Fantastic Plastic Machine
Father John Misty
Hesperia (1994, 62.28) **½
The Blue of an Angel
Long Long Ago
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.
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.
|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.
See: White Hills
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.