concrete Lover
Maria "Fallulah" Apetri's mixed heritage (Danish and Romanian) informs the music on her debut album, 2010's The Black Cat Neighbourhood, a heavy Balkan influence pervading most of its tracks. To be honest, its combination of mainstream pop/rock and pounding Eastern Europeanisms palls after a while, but kudos to Ms. Apetri for coming up with a genuinely new sound, just when you thought everything had been done.
Fridolin Schjoldan supposedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, with (maybe) background choirs on Hey You and string chords on the title track, although whatever Maria/Fallulah adds to Back And Forth is inaudible. However, I have to say that what little I can hear sounds all rather sampled, although I'm probably wrong. Again. Fallulah has been compared to the likes of the bonkers Natasha "Bat for Lashes" Khan and the more mainstream Florence & the Machine, but to my ears, she has more in the common with the former than the latter, which should be taken as a compliment.
Parlez-Vous Électronique? (2005, 77.28) ***Vanilla Crush
The Lost Track
The Land of Milk and Honey
Thomas Fanger's debut album, 2005's Parlez-Vous Électronique?, has been hailed as 'classic' in some quarters of the EM community, but its relatively upbeat, major-key take on the Berlin School style veers a little too close to new age for my personal tastes. Better tracks include the brief Calm and closer The Land Of Milk And Honey, although our old friend Klaus "Cosmic" Hoffmann-Hoock's composition (on which he plays many of the instruments), Jungle Bar, amongst others, is rather too cheesy for its own good.
Hoffmann-Hoock plays credited Memotron on Jungle Bar, with distant strings that don't sound that different to some of Fanger's own synth patches on other tracks, notably the obvious Mellotron flute, string and choir samples on The Land Of Milk And Honey. Overall, decent enough, but really not one for those who prefer, say, '70s Klaus to, say, '80s Tangs.
See: Cosmic Hoffmann
Beautiful (2001, 56.33/62.59) **
|I am Beautiful
Love is Psychedelic
On a Chair
One Minute of Love
Todos os Desejos
|I'm Still a Simple Man
God Save the Mona Lisa
Beautiful Days (reprise)
[Bonus track on some versions:
Take Me to the Disco (Malibu mix)]
Fantastic Plastic Machine, or Tomoyuki Tanaka, as he's known to his nearest and dearest, is an electronic composer/musician, whose influences include Chicago house, lounge, bossa nova and French pop: just my kind of artist, then. Not. His third full-length release, 2001's Beautiful, is the kind of album you might play at the poolside at your luxury Bel Air mansion, although hearing it in the rather more prosaic setting of my music room probably rather dulls its impact, not that I was ever really going to like it, anyway. Its lengthy, largely repetitive tracks are doubtless perfect for its intended setting, but drag to the point of utter tedium elsewhere. Is there a best track? Well, One Minute Of Love's manic piano work makes it stand out as the joker in the pack, although I'm not sure if it deserves the term 'best'.
Tanaka's Mellotron samples only get two outings here, with flutes and strings on effective opener Beautiful Days and, er, album 'proper' closer Beautiful Days (Reprise). D'you know, unless you're big on ironic lounge/disco revival stuff, you don't need to hear this any more than I did.
Reconstructed Artifacts (2002, 56.09) ****
Flight of the Looking Glass
Steam and Steel Towers
Into the Abyss
I'm sure you've all heard of Larry Fast, if not through his synthesizer project Synergy, then through his extensive session work with Peter Gabriel, Nektar and others. He began working as Synergy in the mid-'70s, using Mellotron on his first album, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra only, although he subsequently played it on various other artists' work. Upon listening to Synergy again, the thing that makes Fast's work stand out from other exponents of synth-based music is his keen ear for a melody, uncommon at the time and virtually unknown in the world of the modern EM revival.
2002's Reconstructed Artifacts is one of those 'let's re-record our best work using bland modern sounds' albums; like so many of his contemporaries, driven to distraction by the vagaries of '70s keyboard technology, Fast is clearly in thrall to softsynths and the like, not to mention modern computer-based sequencing. In a way, I can't say I blame him; so much less work for, well, nearly as good results. I have a theory, though: the hard work of keeping all the old kit running, in tune et al. actually informs the creative process in a positive way. 'You don't get owt for nowt'. Then again, I could be talking crap. Either way, it's best approached as an effective 'best of', top tracks including Warriors from Electronic Realizations... (I'd forgotten how good this is), the Orbit 5/Ancestors segue and several tracks from '87's Metropolitan Suite.
Fast adds, variously, samplotron flute, string and choir parts to Electronic Realizations...' Relay Breakdown and Warriors, plus parts added to several tracks that didn't originally feature the instrument, giving us an idea of how he may've tackled them originally had he been prepared to nurse his M400 along. Then again, if he was using a Sound Sales (US importers) bodge, it's understandable that he gave up on it pretty quickly. Overall, this is a fine compilation of some of Synergy's best material, with extra fakeotron parts on several tracks, working well both as a starting-point to Fast's work and as an adjunct to his career.
See: Synergy | Nektar | Annie Haslam | FM | Intergalactic Touring Band
Land of the Sun (2010, 65.01) ***½Land of the Sun
Cry No More
Love in the Sky
Shot to the Ground
Out to the Fields
Fatal Fusion are a new entrant in the Scandinavian prog stakes, although their 2010 debut, Land of the Sun, is more diverse than you might expect from that description. The opening title track is nine minutes of typical, albeit extremely good prog, but Cry No More isn't a million miles away from Edgar Winter's Frankenstein, while Uriah Heep are clearly a band touchstone. Other top tracks? There's nothing here (despite the album's length) that really should've been left off, but lengthy closer Out To The Fields is particularly recommended.
Erlend Engebretsen's 'Mellotron' work is almost certainly nothing of the sort, however (in fairness, they don't actually credit it as such), the flutes, strings and choir all over Land Of The Sun itself and most other tracks telling their own story. If this album has a fault, it's that much of its material lacks originality, but it's difficult to deny that what the band does, it does very well. Don't come here expecting real Mellotron, but this is a good, if not outstanding debut release.
Fear Fun (2012, 43.40) **
|Funtimes in Babylon
Nancy From Now on
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
I'm Writing a Novel
O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me
Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2
Only Son of the Ladiesman
This is Sally Hatchet
|Well, You Can Do it Without Me
Now I'm Learning to Love the War
Tee Pees 1-12
Everyman Needs a Companion
Father John Misty is better known as ex-Fleet Fox J(oshua) Tillman, his debut under this name being 2012's Fear Fun. Sadly, everything I liked about 2009's Vacilando Territory Blues (under his own name) is absent here, replaced by an attempt to channel pre-rock'n'roll blues and country in two forms: 1) upbeat (rarely good) and 2) downbeat (occasionally good), less bad efforts including the mournful O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me, pseudo-country hoedown Tee Pees 1-12 and closer Everyman Needs A Companion.
Keefus Green is credited with 'Mellotron abuse', but given that they list random, jokey credits like 'lending of personal mobile devices', 'baffling ability to play piano boogie in F' and 'Wurlitzer repurposing', it should come as little surprise to hear that, especially given the track's real strings credit, the only thing it even might be is a background string part, almost certainly sampled. An EP of this album's better tracks would be relatively palatable, but I'm afraid that over forty minutes of this is enough to knock a half star from its already low rating.
See: J. Tillman
Your Love Means Everything (2002, 45.17) **½
|Your Love Means Everything
Where is My Boy?
Waiting for the Green Light
The Colossal Gray Sunshine
Theme for Half Speed
I Only Know Myself
Your Love Means Everything part 2
Faultline are otherwise known as the London-based David Kosten, whose second album, 2002's Your Love Means Everything, falls loosely into the downtempo/electronica area, I suppose. Is it any good? Fucked if I know; it bored me stupid after about three tracks, but that probably has more to do with my boredom threshold than any wider definition of the concept. The album was reissued with a different tracklisting two years later, but I doubt whether I'll like that version any better.
Kosten adds sampled Mellotron strings and flutes to several tracks, but you can carry on living your life perfectly happily without ever hearing them. I'm sure this is good at what it does, thus the not-too-appalling rating, but I really can't recommend it to anyone who doesn't feel any affinity with his chosen genre.
Life is People (2012, 54.05) ***½
|There is a Valley
The Never Ending Happening
The Healing Day
City of Dreams
Be at Peace With Yourself
Thank You Lord
Cosmic Concerto (Life is People)
The Coast No Man Can Tell
Bill Fay is a British singer/songwriter who produced two albums at the beginning of the '70s, then, like many similar, gently slipped off the map, although unlike some, he continued to write and demo material. His caché has increased over the years to the point where a critical mass was reached in the late 2000s, leading to American producer/fan Joshua Henry recording Fay's first new album in over forty years, 2012's Life is People. To my ears, it opens with one of its weakest tracks, the gospelly There Is A Valley (Be At Peace With Yourself is a similar effort), although second song in, Big Painter, is absolutely beautiful, as are most of the album's slower tracks. Other highlights? The Never Ending Happening, Jesus, Etc., Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People) and gorgeous closer The Coast No Man Can Tell. Yes, the occasional religious sentiment doesn't necessarily ruin a record.
Mellotronically speaking, the warning bells begin ringing as soon as you see the word 'mellotrons' in the credits: yup, lower-case and plural. More than one? Really? The studio pics in the CD booklet show a Hammond C3 (not the credited B3, which seems to've become synonymous with 'Hammond' these days) and a Wurlitzer, along with a MIDI mother 'board. Hmmm and hmmm again. Patrick Simon's 'Mellotron' choirs on opener There Is A Valley are the clincher, though. No, that is not a Mellotron. Mikey Rowe (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds etc.) adds strings to This World, The Healing Day and City Of Dreams, but my jaw would drop were it ever to be proven that a real machine set foot (leg?) inside the studio. Real-or-otherwise Mellotron really isn't what this album's about, anyway; this is one for those who never let go of the dream.
26½ (2006, 58.00) ***
|Das Sind Geschichten
Die Wilde 13
(Geh) du Ran du Ran
Paul ist Tot
Die Kleine Geldwäscherei
|Der Himmel Weint
Stell dir Vor
Club der Schönen Mütter
Ein Jahr (es Geht Voran)
Fehlfarben are one of Germany's longest-running punk/new wave outfits, although there seem to've been some gaps in their hegemony. 2006 brought an unusual career retrospective: 26½, eighteen re-recorded favourites, all with (mostly German) special guests, including Herbert Grönemeyer (well, I've heard of him) and Brit Tim "T.V." Smith of seminal UK punks The Adverts. The material's pretty much what you'd expect from the era when most of it was written (the early '80s), tending towards the fast'n'furious, with the occasional synthpop number thrown in for good measure. Best title? (Geh) Du Ran Du Ran. No contest. It seems to be a rewrite of The Undertones' Teenage Kicks, rather than Planet Earth, but there you go.
New-ish member Kurt "Pyrolator" Dahlke (already something of a name in his home country, apparently) is credited with Mellotron, but the rather fake-sounding strings on Chirurgie 2010 make me think that he got no nearer to a real tapes'n'all machine than the guy who sampled it. But I could be wrong... Anyway, one for fans of Deutsch new wave, I think; certainly not one for Mellotron nuts.
|CDS (2006) **
Fussball ist Immer Noch Wichtig
Although Fettes Brot are known for their Germanic take on hop-hop, Fussball Ist Immer Noch Wichtig seems to be the Teutonic equivalent of the British 'football novelty song', the band's tongues firmly in collective cheeks. I hope. It's an idiotic, piano-driven slowie, tailor-made for singing at matches. Has anyone done so? I wonder. Not, of course, in a 'keeping me awake at night' kind of way, however.
Daniel Kramer is credited with Mellotron, but if that's what those vague string and brass sounds are supposed to be... On the remote offchance that you're actually up for hearing this, it's available on an album called Strandgut (2007), a compilation of the band's previous four singles, released over the previous two years.
Figurines (2010, 37.24) **
|Hanging From Above
The Great Unknown
We Got Away
|Lucky to Love
Call Your Name
Unable to Drift
I wasn't especially keen on Figurines' 2005 release, Skeleton, but it beats 2010's Figurines hands-down, sadly. This kind of mid-'60s, pre-psych-influenced indie does absolutely nothing for this listener; while its adherents would obviously disagree, I'd love to be told exactly what makes material like Glee, Poughkeepsie or closer Unable To Drift original, different, or simply any good (OK, I probably wouldn't; consider it a figure(ine) of speech).
Although it's credited on more than half the tracks, Jens Ramon's 'Mellotron' quite clearly isn't, typified by the too-fast-to-be-real cellos on We Got Away and the only-occasionally-semi-authentic strings on Every Week. I'm sorry I can't be more positive about this album, but it actually deteriorated as it went along (or my tolerance levels dropped sharply). Just don't.
Finisterre (Italy) see:
The Ayes Will Have it! (2005, 41.20) **½
X + Variables
A Computer au Palais
No, I'm Not
|It May Not Last
Patrick Zimmer produces a rather poppy kind of electronica under the name Finn (not to be confused with Neil & Tim Finn's project, of course), making programmed non-dance music palatable, at least to an extent. One online reviewer raved about his third album, 2005's The Ayes Will Have it!, taking the opportunity to have a dig at Coldplay and their ilk, but I have to say, I'm not sure how wide the gap is between the two... Wispy vocals, droning electronics, quiet, heavily effected picked guitar... Quelle difference?
Zimmer's credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, with strings and/or flutes on most tracks, but the major string part on closer Hymn sounds just that bit too smooth for its own good, giving the sample game away. I think. Anyway, one for slightly wet people everywhere. I'll pass.
Odyssey (2005, 51.27) **½
|Just Let Go
A Kick in the Teeth
Everything to Gain
We Need a War
All We Are
Fischerspooner are the New York duo of Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, operating in what I believe is known as the 'electroclash' area (he says, in his best 'bemused old person' manner), although their second album, 2005's Odyssey, is quite clearly early '80s-style synthpop, using either analogue synths or good impersonations. The trouble is, songwriting of the Soft Cell/Human League variety just isn't happening here; it's all well and good having the sound, but unless you know what to do with it... Some of the synth textures are great, but I couldn't remember a single tune after the album finished; maybe I'm missing the point.
Anyway, I've had this down as a 'Mellotron album' for a while, but unless I'm heavily mistaken, the 'Tron strings on Everything To Gain are samples, with one or two other bits on the album that could be samples again. Of course, if anyone out there has more accurate information... Anyway, an average pseudo-synthpop album 25 years too late with a sleeve just made for the CD age. I wouldn't bother.
Unspoken Whisper (1998, 53.25) **½Schoolyard Fantasy
Wolves at War
Legend of the Old Man's Tree
Defining the Legacy (2000, 68.10) ***Defining the Legacy
House of Cards
Garden of Dreams
Bridge to the Promised Land
Bridge to the Promised Land (2000, recorded 1994, 39.56) **Corrugated Road
Running on Empty
Bridge to the Promised Land
One for the Crow (2002, 58.11) **½One for the Crow
Tales of Imperfection (2005, 51.48) **For Starters
Captive of Fate
Year After Year
Live in Budapest (2008, 78.50) **
Captive of Fate
Year After Year
Garden of Dreams
Looking for John Maddock (2009, 52.26) **½The Garden Pond
Waste of Time
Don't Forget Us
Looking for John Maddock
Flamborough Head are supposedly one of the Netherlands' better neo-prog outfits (there are some real shockers, I can tell you), possibly due to their forming too late to have anything to do with the truly execrable S.I. (Sym-Info) label. Based in the far north of the country, the band's cultural pointers are apparently more Scandinavian than mainland European, although neo-prog is, by and large, neo-prog, seemingly ignoring local cultural influences in the way of the best progressive rock. One point in the band's favour, however, is Theo Spaay's sleeve art, head and shoulders above most bands in the modern prog area.
I'm afraid I can think of no better description of their debut, 1998's Unspoken Whisper, than 'weak and generic'; there are moments of invention scattered throughout its length, but for the most part, it insists on repeating the same old neo-prog tricks (you know, endless Floydian guitar solos, Genesis-esque lead synth, the over-use of powerchords for emphasis, emotive vocals), Wolves At War being typical, starting well enough, yet falling into neo- clichés before it's over. Most tracks feature Edo Spanninga's samplotron, the strings being the very first thing your hear on the first track, with choirs used tastefully (always nice to hear) elsewhere.
Their second effort, 2000's Defining the Legacy, is essentially the same style, but improved enough to bump it up half a star; yeah, we've still got those neo- clichés, but slightly less obviously and with a better melodic sense throughout. Sadly, most of the chord sequences are as obvious as before, but the overall feel of the album is much improved. Plenty of samplotron, mostly choirs and flutes, with the odd string part thrown in for good measure, the real sample giveaway. Their second album that year, Bridge to the Promised Land, is a belated 'fans only' release for a batch of early (1994) demos and it has to be said, it sounds like it, both in the recording quality and the unashamedly neo-prog material, some of which was re-recorded for their first two albums, as you can see. The Mellotron samples are so vague that I'm not entirely sure they're not merely generic string and choir sounds, circa the early '90s, but they could well be from eMu's Vintage Keys module which appeared in '93. Either way, this really is strictly for fans; I can't imagine who else would want to hear it.
Unfortunately, 2002's One for the Crow takes something of a backwards step into insipid neo- territory, typified by Old Shoes' and Nightlife's slushy, exceedingly sub-IQ MOR chord sequences, all exacerbated by Margriet Boomsma's vocals, more suited to musical theatre than prog, I suspect, although her various woodwinds are one of the album's better features, along with Eddie Mulder's classical guitar. Originality's in short supply, too; Daydream cuts King Crimson's Epitaph a little close, making a change from the usual The Court Of The Crimson King, I suppose - oh, hang on, they rip that one in Limestone Rock. This definitely has its moments, but they're largely overpowered by the Lloyd-Webber stuff. A little samplotron, with strings on Old Shoes and Daydream, although that would seem to be your lot.
2005's Tales of Imperfection is, unfortunately, well-named: another bland, unadventurous neo-prog effort whose only break from tradition is a brief, strange pseudo-reggae part in Mantova. Once again, Margriet Boomsma's vocals infuriate and her woodwinds are a joy; does this cancel her out? Not that much samplotron, mostly strings dotted around here and there. 2008's Live in Budapest reiterates most of Tales of Imperfection on stage, plus a smattering of back-catalogue efforts. Is it any more interesting live? No. No, it isn't. The band can summon up the occasional memorable part, notably the synth melody in Limestone Rock, but they're few and far between. When Margriet states at one point, "This one's completely different", she can only be referring to the song's subject matter (does anyone care?), as musically, it's the same old same old. More samplotron than on most of the band's studio releases, strangely, but it's hardly enough to make this any more appealing.
2009's Looking for John Maddock is slightly better than its immediate forbears, although it's all a matter of degree, really. Far less of that pseudo-MOR slush this time round, while the lengthy, sometime-energetic title track is far better than anything they've written in a decade; why not more like this, guys? Bit of quality control needed, though; Margriet drifts off key a couple of times in Looking For John Maddock. Plenty of samplotron, too, Edo using the same sample set as on Flamborough Head offshoot Trion, though nothing to get that excited about, frankly.
Well, so much for Flamborough Head being 'one of the Netherlands' better neo-prog outfits', eh? OK, they have their moments and Defining the Legacy isn't too bad, but their 'musical theatre' approach to the genre wears the seasoned listener down quickly. Fair amounts of samplotron all round, should you be unbothered by the sounds' sometimes obvious sample origins; actually, if I were you, I'd listen to someone else entirely.
The Flower Kings (Sweden) see:
Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company (2004, 28.16) ***
|Live Oak Road
In the Show
The Sea is a Mellotron Trampoline
I am the Coelacanth
It's So Nice
I Control the European Industrial Forest
L.A. in the Rain
How to Fly an Aeroplane
|Why Not Stop and Have Some Tea
Lavender Lane (2010, 44.12) ***
|Traveling By Trampoline
L.A. in the Rain
Over the Garden Wall
In a Window
I am the Coalacanth
In the Glow
The Tangerine Albatross
Falling in Love
I am the Door
The Flower Machine. What kind of band does that name summon up? Not to mention an album title like Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company? Correct: 220 bpm Belgian gabber. Or maybe not. The 2004 mini-album's a passable evocation of the original psych era, if slightly bland in places, while titles and lyrics come across as pastiche. Why Not Stop And Have Some Tea or British Rail indeed... Best tracks? Probably the ridiculously-titled I Am The Coalacanth and L.A. In The Rain; nothing here's actually bad, but not enough of it's good, either. Peter Quinell adds 'Mellotron' to a few tracks, with flutes on the ten-second The Sea Is A Mellotron Trampoline and How To Fly An Aeroplane (note British spelling; these guys are real Anglophiles), but are the flutes on In The Show actually supposed to sound like a Mellotron? I do hope not...
After 2006's I am the Door EP, the next Flower Machine release of note appears to be 2010's Lavender Lane, three of its tracks seemingly copied straight across from Chalk Dust Dream (although one's a slightly retitled edit) and at least one other also previously available. Does that make this a compilation? I suppose you'd have to define 'compilation', really. Anyway, a 'regular length' album, better new (to my knowledge) tracks including opener Traveling By Trampoline and The Tangerine Albatross, plus the not-new I Am The Door, with several tracks of samplotron, notably the flute solo and strings on Traveling By Trampoline, the flutes all over In A Window, Yesterday Today and the title track and the strings on I Am The Door.
So; are Flower Machine actually any good? The answer seems to be: 'in places'. Their infuriating inconsistency makes neither of these albums that great, hence their rather mediocre ratings, although the best tracks from both would be worth hearing.
"...The Truth is a Fucking Lie..." (1999, 39.38) ***De Futura
...The Truth is a Fucking Lie...
P.A.L.S. Nipple - Clamped
If I'm Going to Become a 'Seminal Artist', I'd Better Suck Up to the Critics a Little Better/The Big Finale
Cataclysm (2006, 53.31) ***Cataclysm
Demonic Velocities/20,000,000 Volts
The Elimination of Incompetence
Fourth Movement of "L'Ascension"
Incarceration By Abstraction (2007, 46.59) ***½Assault on Apathy
Triplex (for Ed Rodriguez & Mick Barr)
The Serialization of Cruelty
The First Time
The Flying Luttenbachers are pretty much synonymous with their leader, Christopher Todd 'Weasel' Walter, and employ a bewildering variety of styles to get their message across, not least free jazz, punk, metal and other, less obvious forms. "...The Truth is a Fucking Lie..." is their eighth album, including cassette releases and is as far into the avant-garde as anything on this site, I reckon. Its most coherent track is probably the eight-minute Medley, utilising death metal tropes alongside more 'trad' metal and noise/avant-garde influences, while Black Perversion is, essentially, noise, while their Magma cover, De Futura, is about as odd and Magma-esque as you'd expect. Now, that man Weasel is credited with Mellotron on the title track and it does indeed sound quite like 'Tron strings coming out of the right speaker, with a more 'standard' strings patch on the left. However... It sounds far too sample-like to my ears, with none of the crankiness you'd expect from a real Mellotron; this is pre-M-Tron days, don't forget and samples were rather less convincing. Of course, should it turn out to be real... I'd be amazed, though.
Some years on and 2006's Cataclysm and the following year's Incarceration By Abstraction are so similar that it's almost redundant to review them separately. More accessible (I use the term extremely loosely) than ...The Truth..., they both serve out large dollops of Crimson-at-their-maddest, with major hints of the kind of harmonic dissonance that Cardiacs tapped into in their early days. Does this sound like your bag? Ten minutes of it is fab: refreshingly direct, angular oddness that engages your synapses, but a hundred minutes straight is a bit much, frankly... Incarceration... seems to channel the noise in a slightly more cohesive direction, explaining the extra half star. There's more obvious samplotron on Cataclysm than Incarceration..., notably the strings on Regimes I and II, but neither album's exactly brimming with it.
So; avant-garde madness and a fake Mellotron. Up to you, really.
Our Hearts Will Beat as One (2005, 49.27/54.30) **
|Who Are U?
Cold Heart II
Hold Still II
Start Over Again II
Come Into My Heart II
Our Hearts Will Beat as One II
|The Longest Road
Open Legs Wide
Adeus, Não Afastes os Teus Olhos dos Meus
[Fnac bonus track:
When U Hit the Floor]
David Fonseca found fame with Silence 4, before going solo in 2003, 2005's Our Hearts Will Beat as One being his second release under his own name. I'm sure you're au fait with the concept of the 'local act': you know, the artist/band in a country that isn't the UK or US that apes one who is? Well, Fonseca is Portugal's one-man answer to Coldplay. Resultantly, we're 2:10 into the first track before Fonseca hits the falsetto button, just like all those successful British and American singers, right? The album's material is unremittingly bland, even the 'rocky' tracks that crop up occasionally between the ballads and mainstream pop.
Paulo Pereira plays 'Mellotron' flutes on Swim II and something (distant choirs?) on Open Legs Wide (which appears to be less sexist than it sounds), but I remain unconvinced, especially in a country little-known for its Mellotron ownership. You're not going to want to hear this anyway, are you?
Palabras del Silencio (2008, 70.37) *½
|Quién le Va a Decir
Llueve por Dentro
Otro Día Será (Desencontrándonos)
No Me Doy por Vencido
Aunque Estés Con Él
Lágrimas del Mar
Todo Vuelve a Empezar
Persiguiendo el Paraíso
|Todo Lo Que Tengo
Aquí Estoy Yo
No Me Doy por Vencido (versión ranchera)
Así Debe Ser
No Me Doy por Vencido (versión urbana)
No Me Doy por Vencido (versión banda)
Aquí Estoy Yo (Luis Fonsi solo)
Llueve por Dentro (versión en Vivo)
Born in Puerto Rico, Luis Fonsi is one of those 'technically American' Latin artists (see: Gloria Estefan) who've lived there most of their lives but were born elsewhere and work mainly in the Latin idiom. As a result, Fonsi's sound, while determinedly mainstream Latin pop, has elements of other American styles creeping in. His seventh album, 2008's Palabras del Silencio, consists mostly of revoltingly slushy ballads mixed with upbeat Spanish-language pop, although a couple of songs start off in a powerpop vein, before ruining the mood within a few bars.
Armando Avila is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but whatever was used on Llueve Por Dentro, No Me Doy Por Vencido and one of the pseudo-powerpop tracks, the Cars-alike Persiguiendo El Paraíso is, at best, samples and at worst, nothing to do with a Mellotron whatsoever. Unless I'm wrong, of course. Anyway, a mostly horrible album that you'll want to avoid with prejudice.
Carriage (2010, 35.41) **½
|Phodilus & Tyto
Tell Me- Cancer
Sea to Land
Keep the Kids Inside
Pocketful of Rocks
Oh the Wolves!
|Light You Up
If I Were a Tree
The Forest City Lovers are a Canadian indie/folk outfit, led by Kat Burns, whose third full band album (following Burns' 2005 solo release For the Birds), 2010's Carriage is, I'm afraid to say, a rather tedious effort, featuring neither strong enough vocal melodies nor interesting enough musical ideas to hold the attention of this reviewer, at least. Better tracks include the vaguely haunted Sea To Land and Believe Me, but it's a little like clutching at straws, to be honest.
James Bunton is credited with Mellotron, but I seriously doubt whether the strings on opener Phodilus & Tyto are nearer than several sample generations to a real machine. Overall, not awful, yet not very interesting, either. Maybe not.
Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes: A Collection: Jeffrey Foucault Sings the Songs of John Prine (2008, 57.11) ***½
|The Late John Garfield Blues
Billy the Bum
He Was in Heaven Before He Died
Hello in There
One Red Rose
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
|Far From Me
Daddy's Little Pumpkin
That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round
Clocks and Spoons
Jeffrey Foucault's fifth album, Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes: A Collection, is subtitled Jeffrey Foucault Sings the Songs of John Prine, in tribute to an unfairly lesser-known living legend. Those with a low tolerance for country (without the western) should probably go somewhere else, but Foucault gives Prine's superb songs highly sympathetic readings throughout, his voice and guitar mostly supported by pedal steel, played in a decidedly un-mawkish manner.
Foucault is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness, while reasonably accurate, are sampled; listen for the well over eight-second held chord at the end. My reasoning? It doesn't need to be that long, so you wouldn't bother with studio trickery to accomplish it, therefore it's a sample that you can hold as long as you like while it fades. Ipso facto. Nevertheless, this is a good, if not jaw-dropping album, that fans of both Foucault and Prine should appreciate.
Say You're a Scream (2001, 37.05) ***
|Untitled Instrumental Theme #1
I Say You're a Scream
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.
The Secret Life
Long Tall Shorty
The Pastel Queen: Compassionate Lotus
Blossom of Immense Destruction
|Don't You Wanna Hear Me
Now!, Baby!, Now!
Dinosaurs in Brooklyn
All Over Town
Four Corners exist at the mid-'60s 'mod party' end of the powerpop spectrum; their (debut?) album, 2001's Say You're a Scream) was issued in the unusual format of (mono?) vinyl and mono and stereo versions on one CD, almost as retro as (and decades later than) the first Dr. Feelgood album, 1974's Down By the Jetty, issued only in mono. Switching between male and (rather weak) female leads, it's a slightly inconsistent record, highlights including opener Untitled Instrumental Theme #1 (you lazy buggers), Miss Moneypenny (you can see where this lot are coming from, can't you?) and The Pastel Queen: Compassionate Lotus Blossom Of Immense Destruction (!), although it all begins to pall towards the end, despite the (half) album's relatively short running time.
Neil Cleary is credited with Mellotron, with flutes on Summer's Time and The Pastel Queen, although a combination of their exceedingly bogus sound and production from noted sample user Bill Doss (Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo, Sunshine Fix) makes this a sample 'dead cert', just for once. So; not a bad effort, but too much filler. Notably, the band hasn't recorded since, which is a shame, as I'm sure they'd have improved given time.
Reality - The Rock Opera (2003, 70.04) ***
You Can't Change Me
25 Women, So Little Time
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
|Everything is Wrong
Rehearsals for Retirement
The Rebirth of Hope
Guitar Revolution (2007, 37.00) ***
Live and Let Die
Within You Without You (Version 2)
I'll Be Back
Free as a Bird
Ever Present Past
|I am the Walrus
Les Fradkin has had a colourful career, beginning in the dying days of the '60s, working his way through a late-period version of The Godz (also working as Thornton, Fradkin & Unger & the Big Band), two hectic years as 'George Harrison' in the first Beatlemania stageshow and years of production and TV soundtrack work, finally working from home as a one-man band.
2003's Reality - The Rock Opera is the first fruit of his current labours, occupying the middle ground between an off-Broadway show, '80s pop and, maybe improbably, the more musical theatre-inclined strand of modern prog. Musically, an unsurprising '60s influence creeps in on several tracks, although the sampled drums give a pervasive (and slightly unwelcome) '80s feel to the proceedings. Fradkin writes with his wife, Loretta, so it's hard to say who's responsible for the lyrics, many of which are witty ruminations on modern life, better examples including You Can't Change Me and It's Plastic. Hugely ambitious, Reality overreaches itself in places, but is a welcome antidote to dumbed-down modern pop, which appears to have reached a new nadir lately. Fradkin uses the M-Tron plug-in, adding, variously, 'Mellotron' strings, flutes and/or choirs to every track here, admittedly not always that audibly, the most major example being on System Crash.
I haven't heard the next several Fradkin releases, but 2007's Guitar Revolution is an album of instrumental, guitar-led versions of songs by his first love, The Beatles, together and apart. While not exactly a resounding success, the album has its moments, notably McCartney's excellent Jet and Rockestra Theme, lowpoints being Lennon's maudlin and overplayed Imagine and a strangely gutless version of Live And Let Die. Fakeotron on several tracks, chiefly I Am The Walrus and an inventive rearrangement of Sgt Pepper's Within You Without You.
Les Fradkin has released a good dozen more albums that fall into the samplotron category, although when I might get to hear them can only be a matter for conjecture. A gifted musician, I'm not sure he's best served by regurgitating Beatles material, but if he manages to make a living from it, I wish him the best of luck.
See: Thornton, Fradkin & Unger | David Peel & the Apple Band | Beatlemania
Okefenokee Dreams 2001 [as FSP/AirSculpture/Dave Brewer/Bill Fox] (2002, 68.22) ***½Wildlife at the Okefenokee
Road to Nowhere
Free System Projekt is basically Dutch synthesist Marcel Engels, one of the major names on the international EM scene and a prolific collaborator, not least with our very own Brendan Pollard. In 2000, Engels played with Dave Brewer at Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, as immortalised in Tangerine Dream (had to get them in sooner or later)'s 3 am At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee (from Stratosfear), releasing the recordings as Okefenokee Dreams. The project was considered so successful that they had another go the following year, Engels and Brewer playing with John Christian and Peter Ruczynski from UK EMers AirSculpture and US guitarist Bill Fox. The album opens with a recording of someone snoring loudly; unfortunate, as this kind of stuff is so often seen (with some justification) as soporific. Maybe they're being ironic? Probably. The rest of the album consists of all the usual Tangs-inspired moves; perfectly good, but largely indistinguishable from everyone else doing this stuff to all but the most hardened aficionado.
As expected we get sampled Mellotron choirs, strings and flutes on most tracks, with a particularly upfront flute part on the relatively brief Road To Nowhere, admittedly in rather predictable 'Berlin School' style. I know there's supposed to be more sampled Mellotron on the first Okefenokee album, but I don't know whether Free System Projekt have used the samples elsewhere. I shall report back when I get to hear some more of their output.
Official FSP site
Official AirSculpture site
Bill Fox MySpace
See: Free System Projekt
Djupa Andetag (1996, 47.32) **½
|Älska Mig Alltid
Även en Blomma
Hon Fick Som Hon Ville
Alla Mina Bästa År
|Vem Kommer Såra Vem IkvällVem Kommer Såra Vem IkvällSista Valsen Med Dig
Kvinnor Som Springer
Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad (now, surrealy, Anni-Frid, Princess Reuss, Countess of Plauen) should need no introduction; the contralto brunette in Abba, she (along with Agnetha Fältskog) is one of the most recognisable female faces (and voices) of the pop era. 1996's Swedish-language Djupa Andetag is her fifth and last solo album; she has stated that she has no interest in making music again. Unsurprisingly, it's a pretty mainstream '90s pop/rock effort, with the occasional Scandinavian touch, notably the accordion in Hon Fick Som Hon Ville, while Ögonen and seven-minute closer Kvinnor Som Springer, with its vague hip-hop/nu-metal influences stand out from the pack stylistically.
Anders Glenmark supposedly plays Mellotron on Hon Fick Som Hon Ville; are they referring to the squashy stabbed string chords in the intro? Not a Mellotron, chaps... Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so. Anyway, diehard Abba fans need to hear this (and doubtless already have), while the rest of us can probably pass quietly by.
Catholic (2011, 51.37) **½
Land on the Moon
A Song That Hurts
The Only One
The Sun & the Moon & the Stars
It's All Ahead of You
Where'd Ya Go? Gone
Lord I'm Comin'
Virgin Prunes mainman Fionán "Gavin Friday" Hanvey is a U2 associate, their influence shining brightly on his torchy fifth solo album, 2011's Catholic. Another obvious comparison is Marc Almond; it turns out that Friday sang on an album by Soft Cell's Dave Ball, strengthening the connection. Think: a camp, tenor Scott Walker filtered through late '80s U2 and you might be getting close. No, I don't like it very much, since you asked.
Herbie Macken allegedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, with faint flutes on Blame and nothing obvious (choirs?) on The Sun & The Moon & The Stars, but I'll be stunned should I discover that it's real. Anyway, good at what it does, assuming what it does is something you like. He said, grudgingly.
Railings (2003, 49.57) ***
|Unlock the Door
The Sweetest Sound
What Went Down
Suit & Tie
Second Hand Smoke
Hole in the Ground
I've seen Philadelphia's Frog Holler described as 'Americana', but I think 'country' might be a better description, albeit in a trad kind of way, as they're a million miles from Nashville orthodoxy. Maybe they are Americana after all. 2003's Railings is their fourth album, covering a variety of country-related styles, so your potential enjoyment of it is directly related to your tolerance for vocals with a distinctly Southern twang and the occasional banjo solo. They seem to do it well enough, although it doesn't grab me in the same way as some of their contemporaries, for no obvious reason. Maybe they're just that bit too trad?
Someone plays a Mellotron-like flute melody in Suit & Tie, although it's almost certainly samples, with high notes that don't ring true at all and some background strings that are far too murky for their own good. This is a reasonable enough country album, in a folk kind of way, but there's probably a lot better out there if you're into the genre.
Gold (2004, 41.07) ***½Bad Leg
Doing Research for an Autobiography
The stupendously-named Fucking Am are the last of four combinations of The Fucking Champs and Trans Am, the other being, of course TransChamps. 2004's Gold is their only album (at least to date), a mixture of the two bands' styles, funnily enough, highlights including the massive Thin Lizzy vibe on Doing Research For An Autobiography and the drone-rock of Elastico Gomez, although you don't get the feeling that anything here could have been left off.
Tim Green is credited with Mellotron, but the string line under a guitar one on Powerpoint sounds seriously inauthentic to my ears, frankly. Given that most of the two bands' combinations' 'Mellotron' use is at least a little suspect, that shouldn't really come as much of a surprise. Anyway, a good psychedelic hard rock album, but forget it for its supposed tape-replay.
Official Fucking Champs site
Official Trans Am site
See: Fucking Champs | Trans Am | TransChamps
Wack-Ass Tuba Riff (1996, 54.25) *½
|Quite Like This
Work in This Universe
Parallel to Gravity
Pretty Light Destruction
|Worms to Dogs
Trust Flushed With Colors
Chicagoans Fulflej had Smashing Pumpkins connections; nothing to boast about, you might say. Well, I do, anyway. To my knowledge, 1996's Wack-Ass Tuba Riff (no, we don't get one) was their only album, for which we should probably be thankful, its irritating shoegaze/grunge crossover having dated pretty badly. Worst track? Probably Microwave, vocalist/mainman MC "real name unknown" No Joke G's deliberately stupid vocal merely making matters worse.
G (well, what else should we call him?), on top of his crapulent vocals, allegedly plays Mellotron, to which I have to say: I don't think so. Sample sets had become available not so long before and I get the feeling that some artists were (re)discovering the sounds, but, unable to track down a real, working machine, were perfectly happy to use eMu's awful samples; the background strings on Senselessness and flutes on Worms To Dogs sound little like a real Mellotron, anyway. No, I do not recommend that you track down a copy of this relative rarity.
Sonnenhuhn (2008, 45.14) ***½Sun Chicken
Lost in Glasgow
New Jersey's Fun Machine are an offbeat progressive outfit, clearly influenced by all the usual suspects: Zappa, Henry Cow, Cardiacs even. In fact, the last-named seem to be a major touchstone for the band, accentuated by Fun Machine's heavy use of a Farfisa, proving that Cardiacs have American fans, too. 2008's Sonnenhuhn (Sun Chicken, in case you needed to know) is an angular, almost avant- record, the kind that should carry on revealing hidden depths for many listens to come; if it has a failing, its wackiness quotient is possibly a shade too high, although the band largely avoid Gong-style silly voices, thankfully. Best tracks? Possibly the fifteen-minute Family Vapor, if only because it encapsulates all the band's disparate influences into one piece, although I'm not sure what's with the (deliberately?) out of tune guitar solo.
Keys man John Piatkowski sticks sampled Mellotron all over the album, strings and choir everywhere you look, to the point where I'm tempted to say they might have overused it slightly. Would you use a real Mellotron that much? Possibly, actually. Why have I not given this a higher rating? Relative immaturity; I know the band will improve with future releases, so I don't want to laud them too highly quite yet. So; well worth hearing, loads of samplotron.
The Future Kings of England (2005, 55.42) ***At Long Last...
Humble Doucy Lane
Silent and Invisible Converts
The March of the Mad Clowns
God Save the King
The Future Kings of England are a nominally progressive trio (as in, 'get reviewed on progressive sites'), but are actually more like a metal version of post-rock (!); think: Godspeed on overdrive. The (genuinely) wittily-titled 10:66 is a highlight, while I was amused by opener At Long Last..., which sounds like a recording of King Edward VIII's abdication speech, but most of the rest of the album does that usual 'crescendo rock' thing, only louder.
Steven Mann plays sampled Mellotron choir and string parts on the post-rockish Humble Doucy Lane, flutes on Silent And Invisible Converts and strings and/or choir on several other tracks, although you'd never mistake them for the real thing. Don't get me wrong, this album definitely has its moments, but nearly an hour of loud, instrumental crescendo stuff can become wearing well before it's over.
Papua New Guinea Translations (2001, 63.12) ***Translation 1: 12" Original
Translation 2: Papsico
Translation 3: The Lovers
Translation 4: Wooden Ships
Translation 5: The Great Marmalade Mama in the Sky
Translation 6: Requiem
Translation 7: Things Change Like the Patterns and Shades That Fall From the Sun
Translation 8: The Big Blue
The Future Sound of London (or FSoL) have dipped into most 'dance' styles over the course of their career, not least techno, drum'n'bass and ambient, leaving those of us on the outside slightly bewildered. Where does one genre begin and another end? Which is which? Does anyone actually care anyway? 2001's Papua New Guinea Translations seems to be where the duo (Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans) officially over-reached themselves, giving us no fewer than eight remixes of Papua New Guinea, supposedly their 'classic'. Admittedly, it's interesting to see how many ways talented studio types (which they undoubtedly are) can treat a piece of music, although over an hour of this stuff is pretty mind-numbing for the unconverted. But then, it wasn't made for us; it was made for their fans and if they like it, who are the rest of us to complain?
Psych influences are definitely creeping in here; Translation 8: The Big Blue features some very Floydian organ, while Translation 6: Requiem features harmonica and plucked banjo over 'Mellotron' string and choir parts from Mike Rowe, although I so strongly suspect they're samples that the album's gone straight to this section; the choirs sound OK, but the strings are far too smooth for their own good. Cobain and Dougans subsequently split their psych alter-egos off as Amorphous Androgynous, presumably keeping their FSoL moniker for their more dance-orientated projects.
Anyway, if you don't like 'dance music', whatever you may consider that to be, don't even think about listening to this record. What little Mellotron it has is probably sampled and isn't exactly groundbreaking, anyway.
See: Amorphous Androgynous | Robert Miles
The Fyreworks (1997, 49.12) ***Master Humphries' Clock
The War Years
The Consequences of Indecision
Danny Chang discovered progressive rock in his teens in the early '70s, eventually writing a set of material that was never recorded. Twenty-something years on, although only able to recall 'a couple of chord sequences', Chang put a band together in a similar vein, as prog became more acceptable again, including Cyan's Rob Reed on keys. The Fyreworks is actually rather better than I'd expected, partly due to reasonable songwriting, partly various guest musicians' contributions on flute and stringed instruments, although Andy Edwards' vocalising is pure neo-prog. Compositionally speaking, opener Master Humphries' Clock has an occasional air of England about it, mostly in the bass work, while The War Years heavily recalls Genesis' Entangled, although parts of Stowaway sail (sorry) too close to solo Rick Wakeman for comfort and did they really think no-one would notice the Yes cop on the lengthy Broken Skies?
Unsurprisingly, given Reed's involvement, the Mellotrons here are sampled (most keyboard parts are pseudo-analogue), with strings on Master Humphries' Clock, Stowaway and Broken Skies, plus flutes on the last-named. This album's a bit of a curate's egg, to be honest; plenty of good bits sitting amongst not so good bits. Although I wouldn't call the album overlong, maybe ten of the not-so-good minutes could've been trimmed to make a really good effort. It seems this was a one-off, Chang having moved into production, while Reed and drummer Tim Robinson subsequently formed the tedious Magenta, but I've heard an awful lot worse from mostly neo-prog musicians than this. Now long out of print, this is worth hearing as a kind of second-rung '70s impersonation. But why the fireworks sound effects at the end?
See: Cyan | Magenta