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Flying Luttenbachers  (US)

"...The Truth is a Fucking Lie..."  (1999,  39.38)  ***
Cataclysm  (2006,  53.31)  ***
Incarceration By Abstraction  (2007,  46.59)  ***½

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.

Ben Folds  (US)

Way to Normal  (2008,  40.28)  ***
Stems & Seeds  [Disc 2]  (2009,  73.12)  ***

Ben Folds, late of his Ben Folds Five, went (fully) solo at the end of the '90s, although he'd already released one (sort of) solo album in 1998's Fear of Pop. Way to Normal (as in 'Normal, Illinois'), is Folds' third solo album 'proper', carrying on the humorous, piano-driven approach he's taken for most of his career. Tracks such as Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head) and Bitch Went Nuts are amusing enough, but Folds' frequently anti-PC humour could easily be misconstrued and doubtless has already been many times. Musically, it's probably safe to say that if you don't like the rockier end of Elton John's catalogue, you probably aren't going to be blown away by this; it has the same 'middling rock with piano' feel as much of Elt's work, albeit updated. Folds is credited with Mellotron and while neither the strings nor the flutes on You Don't Know Me sound particularly Mellotronic, the cellos do, although I can't imagine how you'd get a real Mellotron to play that quickly and smoothly.

In a rather odd turn of events, Folds released the two-disc Stems & Seeds the following year. The first disc has the 'stem files' of all the Way to Normal tracks, enabling listeners to remix them themselves, should they so desire, while the second disc contains the original album remastered and re-sequenced (after fan complaints), plus bonuses. Er, is this indicating a lack of faith in the original product? Certainly a rather unusual step to take, but then, I don't suppose Folds has ever taken the 'standard' route. My problem here is, I'm busy and don't really have time to go back to do a detailed analysis of the two albums side-by-side, so aside from one or two tracks, this is like listening to a new album for me, which isn't going to help in letting you know which version's better. Re-sequencing it means I've realised how good new opener Effington is, but the whole project strikes me as a slight waste of time, not least the 'joke' versions of a few tracks recorded one night by Folds and his band and 'leaked' onto the 'Net before the official album's release.

David Fonseca  (Portugal)

Our Hearts Will Beat as One  (2005,  49.27)  **

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?

Luis Fonsi  (US)

Palabras del Silencio  (2008,  70.37)  *½

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.

Foo Fighters  (US)

Skin & Bones  (2006,  73.04)  ***
Wasting Light  (2011,  47.47)  ***
Sonic Highways  (2014,  42.45)  ***

In 2006, The Foos opted to release an 'unplugged' live album, Skin & Bones, which, to my surprise, proved that some of their songs actually work better in a stripped-down format. Opener Razor is the best of the bunch, while overall, this failed to irritate me as much as most of their studio work. Its chief fault? It's too long, although in the grand tradition of double live albums, I suppose it has a right to be this length. Rami Jaffee is credited with Mellotron, but not only is one not visible in the sleeve pic, but it seems most unlikely that they'd haul a real machine on stage. Jaffee's samples are just about audible on a few tracks (given that this isn't even a noisy rock recording), with strings under real violin on Over And Out and Marigold, faint flutes on Walking After You and far more obvious ones on Next Year.

2011's Wasting Light starts off as a minor improvement on its predecessors, although it slides gently downhill after propulsive, slightly Cardiacs-esque opener Bridge Burning, as the band revert to type. Jaffee returns on probable samplotron, with another 'sounds more like real strings to me, squire' part on I Should Have Known, for what it's worth, which isn't a lot. Their 2014 offering, Sonic Highways, is a little better, kicking off with superb opener Something From Nothing, while Outside isn't too shabby and In The Clear has its moments. Downsides? God As My Witness cops a riff from All You Need Is Love and Subterranean, complete with sampled beats and other unpleasantness is completely unnecessary. Mellotron? Jaffee's supposed to play one (again), but online interviews give me the idea that he's given up on real machines. It's all a little irrelevant, anyway, as it's inaudible, unless that's the faintest of faint strings on seven-minute closer I Am A River.

China Forbes  (US)

'78  (2008,  47.18)  **

After a 1995 solo effort (Love Handle), China Forbes joined the successful Pink Martini, only releasing her solo follow-up, '78, in 2008. It's an absolutely typical, overlong, modern American female singer-songwriter effort, insipid in the extreme, tailor-made to appeal to disaffected, angsty young women. (Is that offensive? Sorry). Best tracks? Don't be silly. Forbes is credited with Mellotron, but the high strings on One Less Word aren't anything of the sort and I can't imagine where else it might be. As if you needed another reason not to investigate this?

Marc Ford  (US)

Holy Ghost  (2014,  46.09)  ***½

Marc Ford's chiefly known for his time in The Black Crowes, but to me, he'll always be the young gun who formed Burning Tree in the late '80s, producing just one, really rather good album. After the Crowes years and a raft of solo albums and collaborations, Ford's fifth solo release, 2014's Holy Ghost, is an impeccable Americana record, highlights including the dark In You, Sometimes and slow-burn closer Call Me Faithful. If the album has a fault, it's that it occasionally tips over into country mawkishness, but most of its material transcends that genre faux pas. Dan Moore is credited with Mellotron, but the smooth, squeaky-clean strings on In You have to be samples, but you don't need the presence of a Mellotron, real or otherwise, to buy this well-crafted, measured album.

Forest City Lovers  (Canada)

Carriage  (2010,  35.41)  **½

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.

Jeffrey Foucault  (US)

Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes: A Collection: Jeffrey Foucault Sings the Songs of John Prine  (2008,  57.11)  ***½

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.

Four Corners  (US)

Say You're a Scream  (2001,  37.05)  ***

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.

Fourth World  (Brazil/UK)

Fourth World  (1994,  65.00)  ***

Fourth World were a 'world fusion' outfit, I suppose, formed (in London, I believe) by legendary percussionist Airto Moreira and his equally legendary wife, Flora Purim. 1994's Fourth World, was, unsurprisingly, their debut album, being the expected jazz/world crossover, although Purim's contributions seem strangely limited. There are moments on here, not least the jammed-out part of the 13-minute Starfish, which almost cross over into prog territory, but only almost, the bulk of the album being typically happy-go-lucky Brazilian-type stuff, with a European edge in places. Gary Meek supposedly plays Mellotron, amongst other keys, but you'd be hard-pushed to say where. Is that a background flute chord on Povo Da Lira? Near-inaudible strings on Lua? Impossible to say, though I'm sure it's on there somewhere. So; decent enough world fusion, should you be into such a thing, but forget it for the Mellotron.

Foxygen  (US)

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic  (2013,  36.45)  **½
...And Star Power  (2014,  81.49)  *

California's Foxygen are an indie outfit with a considerable psych influence, which, sadly, does little to improve their second album, 2013's We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. Better tracks include Beatlesy opener In The Darkness, San Francisco and closer Oh No 2, but their combination of (faux-?) lysergic swirling and the standard indie lack of musical imagination quickly (and heavily) outstays its welcome. Someone adds clearly sampled Mellotron to several tracks, including a squawking string line in San Francisco, bland polyphonic flutes and a string line on Shuggie and strings on Oh Yeah, doing little to enhance the overall listening experience. I believe I've made a reviewing breakthrough with this record: if Pitchfork like it, I don't. There, that should save some time.

And I thought that was bad? The following year's ...And Star Power loses the little that makes its predecessor even occasionally listenable, being a vastly overlong collection of pointless musical vignettes pretty much devoid of any obvious psychedelic influence. Which leaves us with...? Indie. Fucking indie. Best track? Er, not sure there is one, although Everyone Needs Love has a decent instrumental middle-section. Worst? It's a close call, but the vile one/two of the faux-faux-'60s Hot Summer and the 'experimental' (read: pointless, drug-fuelled electronica) of Cold Winter/Freedom might just take the proverbial putty medal. Believe me, this redefines 'awful'. Samplotron? Occasional strings, for what it's worth, which is very little.

Fractal Mirror  (Netherlands)

Strange Attractors  (2013,  41.24)  ****
Garden of Ghosts  (2014,  61.26)  ***
Slow Burn 1  (2016,  58.35)  ***

Fractal Mirror consist of two out of three members of an Amsterdam-based, mid-'80s progressive outfit plus an American drummer, their sound, on 2013 debut Strange Attractors, sitting at an unusual point somewhere between prog, modern alt.rock and '80s 4AD artists. Reference points include Genesis (well, vaguely) and David Sylvian, although more recent influences (notable on the more upbeat material, such as opener What's Inside and the third part of A Life In Darkness, Raising The Stakes) evade me. At the prog(gier) end of the spectrum, second track in, The Fading Ghosts Of Yesterday, heads towards more familiar, slow-burn prog territory, other highlights including Brian's Song and most of the rest of A Life In Darkness, making for an eminently satisfying overall listen. Leo Koperdraat (hi, Leo) adds sampled Mellotron to almost every track, with strings and choirs all over What's Inside, flutes and strings on The Fading Ghosts Of Yesterday, cellos on Fade Away and combinations of these sounds (plus occasional brass?) on almost everything else.

Unfortunately, the following year's Garden of Ghosts fails to have the same impact as its predecessor, possible reasons including a lack of variety (most tracks progress at the same, funereal pace) and the sheer length of the album. Saying that, opener House Of Wishes works well, as do The Phoenix and The Garden (the album is named for a lyric); actually, most individual tracks are fine, but, sadly, their cumulative impact has the opposite effect to that intended. Also, you need to watch your majors and minors on Lost In Clouds, chaps. Larry Fast guests, slapping Mellotron samples all over everything, but, as with much of the album's content, it gets to the point where you wish he'd use something else. As I've said elsewhere, most real Mellotron users realise that you can reach a point of Mellotron Fatigue, where it becomes a little overwhelming. The same applies here.

2016's Slow Burn 1 travels even further down the '4AD' path, to the point where eight-minute closer Universal comes across more as an extended pop song than as anything at all progressive, although I'm sure that's missing the point. Highlights include brief opener Prelude, Miracle and Fading, which starts off like a lost Roxy Music track, circa '73, although I'm less sure about the jaunty V838 and Mist. Plenty of samplotron, especially the flutes this time round, with particularly upfront strings on Enemies.

Les Fradkin  (US)

Reality - The Rock Opera  (2003,  70.04)  ***
Guitar Revolution  (2007,  37.00)  ***
One Link Between Them  (2008,  51.14)  ***

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. 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. One Link Between Them features heavy use of the Ztar MIDI guitar controller, apparently, not that you'd know by listening. It's a mix of covers (Steve Vai, The Ventures, The Tornados) and original material, while the remastered version adds a couple of classical remakes, including a magnificent take on Khachaturian's Sabre Dance, taken at suitably breakneck speed. Samplotron strings (and occasional flutes) on most tracks, but you'd never take it for the real thing.

Frágil  (Peru)

Avenida Larco  (1981,  39.29)  ***½

Frágil (named for their Heroes Yes' Fragile, unsurprisingly) seem to be yet another case of the South American Mellotron Disease, despite being from the other side of the continent as all those Argentinian bands. The disease? Crediting 'Mellotron' on your '70s/'80s album, which actually contains no such thing, while sporting a fairly prominent string synth. I believe Avenida Larco was their second album, after an eponymous effort from two years previously, a decent enough progressive album, although without much obvious South American influence, unlike, say, Quaterna Requiem, although it does hop slightly disconcertingly from style to style as it progresses.

A Fragile Tomorrow  (US)

Be Nice Be Careful  (2012,  48.06)  ***

Be Nice Be Careful slides between powerpop and Americana (oft-related genres, let's face it), at its best on the rocky Crooked Smiles And Speedy Hands, Long Time To Be Happy and the Byrds-esque Kernersville. Dominic and Sean Kelly are credited with Chamberlin, but my new cynicism tells me it's more likely to be sampled, the strings on Loyalty Lies, All My Friends Are Gone and Daylight never quite ringing true.

Brooke Fraser  (New Zealand)

What to Do With Daylight  (2003,  49.12)  **

Brooke Fraser's debut, What to Do With Daylight, was hugely successful in her native country, which tells me that kiwis are clearly impressed by insipid, introspective singer-songwriters. Although the bulk of the album is quite awful, for some reason, Indelible stands out as the one composition here with some substance. However, Marcus Vanilau's 'Mellotron' flutes on Scarlet really, really aren't.

Free System Projekt  (Sweden)  see:

Free System Projekt

Frida  (Sweden)

Djupa Andetag  (1996,  47.32)  **½

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...

Gavin Friday  (Ireland)

Catholic  (2011,  51.37)  **½

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.

Frog Holler  (US)

Railings  (2003,  49.57)  ***

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.

Frogg Café  (US)

Creatures  (2003,  53.14)  ****

Frogg Café apparently started life as Zappa tribute act Lumpy Gravy, releasing their first album of original material, Frogg Café, in 2001. I haven't heard that, but Creatures is, despite some of its European influences, a very 'American' progressive album, with lengthy vocal sections, reminding me of various current US outfits. Aside from Zappa, I can hear bits of Gentle Giant, quite a bit of jazz (much marimba work) and, maybe surprisingly, a hint of psychedelia in places. Actually, The Celestial Metal Can (In Memory Of Charles Ives) is full-on weirdness, as you might expect, given its title, but the rest of the album is pretty musically cohesive. Nick Lieto sticks supposed Mellotron all over the place, with strings and/or choirs on four out of five tracks, although he rarely overuses it. There's a heavy string presence on All This Time, but even the 20-minute+ Waterfall Carnival doesn't overdo it, with choir parts drifting pleasantly in and out of the piece. However, listening to this again, it's quite clearly sampled, so into quarantine it goes. Good album, then, if slightly unfocussed in places, but take this as a recommendation.

Lily Frost  (Canada)

Situation  (2004,  41.44)  **

Lily Frost is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose third solo album proper (ignoring a debut as The Colorifics), 2004's Situation, highlights her intimate, jazzy style on material such as twee opener Les Vaisseaux Nocturnes, Where Is Love? and the jazzy Camden Town, the most listenable thing here being the raw blues of the untitled 'hidden track' that closes the record. It seems that many of her fans first heard her music used on TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy, which says more than I ever could. Steven Drake is credited with Mellotron, but the solo flute on Silver Sun (possibly heard elsewhere, too) is so generic that it barely even sounds like a Mellotron sample, making this a bit of a non-starter on several fronts.

Frutería Toñi  (Spain)

Mellotron en Almíbar  (2014,  45.35)  ****

I'm having trouble locating English-language information concerning Malaga's Frutería Toñi, although that should be less of a problem that it once was, in these days of Google translate. Their debut, 2014's Mellotron en Almíbar ('Mellotron in Syrup', amusingly), is, in its mix'n'match approach to the genre, a typical modern progressive release, shifting between 'standard' symphonic, folk and jazz influences, amongst other things. Opener Toņi: Éxtasis Frutal comes across as a Spanish Zappa, Somno Se Dare as a reggae-tinged Mediterranean jazz/folk excursion, El Timo (No Sin Mijas-Costa) is almost a tribute to Spain's late '70s progressive scene, while Milwokee is nearer to progressive folk/blues, never mind the rest of this clever, highly varied album. Salva Marina is credited with Mellotron, but the overly-smooth strings on most tracks (complete with some overly-abrupt cutoffs) sound more like one of the current crop of hardware sample players to my ears, while the choirs on closer Zuprimo Zurmano Zucompare Zucolega confirm it. If you like your prog safely pseudo-symphonic, you're probably not going to go for Frutería Toñi, but if a challenging, borderline-innovative record sounds like your cup of tea, feel free to investigate.

Fucking Am  (US)

Gold  (2004,  41.07)  ***½

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.

Fucking Champs  (US)

IV  (2000,  38.32)  ****
V  (2002,  38.25)  ***½
VI  (2007,  42.35)  ***½

Around 1997, The Champs became C4AM95 (work it out), before changing again, to The Fucking Champs, allegedly as a response to their fans' nickname for them, which has apparently now become 'The Fuckin' Fucking Champs', proving that you really can't win. Their schtick is frequently drumless, mostly instrumental progressive metal that sounds nothing like any other progressive metal band (thankfully). Given their 'song' titles, are they just one big joke? If so, it's a long-running and successful one; maybe they're poking fun yet serious simultaneously? It's not unheard of; look at Kiss. Er...

A first hearing of IV is a quite startling experience; at times I'm reminded of long-lost keyboardless Brit-proggers AFT (a.k.a. Automatic Fine Tuning), with their twin-guitar approach, although I'm sure that's just coincidental. Their actual influences are more likely to be '80s and '90s metal bands; NWOBHM-2 sounds less like the actual NWOBHM than Queensrÿche gone instrumental, while the fantastically-named Thor Is Like Immortal is Queen on mogadons. The band's massed guitar harmonies are very Brian May-ish, actually. Yeah, Brian May plays Queensrÿche. Tim Soete plays pseudotron on one track; Lamplighter is a 'Mellotron' flute and acoustic guitar duet, the quietest piece on the album along with Lost, which precedes the only vocal track, Extra Man. Why sing, chaps? It only serves to spoil the mood.

The originally-titled V is not quite a carbon copy of its predecessor, but certainly follows the same path, although a musically-correct guitar version of Bach's Air On A G-String is hilariously accurate, both genius and stupidity in one fell swoop. Spinal Tap, anyone? Is the joke on us? Probably. The only thing stopping the album (best track: apart from the Bach, probably either Never Enough Neck Part 2 or another nutzoid harmony piece, Chorale Motherfucker) from getting the same rating as its predecessor is that it just seems to repeat its trick, doubtless quite deliberately. One pseudotron track, again: Part Three features the flutes quite heavily.

Five years and one personnel change later, VI finally saw the light of day in 2007. And... it's more of the same. It's a good trick, but it seems to be the only one they've got. Opener The Loge is great, A Forgotten Chapter In The History Of Ideas sounds like an instrumental Maiden/Sabbath cross, but the repeating intro riff to Earthen Sculptor has to be the album's finest moment, while Abide With Me is exactly what you think: budget Brian May. A quick thought: why do May's massed harmonies sound so much better than anyone else's? His undeniable knowledge of, er, harmony? Or because he probably put down thirty parts to everyone else's five? Or was it sixty? Anyway, on the pseudotron front, there's a minor flute part on That Crystal Behind You? (Are You Channeling), with a more major one, plus strings, on Dolores Park and strings on closer Column Of Heads.

The Fucking Champs are slightly predictable, but, er, fucking cool all the same. How can it have taken me so long to discover them? And if it hadn't been for the 'Mellotron' connection... All three albums here are worth hearing, although IV probably has the edge on the others, or is it simply that I heard it first? Incidentally, the Champs have also collaborated with Trans Am, twice, once as TransChamps and once, beautifully, as The Fucking Am (above).

Fulflej  (US)

Wack-Ass Tuba Riff  (1996,  54.25)  *½

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.

Fun Machine  (US)

Sonnenhuhn  (2008,  45.14)  ***½

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.

Future Kings of England  (UK)

The Future Kings of England  (2005,  55.42)  ***

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.

Future Sound of London  (UK)

Papua New Guinea Translations  (2001,  63.12)  ***

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.

Fyreworks  (UK)

The Fyreworks  (1997,  49.12)  ***

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?