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FFH  (US)

Worship in the Waiting  (2007,  44.58)  *½

FFH (originally Four for Harmony, now Far From Home) are yer classic CCM outfit, male and female vocals, gloopy pop ballads about 'their relationship with Christ'... You get the picture. A thought: if the chief 'relationship' in a hardcore Christian's life is with his god, where does that leave his nearest and dearest? Second-class citizens, by the sound of it. Anyway, this album sucks a dead dog's cock, frankly; the nearest it comes to not actually offending is the gospel/blues of I'm Free, which seems, stunningly, to ascertain that being in thrall to an imaginary deity can be construed as 'freedom'. Fascinating. Tim Lauer plays samplotron strings on In The Waiting, faint to the point of near-inaudibility.

FFS  (UK/US)

FFS  (2015,  47.11)  ****

When Franz Ferdinand formed in the early 2000s (remember all the music press hype?), who would ever have thought that the stars would align correctly and, not only would they collaborate with the mighty Sparks, but their joint names would abbreviate to FFS? Of course, it's exactly what you'd expect from the Mael brothers' witty, cynical, erudite take on popular culture; presumably the Franz lads come from a similar place, albeit Scottish and thirty years later. I'll be perfectly honest and say that I don't know their stuff; I'm pretty allergic to the UK indie scene, but Sparks' appreciation of their work clearly counts for something.

Apparently, the two bands first mooted the idea of a collaboration as early as 2004, a mere two years after Franz' formation, but it took them another decade to actually get together properly, the end result being 2015's FFS. Everything about this album: the concept, the sleeve design and above all, the contents, are immaculately-conceived, bringing out the best in both outfits, manoeuvring Sparks into a full band sound, where (IMHO) they're always at their best. Unsurprisingly, the overall sound is a straight cross between the two contributors' styles, 'indie Sparks with hints of electronica', for want of a better phrase. Is it possible to nail down its high points? The lyrics are superb throughout (to absolutely no-one's surprise), while musically, we might be looking at Dictator's Son, Save Me From Myself, Things I Won't Get and superb closer Piss Off.

Mellotron? Rumoured, but if the 'string' sound on Little Guy From The Suburbs is supposed to be a Mellotron, you're not fooling anyone, chaps, ditto the strings on Save Me From Myself. As with Sparks' own, real Mellotron-featuring records from the mid-'70s, though, the presence or absence of any actual tape-replay is neither here nor there. This is a great record that I intend to get to know a lot better.

FKA Twigs  (UK)

LP1  (2014,  40.55)  ***

Tahliah Debrett "FKA Twigs" Barnett (usually styled with a lower-case 't') is a British artist, whose style, going by her debut, 2014's LP1, is almost uncategorisable. Avant-garde trip-hop? Ultra-experimental R&B? Near-random drum programming, sparse, icy synths, sudden brief bursts of drum'n'bass, echo effects... Not my personal bag, but all power to her for making music this uncompromising. Emile Haynie is credited with Mellotron on Hours. Really? Despite using one on his own album the following year, there's nothing on the track even approximating one, so, given my new 'stop giving the benefit of the doubt' policy, into samples it goes. A brave, experimental album, then, but no obvious Mellotron.

Donald Fagen  (US)

Sunken Condos  (2012,  44.13)  ***½

Unsurprisingly, Sunken Condos sounds an awful lot like Steely Dan, with few obvious influences later than, ooh, 1980. As ever, the lyrics are at least as important as the music, which shifts between the usual jazz/pop through a funky cover of Isaac Hayes' Out Of The Ghetto to the superb, bluesy Weather In My Head. Michael Leonhart is credited with Mellotron on The New Breed. Er... He's also credited with mellophone (confusing them's a common mistake, particularly on Discogs), so who knows? No Mellotron, anyway.

Fairy  (Japan)

Hesperia  (1994,  62.28)  **½

Formed in 1988, the little-known Fairy's sole album, 1994's Hesperia, is a typical, overblown, female-fronted Japanese prog workout, although, sadly, Akiko Hiragaki sings flat throughout. The album occasionally veers away from its template, notably with the fusion influences on Composition, while the most successful attempt at their chosen style has to be the gloriously OTT closing title track, featuring a superb, stereo choppy guitar riff. Downsides? Most of the album, I'm afraid, although the playing's as spot-on as you'd expect, the awful digital pseudo-analogue, brassy lead sound (a Korg M1 factory patch?) on several tracks being a particular toe-curler. Either keyboard player Mizuho Suzuki or bassist Hiroyuki Ishizawa plays Mellotron string and flute samples on The Blue Of An Angel, to very little effect, frankly. There's better Japanese prog around than this; I can't say I'm surprised Fairy didn't last longer.

Fallulah  (Denmark)

The Black Cat Neighbourhood  (2010,  40.03)  ***

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.

Fan Modine  (US)

Cause Célèbre  (2014,  28.44)  ****

Fan Modine are a prime powerpop outfit, with not a jot of that tiresome indie influence that creeps into many of their contemporaries' recordings. Cause Célèbre is really rather splendid, top tracks including opener (and single) Épater La Bourgeoisie, despite (or because of?) its Please Please Me vocal melody rip, First Fruits And Tenths, Tapestry (which sounds a lot like The Who) and superb closer Rich Girls In Wellingtons. Not a dud in sight, frankly. However, Gordon Zacharias' Mellotron credit turns out to be no more than a wash of background sampled strings on Épater La Bourgeoisie.

Thomas Fanger  (Germany)

Parlez-Vous Électronique?  (2005,  77.28)  ***

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.

Fantastic Plastic Machine  (Japan)

Beautiful  (2001,  56.33)  **

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.

Far  (US)

Water & Solutions  (1998,  41.12)  ***

I was expecting Far to be an indie outfit, so having my ears assaulted by a metal band rather confused me. Mind you, we're not talking dreaded nu-metal, thankfully; comparisons with Tool are apparently valid. After playing this in the car and being heavily irritated by it, I was all for giving it a low * rating, but a second play at home has bumped it up to a whole three stars; Far understand dynamics, although 'quiet/loud' has been rather done to death lately, I fear. Best tracks? I Like It has an interesting riff and In 2 Again has an effective (real) string part. While there's nothing genuinely bad here, the punkier tracks had me reaching for the 'skip' button, I'm afraid. Personal taste, I suppose; gimme the Ramones any day, although I'm sure that's missing the point. Producer D (Dave) Sardy played keys on a few tracks, including a tortured samplotron string line on opener Bury White.

Far From Tellus  (Norway)

Far From Tellus  (2010,  45.25)  **½

Far From Tellus (presumably referencing E.E. 'Doc' Smith's rather silly books) features a kind of indie/folk crossover, shifting between the banjo electronica of opener Far From Tellus itself, through the folky likes of Rosemary and Morning Stars to lengthy, not-entirely-welcome indie workout Bless Our Souls, (presumably) Christian Næss' yelping, Dylanesque vocal style not particularly helping matters, frankly. Næss and Magnus Andersen Husum play samplotron, with cellos and strings on Rosemary, flutes and distant strings on Morning Stars, flutes on Mogens, strings on User Of Uzi and background strings on Murder Ballad, to greater or lesser degrees.

Bibi Farber  (US)

Second Kiss  (2004,  39.27)  **½

Bibi Farber's Second Kiss sits somewhere in between Americana and singer-songwriter territory, at its best on the album's rockiest effort, closer Straight Up And Steady, or Meticulous Man, with its Cars-esque monsynth. Andy Burton plays obvious samplotron strings and flutes (spot the high 'A') on I'll Wait Here, plus flutes on Evelyn.

Farflung  (US)

12"  (2012)  ***

L.A.'s Farflung are a current stoner/space rock crossover outfit (aren't the genres almost the same?), at least going by their half of their 2012 split EP with White Hills, the thirteen-minute Fade. Fittingly, it sits stylistically somewhere between Sabbath and Hawkwind, a far rockier proposition than White Hills' drifting To Find The Secret Door, although also correspondingly less trippy. Abby Travis is credited with Mellotron, but the distant, sometimes over-extended string parts on the track are most unlikely to emanate from a real machine, frankly. I'm not even sure if this is available on CD, but I'm sure a (legal) download is an option, for those as yet unconvinced of vinyl's return as the preeminent format. Don't go expecting any real Mellotron, though.

Mylène Farmer  (France)

Point de Suture  (2008,  54.42)  **½

You've probably never heard of Mylène Farmer (nor had I before being given a copy of this album), but she's a French actress/singer-songwriter, born Mylène Jeanne Gautier in Quebéc. Known for her arty, controversial and provocative videos, she's hugely popular in her adopted country (her family moved back there during her childhood), her albums routinely going platinum. Point de Suture is her seventh studio album, shucking off her usual ballads for an electronic, dance-orientated style; surely rather outdated, now? Then again, dance/pop music always seems to sell well, and if that's the area in which she currently wants to work... I can't say the material grabs me in any way, although it's done perfectly well and isn't overly irritating, all things considered. The only track that stands out for me is the 'hidden' one, Ave Maria, a orchestral synth-backed ballad that showcases Farmer's beautiful voice. Guess what? Although Pol Ramirez del Piu is credited with Mellotron, it's entirely inaudible. A snippet of flute on one track is almost certainly del Piu's real one, so it's a complete loss on the Mellotron front. All in all, few of you are going to go for this, and I can't even say 'but it's got some great Mellotron'. A worthy effort, but really not a Planet Mellotron fave.

Jay Farrar  (US)

Sebastopol  (2001,  50.27)  ***½

Jay Farrar is the significant member of alt.country legends Uncle Tupelo who didn't go on to play in Wilco, forming Son Volt to realise his own Americana vision. They went into indefinite hiatus after their third album, 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo, at which point Farrar kicked off the solo career many had expected after Uncle Tupelo's demise. Sebastopol is the first fruit of said career, largely carrying on where Wide Swing Tremolo left off, mixing psych, Neil Young-style rock, country and even Eastern influences (Prelude (Make it Alright)) into a gumbo of forward-looking and thinking Americana for a new century. Best songs? Opener Feel Free, country ballad Barstow and maybe Drain, but in actuality, there are no bad tracks, which on a fifty-minute album is a feat in itself. Farrar plays samplotron on the album, with rather screechy background strings on Clear Day Thunder, outclassed by the far more upfront ones on Damaged Son, with less of the same on Different Eyes.

Larry Fast/Synergy  (US)

Reconstructed Artifacts  (2002,  56.09)  ****

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, this is 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.

Fatal Fusion  (Norway)

Land of the Sun  (2010,  65.01)  ***½

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.

Father John Misty  (US)

Fear Fun  (2012,  43.40)  **

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.

Newton Faulkner  (UK)

Write it on Your Skin  (2012,  36.10)  *½

Although Newton Faulkner's 2007 debut sold the larger part of a million copies in the UK, I've never heard of him and, frankly, after hearing his third effort, Write it on Your Skin, I wish it had stayed that way. This is your classic dreadlocked trustafarian pseudo-busker's album, all strummed acoustic and hideous pop vocal lines allied to 'heartfelt' lyrics. Ugh. Faulkner and Sam Farrar are both credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Brick By Brick (only really audible on the song's final chord) don't ring true.

Faultline  (UK)

Your Love Means Everything  (2002,  45.17)  **½

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.

The Faults  (US)

The Faults  (2001,  38.08)  ***½

The Faults were ex-V-Roy Mic Harrison's new project (if that means anything to you), who lasted just the one album. 2001's The Faults is best described as being at the harder end of powerpop with the occasional alt.country influence, which is no bad thing. In fact, the only track to sound at all countryish is closer Poison Land, so countryphobes needn't get too het up. Several really nice tracks, although the pick of the bunch is probably opener Dishonest Jenny, which sets the band's stall out nicely. Harrison plays samplotron, with a short but sweet string part on Let The Angel Lie; he's subsequently joined Superdrag, albeit after their Mellotron Years, so I doubt if he's used one again.

Faun Fables  (US)

Early Song  (1999,  40.16)  **½

Faun Fables are essentially Dawn McCarthy's solo project, although Oakland avant-progsters Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Nils Frykdahl is a regular collaborator. Originally privately released in 1999, Early Song is usually credited as 2004, the year Drag City picked it up for CD issue. More folk than singer-songwriter, the album starts normally enough, in a sparse folk kind of way, but slowly descends into eccentricity, McCarthy actually yodelling on Ode To Rejection and Bliss. But is it any good? Matter of opinion, I suppose; it's certainly unusual, but whether that makes it especially listenable is another matter entirely. Rob Burger allegedly plays Chamberlin, along with pump-organ, but the latter is the only thing actually audible here.

Bill Fay  (UK)

Life is People  (2012,  54.05)  ***½

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.

Fehlfarben  (Germany)

26½  (2006,  58.00)  ***

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.

Sky Ferreira  (US)

Night Time, My Time  (2013,  46.13)  **

Sky Ferreira got her break in her teens after uploading her songs on MySpace (seems so long ago, doesn't it?), although her style shifted from dance-pop to a more indie/electro direction after signing with a major. After a couple of EPs, Night Time, My Time is the kind of album I don't like, yet (thankfully) fails to enrage me. Teen pop, nothing to see, move along... I'm not sure where Justin Raisen's Mellotron is supposed to be on the title track, as there's absolutely nothing audible.

Dodd Ferrelle  (US)

Lonely Parades  (2009,  43.31)  ***

Singer-songwritery/powerpop crossover stuff from Dodd Ferelle, at its best on Gullah, My Anna and Gardens Disappear. David Barbe's supposed to play Mellotron, but the flutes on Come Home sound more like a recorder, although no woodwind's credited.

Giusy Ferreri  (Italy)

Il Mio Universo  (2011,  50.01)  **

Here's a phrase to strike fear into the hearts of the boldest: Italian X-Factor winner. OK, second-placed. Whatever. Il Mio Universo is every bit as grim as you might imagine, a combination of modern-pop-with-rock-guitars, slightly more Italian-sounding stuff and Big Mediterranean Balladry, all delivered in her overly-husky voice. Simone Bertolotti and Luca Chiaravalli are both credited with Mellotron, by which I presume they mean the chordal flutes in Niente Promesse and Linguaggio Immaginario. I think not.

Melissa Ferrick  (US)

The Truth is  (2013,  43.29)  ***

Melissa Ferrick's thirteenth album is not dissimilar to 2002's Listen Hard in its largely acoustic singer-songwriter mode, although I hear more of a country influence a decade on. Ferrick's supposed Mellotron on Take In All The Plants is one of the less obvious woodwind sounds (in other words, I'm not sure which: oboe?), but I am sure it's not genuine.

Bryan Ferry  (UK)

Frantic  (2002,  46.56)  ***

The original lounge lizard finally gets around to a new album and would you believe, it actually isn't at all bad? Bryan Ferry has a deserved reputation for ultra-smoothness, but Frantic features a decent selection of songs new and old and a dry, upfront vocal sound that the Ferry of old would never have contemplated using. Two Dylan covers and a Leadbelly song (Goodnight Irene) sit amongst co-writes with the likes of (evil) Dave Stewart and Eno, although all are moulded to fit the Ferry Sound, as are instrumental contributions from the likes of Chris Spedding and old Roxy compatriot Paul Thompson. Colin Good allegedly plays Mellotron on Nobody Loves Me, presumably the track's choir samples stuck through some effects.

Thomas Fersen  (France)

Trois Petits Tours  (2008,  40.05)  ***

Thomas Fersen is a French singer-songwriter, apparently immensely clever with his use of language, which, of course, is as much use to those of us who speak anywhere from little to none of it as a chocolate fireguard. Then again, Fersen isn't making albums for the non-French market, so he should care. 2008's Trois Petits Tours (Three Times Round) is something like his seventh studio album, actually a very listenable record in a jazzy French folk style, most tracks consisting of little more than guitar or ukelele, piano and occasional percussion under Fersen's high-in-the-mix voice. Daniel Thouin plays exceedingly faint background samplotron strings on Ukulélé, while Thouin and François Lafontaine add faint choirs and slightly more audible strings to Ce Qu'Il Me Dit.

Fettes Brot  (Germany)

Fussball ist Immer Noch Wichtig CDS  (2006)  **

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 a period of two years.

Feufollet  (US)

Cow Island Hop  (2008,  41.44)  ***½

Louisianans Feufollet would appear to have a mission to drag Cajun music into the 21st century, kicking and screaming if need be. 2008's Cow Island Hop is an album of mad, electrified Creole folk with a rock'n'roll attitude, interspersed with accordion-fuelled swampland balladry and French-language lyrics, although I doubt whether the Parisian Délégation Générale à la Langue Française et Aux Langues de France would be too happy at the mangling handed out to their beloved tongue. Top tracks include jaunty opener Prends Courage, complete with distorted organ backing, the title track's hoedown and the jazz-inflected Femme L'a Dit, but not a single thing here actually disappoints. Ivan Klisanin plays what I take to be distant samplotron choirs on Chère Bébé Créole.

Elin Fflur  (UK)

Hafana  (2008,  52.41)  *½

Elin Fflur's a Welsh-language singer-songwriter, active in the Eisteddfod since early childhood. So why, oh why, does Hafana resemble an album by Cher? In Welsh. There's bad albums that bore me and then there's bad albums that begin to make me angry. This is one of those. Wasn't AOR an '80s genre? This is at its least cheesy on acoustic ballad Tywysoges Goll, but that's hardly a recommendation. David Wrench's Mellotron? No more than vague choirs on a couple of tracks.

Fighting Jacks  (US)

The Dying Art of Life  (2003,  47.47)  ***

Fighting Jacks sit at the punk end of indie, like a slightly toothless Nirvana, going by what appears to be their sole album, The Dying Art of Life. Better tracks include propulsive opener Farewell Senator, the slowburn Chercher and Newborn Thing, although nearly fifty minutes is a good ten minutes too long for music this immediate. Mike Wright and Corey Linstrum are both credited with Mellotron, presumably the muted strings and cellos on closer Of A Dear Friend. Non.

Figurines  (Denmark)

Skeleton  (2005,  45.09)  **½
Figurines  (2010,  37.24)  **

Although they formed in the mid-'90s, it took Figurines until 2003 to release an album, Shake a Mountain, their second, Skeleton, appearing two years later. To be honest, it's a pretty ordinary modern indie album, not doing anything that a million others aren't also doing, although at least they avoid the 'whiny vocals' trap. Better tracks include I Remember and closer Release Me On The Floor (nice Hammond), but it's not exactly a stand-out release. Lasse Lakken plays a nice samplotron string part on Silver Ponds. Sadly, 2010's Figurines is a step down; 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. 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.

Filarmónica Gil  (Portugal)

Filarmónica Gil  (2005,  40.56)  ***
Por Mão Própria  (2007,  43.15)  ***

Filarmónica Gil play an appealing kind of folk/pop, with plenty of local influences; after all, they probably don't expect many people outside their home market to have even heard of them, let alone buy their records. I think 2005's Filarmónica Gil is their debut, full of songs of the quality of opener Um Homem Como Eu, the frenetic Lisboa 4 Ever or No Colo Do Meu Pai. On the samplotron front, Rui Costa adds flutes to opener Um Homem Como Eu, while O Rapaz Pendular opens with a chordal flute part that reiterates throughout the track. The band followed up with 2007's Por Mão Própria, slightly more varied than its predecessor, with hints of rock and reggae thrown in, though not necessarily for the better. Costa on samplotron again, with uncredited flutes on opener Ponto De Rebuçado and more of the same on Saia Indiscreta, although nothing on the credited Batas Brancas; however, we do get uncredited strings on Nunca Vi, making me think someone's cocked up the credits. More flutes and strings on Eu Disse Que Sim, although I suspect any other string parts are real.

Finisterre  (Italy)  see:

Finisterre

Finn  (Germany)

The Ayes Will Have it!  (2005,  41.20)  **½

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.

Serge Fiori  (Québec)

Serge Fiori  (2014,  50.57)  ***

After Harmonium's late '70s split, singer Serge Fiori forged a solo career that has included songwriting for other artists, film soundtrack work and new age albums. His eponymous 2014 release is his first album of regular songs for the better part of thirty years, a mostly French-language pop/rock effort for the most part, possibly at its best on the mournful Laisse-Moi Partir. As a nod to his progressive past, we get lush samplotron strings on opener Le Monde Est Virtuel.

Firecracker  (US)

So Long Someday  (2005,  58.41)  ***

So Long Someday is an Americana album, probably at its best on its more energetic material, highlights including Caroline, Promising and the dark Waltzing Mathilda (despite the near-subliminal programmed percussion). This is one of those 'no-one credited with Mellotron, but some online references' records, with blatantly sampled flutes on So Long Lorraine.

Fireking  (US)

Live a Little, Love a Little  (2000,  34.02)  ***

Going by Live a Little, Love a Little, Fireking operate at the punk end of powerpop, although Rebel Rouser is a spot-on (first time round) glam rock pastiche, other highlights including Arkansas and Blue. Anthony Kaczynski's 'Mellotron' consists of distant flutes on Blue and obviously sampled strings on Big Priest Of Love.

First Aid Kit  (Sweden)

Stay Gold  (2014,  38.30)  ***

First Aid Kit are the sisterly duo of Klara and Johanna Söderberg, aided by a cast of thousands on their third album, 2014's Stay Gold. It's a decent enough country-inflected folky effort, thankfully avoiding the 'mainstream trap': no autotune, few synths or programming, its better tracks tending towards the drumless end of their sound, not least Fleeting One and closer A Long Time Ago. Ben Brodin plays restrained samplotron flutes on Master Pretender.

Günther Fischer  (E. Germany)

Günther Fischer  (1979,  47.42)  ***½

Although Günther Fischer seems to be best known for leading his jazz outfit, The Günther Fischer Band, 1979's Günther Fischer sounds like an album of soundtrack pieces. Perhaps it is? It shifts through a variety of styles, although I wouldn't say that jazz was especially prevalent. Highlights? Severino, the charming Streets Of Berlin and the powerful Pastor Himmelsknecht, perhaps. Fischer is credited with Mellotron, but, as with some other East German jazzers of the era, it appears to be nothing more interesting than an occasional string synth, although Mellotrons weren't unknown on the wrong side of the wall.

Fischerspooner  (US)

Odyssey  (2005,  51.27)  **½

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.

Arnold Fish  (France)

In the Land of the Elephant Blues  (2015,  40.13)  ***½

Arnold Fish (surely his real name?) is a French psychedelicist, whose In the Land of the Elephant Blues straddles the fine line between homage and pastiche. Best tracks? It's nice to be able to say 'it's all good', but late '60s TV theme-esque opener The Guilty (Il Colpevole), The Boogeyman and the Supertramp-esque Lady Harrington all stand out. Despite Mr. Fish's 'Mellotron' credit, we're quite clearly hearing nothing of the sort, the strings on The Guilty, brass on the title track and A Beautiful Car Crash and pretty blatant upfront flutes on The Boogeyman and The Battle For The Crown, amongst others, being seriously fake. Very listenable record, though.

Fishboy  (US)

Little D  (2005,  42.46)  **½

Fishboy, led by Eric Michener, play an especially fragile form of indie on their fourth album, Little D, as if it were played by the ghost of a band. I'm not sure if the album has any highlights, or, indeed, whether or not it's any good at all; I didn't like it very much, but that counts for little. Michener's credited with Mellotron, but the haunted flute part on That's A...Jellyfish is almost certainly sampled.

David Fisher  (UK)

Firehorse  (1999,  48.00/56.36)  **½

David Fisher's debut, Firehorse, is a kind of late-period Britpop album, at its least irritating on the ridiculous Destination Vegas ("Join the Church of Elvis..."), only available on the reissue, proving that it should've been on the original release. Once upon a time, I discovered an online reference to Mellotron use on the album, although it seems to've disappeared. This happens sometimes. Anyway, it was on You're The One, although there's precisely nothing audible, which dispenses with this one.

Fiske & Herrera  (US)

Till the Sea Disappears  (2010,  46.56)  ***

New England couple Jared Fiske and Amy Herrera admit to two chief influences: Joni Mitchell and Radiohead. Suffice to say, both make themselves apparent on their third release, 2010's Till the Sea Disappears, on which they sound like an updated take on that Laurel Canyon thing crossed with the occasional modernism, notably Lorne Entress' programming on Saint Patrick's Day and He Said She Said. Herrera takes more leads than Fiske, while they often harmonise; I keep expecting Neil Young's plangent tones to interrupt in full-on Harvest mode, which should give you a good idea of the duo's sound. Best tracks? Broken Man, Crazy Amy ((auto)biographical? Fiske vocal) and beautiful closer Warm My Bones, amongst others. So why not a higher rating? It has to be said that the album is infused with a level of tweeness (case in point: My Little Fish) that may put potential listeners off, to the point where forty-five minutes of it in one sitting can be a bit much. Entress plays muted Mellotron strings on Steady Hands, which, despite its a sympathetic arrangement and careful placing in the mix, sounds sampled to my ears, not least the overly-sudden cut-offs. Overall, then, one for Joni fans who don't object to a soupçon of electronica intruding into an otherwise pseudo-early '70s idyll.

Steve Fitch  (US)

Memetic Heretic  (2014,  40.33/48.32)  ***½

I'm having some trouble describing Steve Fitch's Memetic Heretic: psych goth? New wave prog? Punk electronica? All of the above? Fitch's gravelly, gothy, semi-spoken vocal style has an illustrious predecessor in Bob Dylan, although Johnny Cash's iconic baritone might be a more suitable comparison. Top tracks? The noo-wavish Masquerade Ass Parade, the dirty electronica of the title track and Until Now, while the acoustic 40 Years is a welcome change of pace. Fitch cheerily admits to Mellotron sample use, with string and/or choir parts on around half the album's tracks, notable examples including the strings on By Any Memes Necessary, Idiots Remake and its bonus version reworking, Idiots Orch. Unusually, as you've probably noticed by now, the album features extra tracks on the CD as against the download, but the latter version can be regarded as a complete album, the extra tracks being worth hearing, but not essential.

William Fitzsimmons  (US)

The Sparrow & the Crow  (2009,  43.32)  *½

Discovering that William Fitzsimmons' music has been used on a plethora of American TV series along the lines of Grey's Anatomy alerted my crap detector, but after reading that he's been compared to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and the much-missed Elliott Smith, I relaxed. Of course, in all good thrillers, that's the point at which you leap out of your seat as the axe-wielding maniac breaks the door down, or something non-credulous and supernatural happens. Well, I wouldn't go that far, but his third album, 2008's The Sparrow & the Crow, had a similar effect on me (well, sort of), albeit in slow motion, as the realisation that it's a pile of mainstream poo sinks in; I gave his wispy voice and the overall weediness of the record the benefit of the doubt for a couple of songs before giving in to the inevitable: it's shit. 'Heartfelt' my arse, even if it is his 'divorce album'. Eric Robinson plays samplotron, with a flute part on Further From You. Whatever.

Five Horse Johnson  (US)

The No.6 Dance  (2001,  56.39)  ****

When I see a name like Five Horse Johnson, I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get. Are they some kind of wussy ironic indie crap? Heartfelt but slightly wet Americana? Or a balls-out, fist-pumping fuckin' rock'n'roll band? Thankfully, they're the last-named, as I think I've just about had my fill of crap for this week and it's only Tuesday. Their fourth album, 2000's The No.6 Dance, has to be one of the rockingest records I've heard this year. OK, OK, it's January. Alright, this year AND last year. While it's not all fast'n'furious, the energy never lets up, just turns into a threatening kind of slow-burn haze when the band choose to play the blues. Best tracks? Whew... Mississippi King, with a chorus that sticks like glue, Gods Of Demolition, the slide-infested swamp blues of Hollerin' and last but not least, monstrous fourteen-minute closer Odella (ignoring the brief burst of studio chat that follows it), a blues so dirty that I had to shower after hearing it. And still felt unclean. Bob Ebeling plays background samplotron brass on Buzzard Luck, to no particular effect, to be honest.

Five Star Iris  (US)

Five Star Iris  (2006,  44.30)  **½

Five Star Iris, led by Alan and Robert Schaefer, released their lone, eponymous album in 2006, an 'alt.rock' effort that occasionally (though not nearly often enough) borders on powerpop. Actually, I'll tell you who I'm reminded of by the lighter end of their sound: Take That. Take that! Er... Although known Mellotron user Sylvia Massy Shivy co-produced, Rich Veltrop is credited with playing it. What, the vague strings on Is There Something I Can Do? Really? Incidentally, extra low marks from PM for performing no fewer than three tours of overseas military establishments, making them, effectively, establishment shills.

Five Way Friday  (US)

Run Like This  (2000,  37.36)  **½

Run Like This is a pop/rock album of its era, a bit indie, a bit alt.rock, even a bit powerpop, at its best on opener Falling Away, although the overall effect is distincly underwhelming. Michael McWhorter's Mellotron? Surely not the cellos on closer No Time For Lonely?

Paal Flaata  (Norway)

Old Angel Midnight  (2008,  44.34)  ***
Wait By the Fire: Songs of Chip Taylor  (2012,  45.33)  ***

Paal Flaata plays a low-key version of that peculiarly authentic form of Scando-Americana that seems so ubiquitous across the Nordic region. Old Angel Midnight is a decent enough album, at its best on Table Full Of Lonely People and Electric Guitars, maybe. Gøran Grini plays Mellotron flutes on Heaven Help The Child that, while good, fail to fully convince. Wait By the Fire: Songs of Chip Taylor does exactly what it says on the tin, Flaata tackling Taylor's material with aplomb, albeit entirely in the same borderline-maudlin style he overused on Old Angel Midnight. Highlights? He Sits At My Table and Graceland Souvenirs, but not the overplayed Angel Of The Morning. Grini on 'Mellotron' again, with flutes on Angel Of The Morning, but nothing audible on the opening title track, He Sits At My Table and Sleepy Eyes.

Flamborough Head  (Netherlands)

Unspoken Whisper  (1998,  53.25)  **½
Defining the Legacy  (2000,  68.10)  ***
Bridge to the Promised Land  (2000, recorded 1994,  39.56)  **
One for the Crow  (2002,  58.11)  **½
Tales of Imperfection  (2005,  51.48)  **
Live in Budapest  (2008,  78.50)  **
Looking for John Maddock  (2009,  52.26)  **½
Lost in Time  (2013,  60.37)  **

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 itself. Plenty of samplotron, too, Edo using the same sample set as on Flamborough Head offshoot Trion, though nothing to get that excited about, frankly. After a four-year gap, 2013's Lost in Time is a real 'revert to type' album, typified by The Trapper, typical neo-prog at its cheesy, bouncy worst, while Damage Done compounds the felony, twee vocal lines combing horribly with Marillion-by-numbers chord sequences and guitar work. Is there anything worthwhile about this album? Andrassy Road, despite its clunky lyrics, tackles the subject of dictatorship head-on, although cynics may comment that it's rather easier to do that from the safe haven of one of the world's better democracies. Better than descending into fantasyland, however. Plenty of samplotron strings (note: no choirs), but that's hardly a recommendation.

Flaming Lips  (US)

The Soft Bulletin  (1999,  58.30)  ***
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots  (2002,  47.32)  ***
At War With the Mystics  (2006,  55.03)  ***½
Once Beyond Hopelessness  (2008,  32.50)  ***
Embryonic  (2009,  70.26)  **
The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends  (2012,  67.36)  **
The Terror  (2013,  54.59)  **
Peace Sword  (2013,  36.00)  **½

The first three of these Flaming Lips albums have been sitting in this site's 'regular' reviews pages for years, despite misgivings, but the time has come to reassess and, at least Mellotronically, dismiss. The knowledge that they've often used renowned fakeotron guru Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev)'s studio does nothing for their genuine Mellotron credentials, not to mention this Steven Drozd quote, from a 2013 interview: "I dreamed of owning a Mellotron for about 15 years but by the time I could afford one I didn't care anymore!" Samples it is, then...

The band have been going approximately forever, nearly breaking through with '99's The Soft Bulletin, the (relatively) mainstream follow-up to the impenetrable Zaireeka, a 4-CD set of different parts of the same eight songs that can only be heard properly by mixing them together using a multi-track device. Anyway, The Soft Bulletin actually manages that 'holy grail' trick of combining accessibility with adventurous arrangements and decent songs; I know many fans of their earlier work are rather unkeen on the direction they've taken, but, as with so many bands, I'm sure they felt the need to progress. Although the sleeve lists fourteen tracks and that number comes up on my CD player's display, the track titles don't quite match what I'm hearing, so minor guesswork in places. Samplotronically speaking, the album opens with the manic strings pitchbending of Race For The Prize, fairly clearly performed using the spring-loaded pitchwheel on a MIDI controller. A Spoonful Weighs A Ton has more strings, and possibly choirs, but further down in the mix, with the flutes being the only upfront use. Not much on The Observer, but Suddenly Everything Has Changed has some nice volume-pedal work (violined violins?).

It took them three years to follow up, finally breaking through with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It's an eclectic mix of lots of stuff, with both programmed and real percussion abounding; electronica influences combine with Wayne Coyne's sometimes Neil Young-like vocals, adding up to a pretty damn' original end product. Samplotron strings on over half the album, with the odd burst of flute here and there. Are You A Hypnotist?? opens with some solo choir chords, with more of the same later in the song, gratifyingly high in the mix, with more in All We Have Is Now, so after a slow start, this actually ends up being quite a samplotron album, for what it's worth.

A four-year gap this time, before At War With the Mystics, featuring the same eclectic set of influences and styles, although this time round they've been burdened with a horrible, screechy production, with the modern malaise of 'everything louder than everything else'. The CD is one of the loudest in my collection, for no obviously good reason; that's what volume controls are for. Best tracks? Free Radicals manages to sound like nothing else on any of these albums, ditto It Overtakes Me, making this possibly the most listenable of any of these releases (musically, anyway), at least for this listener. Anyway, on the samplotron front we have some high string notes and a solo flute part on The Sound Of Failure, with very obvious flutes on Vein Of Stars and The Wizard Turns On... Incidentally, and for what it's worth, most of the above track titles are abbreviated from considerably longer ones and are the versions printed on the CD's backtray. Sample full-length title: The Wizard Turns On... The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins. Sometimes I quote full titles. Sometimes I don't. Another few tracks feature a mixture of strings and flutes (most upfront use award: Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung), though no choir this time round.

2008's Once Beyond Hopelessness was the eventual title given to the soundtrack to their feature film, Christmas on Mars. I have no idea whether or not this is even remotely watchable, but the music isn't too bad once it gets going, with plenty of, er, soundtracky stuff, not sounding much like the Lips' previous work. Picking out any 'best tracks' is probably a futile exercise, but fans may appreciate the 1940s-esque orchestrations used in places. Someone adds samplotron here and there, with drifting choirs on Suicide And Extraordinary Mistakes, The Gleaming Armament Of Marching Genitalia and the second version of the title track, very clearly sampled on the last-named.

2009's Embryonic was the band's deliberate attempt to produce an old-school double album in the vein of The White Album or Physical Graffiti, sprawling and unfocussed, throwing all the band's influences into the melting-pot. I get the impression that the end result has been popular with their fans, but, at least to my ears, its lack of focus and the psychedelia of their previous several releases makes for an overlong, dull mess of an indie/electronica crossover, with no obviously outstanding material. Someone adds some rather sampled-sounding Mellotron strings to The Impulse, but they do precisely nothing to improve matters.

2012's The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends is a ragbag of collaborative efforts with the likes of Nick Cave, Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Yoko Ono, none of which have anything like the power of their earlier work. None of it's good, but the worst example is probably the excruciating ten minutes of Erykah Badu singing Ewan MacColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, presumably intended to be 'psychedelic', but merely coming off as long-winded, failed experimentation. Samplotron on a few tracks near the beginning of the album, with a major, near-solo flute part and choirs (both 'Mellotronic' and otherwise) on opener 2012 (You Must Be Upgraded), chordal strings on Ashes In The Air and volume-pedalled choirs on Supermoon Made Me Want To Pee, while strings waft across Children Of The Moon, for what it's worth, which isn't a lot.

The following year's The Terror continues the Lips' current vocation for so-hip-it-hurts, über-contemporary psychedelic indie, near-unlistenable to anyone not enchanted by their skewed take on the uneasy-bedfellow genres. The final track on the regular edition, Always There In Our Hearts, is, just possibly, the album's best, its harsh electronica grooves meshing surprisingly well with the light-as-air vocals, but this listener found the bulk of the album concurrently dull and irritating. Samplotron here and there, with a background choir wash (obviously sampled) on opener Look... The Sun Is Rising, vague stringy things on Be Free, A Way and Try To Explain and more washy choirs on the title track.

Although promoted as an EP, that year's Peace Sword is longer than some albums to be found on this site; it appears to consist of material written for the Ender's Game film, although only opener Peace Sword (Open Your Heart) was actually used. As you might expect, it's a bit of a mixed bag, the uncharacteristically soppy sort-of title track and Is The Black At The End Good? rather clashing with the synth-heavy likes of If They Move, Shoot 'Em and Think Like A Machine, Not A Boy, not to mention the ten-minute mess otherwise known as closer Assassin Beetle/The Dream Is Ending. The only obvious samplotron on the disc is some kind of strings/choir mish-mash on the sort-of title track and a string line on Wolf Child, but, by now, you're hardly going to buy Flaming Lips releases for their pseudotron use, are you?

Flare  (US)

Hung  (2003,  46.35)  **½

Hung is a world-weary, downbeat album, like an indie version of a dusty old folk LP from the '50s, at its best on sparse opener All The Money's Gone, Obvious and (Don't Like) The Way We Live Now, the last-named chiefly for its lyrics. L.D. Beghtol's Mellotron? The really-not-that-Mellotronic flute on Keep It To Yourself? Or the pitchbent strings on Glitter? I think not.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble  (US)

Plastic Bag in a Tree  (2007,  54.48)  ***½

The Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble are effectively a pick-up band, helmed by The Decemberists' Chris Funk. It seems he moved to a new area and began playing guitar on his porch of an evening (you can't do this in the U.K. - a) we don't have that kind of porch and b) it's too cold), attracting various musical locals, many already in known bands. That kind of area, obviously. Plastic Bag in a Tree is a mixture of covers and 'trad. arrs', all played in a, well, 'porch' style, I suppose, assuming you keep your Moog on the porch. Imagine a slightly (but only slightly) psychedelic folk album of strange cover versions and you might be getting close. I don't recognise most of said covers, but Radiohead's Amnesiac/Morning Bell responds well to this treatment. Ruby Janes is credited with Mellotron flutes on Run Rabbit and I Go To Sleep, although they're clearly sampled. Had it been real, would they have dragged that out onto the porch, too? Anyway, the album's publicity seems to give the impression that the recordings were actually made on said porch, which they quite clearly weren't, aside from the trad folk thing stuck onto the end of the record after a short gap.

Fleet Foxes  (US)

Helplessness Blues  (2011,  49.53)  ***

You'd have to be pretty unaware of the current scene to've avoided Fleet Foxes, even by my fairly poor standards. Their eponymous debut received more press than you can imagine when it appeared in 2008, with its updated take on that CSN&Y thing. It's taken them three years to follow up with Helplessness Blues, another slice of acoustic whimsy that probably rewards repeated plays, but makes little impression on initial listens. Maybe you have to be young enough to be unaware of their forebears? Anyway, a handful of tracks stand out, but the overall effect is slightly underwhelming. Casey Wescott plays samplotron, with a flute part weaving through the massed acoustics on Lorelai, although the album's various string parts seem to be real.

Flight Reaction  (Sweden)

The Flight Reaction  (2014,  37.34)  ***½

The Flight Reaction's eponymous 2014 debut marries garage rock and early psych, circa '65-66, with such accuracy that you'd be hard-pushed to tell it apart from an artefact from the actual era. Best tracks? It's all good, in a Byrds-meets-Seeds kind of way, but perhaps frantic opener Falling Through Color, Running Out Of Mind and Mourning Light (previously a single) pip the rest to the post. David Svedmyr (Lisa o Piu, Lüüp, others) plays samplotron (spot the too-consistent attack), with strings on Every Time You Die and Love Will See Us Through and strings and cellos on Eight Hours Ago.

Florence & the Machine  (UK)

Ceremonials  (2011,  56.04)  **

Going by her second album, 2011's Ceremonials, Florence Welch's titular Machine serve up a kind of epic indie, all multi-overdubbed voices and pounding drums, albeit featuring tragically little genuine content. Neither Welch's rather hectoring voice nor the excessive length of most tracks do much to enhance matters, although the spacious Seven Devils and the pizzicato strings on Spectrum lift proceedings out of the murk, if only briefly. I imagine one Rusty Bradshaw is responsible for the Mellotron emulation in closer Leave My Body, a monophonic choir part that sounds pretty damn' sampled, if truth be told, although the slightly Mellotronic part in Never Let Me Go is probably nothing of the sort. Do you? You do not.

The Flower Kings  (Sweden)  see:

The Flower Kings

Flower Machine  (US)

Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company  (2004,  28.16)  ***
Lavender Lane  (2010,  44.12)  ***

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.