Juri et Lisa
Atta Vinter (2009, 38.55) ***The Wind Whispers Her Name
Pisgah Forest Blizzard
To Reach the Apex
With All I Have... I Will Make it So
Atta Vinter II
Although it seems uncertain whether or not Jabladav (James/Blake/David) still exist as a working unit, they spit out limited-edition CD-Rs of their extreme metal on a regular basis, some of it possibly recorded during their heyday during the late '90s. There's no getting away from the fact that, unless you like your guitars distorted and your metal black, you're unlikely to get much out of Jabladav's particular take on the genre, largely involving guttural vocals, frantic drumming and strange, ambient interludes. 2009's Atta Vinter is their ninth album in three years, conforming precisely to the above description, making any other attempt to analyse it quite redundant. Does it have a best track? Yes: lengthy closer Atta Vinter II, where the band's influences coalesce most effectively.
J.B. (presumably bassist James) is credited with Mellotron, but the choirs on several tracks are very obviously sampled, particularly apparent in the upper registers. So; extreme metal fan? Good luck, the band's releases mostly seem to be very limited, although, er, downloads exist. Not that I'd know.
To Stars (2000, 37.53) ***
|So Long, My Blue Valentine
The Orchestra I Loved
This is What You Do
The Day Before You Came
Sad in the Sun
It'll Never Happen Again
|London Loves You
I Won't Let You Down
Jacques were a side-project of Cardiff band Jack, sounding something like a Francophile version of The Divine Comedy. Their second (and last) album, 2000's To Stars, is full of laugh-out-loud, intentionally ridiculous lyrics like The Day Before You Came; fittingly, the album features The Divine Comedy's Bryan Mills.
Will Foster is credited with Mellotron, but there's no way the choirs on The Day Before You Came and I Won't Let You Down have anything to do with an M400. This isn't going to appeal to everyone - I'm not sure it really appeals to me - but it's pretty good at what it does, despite the lack of any real Mellotron.
More Than Meets the Eye (1992, 46.58);  ***½Sleepwalk
Hiding in the Corner
More Than Meets the Eye
The Beginning and the End
Holding Your Breath
You know, once upon a time (no pun intended), I was quite a Jadis fan. Followed 'em about all over the place (well, relatively speaking), must've seen 'em several dozen times. I missed their early 'two guitars, no keys' phase, but I saw their '87-'89 lineup loads, then after they split and reformed I saw them many more times. And now I sit here listening to their first widely-available album, More Than Meets the Eye again and thinking, "So what was all that about, eh?" Not that it's an intrinsically bad record, you understand; I think I've just moved on. Just to put the record straight, by the way, their first release was the Baboon Inquiries tape way back in '84, then the limited edition Jadis (***½) vinyl-only LP from '89, designed as a memento of the late-'80s version of the band, making this their third album, rather than their debut.
Jadis are often (doubtless to their irritation) referred to as an 'IQ offshoot' or similar, as there always seems to've been some sharing of musicians between the two bands. This came to a head with this lineup, as IQ's Martin Orford came in on keys, as did bassist John Jowitt (guesting here), replacing Nick May after some rather unfortunate skulduggery. The material is an intensely melodic and very British neo-prog, but lacks, shall we say, a certain energy. Gary Chandler's guitar playing tends to be pretty squeaky-clean, but I have to say, he has a way with a melody. The songs are mostly of quite unusual construction, often with several minutes of instrumental work before a short vocal section, then more instrumental stuff to the end. The general feel of the album is very 'up', to be honest; I'm not sure who writes what in the band, but Martin has been known to say that he 'keeps his darker material for IQ'. The keyboards are mostly of the 'new at the time' variety, so much D50 et al. (but at least no bloody DX7), but to bolster up some of the crescendos, Martin brings in the odd bit of 'Tron choir here and there. I am, however, reliably informed that it's sampled, as on IQ's Ever.
It would appear I've been labouring under a misapprehension for some time, viz, that their follow-up, Across the Water (***), also contained (sampled) Mellotron. Well, it doesn't; God knows what I was hearing, but there's not a trace of it on re-listening. The band had been gigging regularly for a couple of years by the time it came out and I seem to remember a great atmosphere at gigs, but somewhere along the road it all rather tailed off for me. I think I realised after my third gig on the trot where I just stood at the back talking to people that maybe my brain was trying to tell me something. And that something was, "No more wussy neo-prog". After more lineup shuffles, I believe the current state of the band is back to that of the one that recorded these albums, but I no longer feel able to connect to their music as I once did. I suspect that after hearing Änglagård, nothing was ever quite the same for me again...
So; if you like your prog dark and moody, go somewhere else. If you like tons of Mellotron, go somewhere else. If you like bright, uplifting neo-prog, I think Jadis might just be your band.
Alchemy (2006, 46.53) ***
|Like the Trees Forget I Regret
The Queen Stole Our Children
Mortuos Voco. Vivos Plango.
The Self Pity Song
The Queen is Dead
|Vivos Voco. Mortuos Plango.
Farewell (2008, 64.02) **½
|Wilhelm Quixote Love Song
Did I Change?
Rooms Without Doors
The Ball Lightning Incident
Guangdong No Soul
One World is Not Enough for Two
Hotel Two Chords
Somewhere on the Way
The Way Home (2008, 61.13) **½
The Atonal Anthem
Body Integrity Identity Disorder
Spring of Discontent
Winter of Discontent
|Veinte Años No es Nada
We Must Obey
The End of a Band
Berlin's Jagat Skad were apparently known for 'frequent lineup and stylistic changes'; although they began as a 'noise project', 2006's Alchemy is probably best described as a psychedelic dark indie-folk album, if that makes any sense at all. It shifts from folky opener Like The Trees Forget I Regret through eclectic epic Waterlily, proto-techno sitting cheek-by-jowl with ethnic flutes and the Wurlitzer-driven Roland/Africa to the distorted electronica of closer Crows, the quality sadly appearing to slowly deteriorate as the album progresses. Although Jens Karsunke is credited with Mellotron, the strings on The Queen Stole Our Children, Waterlily, Glass and Roland/Africa, plus uncredited choirs and strings on The Queen Is Dead are clearly sampled, although most parts enhance the tracks nicely.
Proving the point regarding the band's ever-changing style, by 2008's Farewell, the dark folk influence has mostly disappeared, while the indie-ness quotient has risen dramatically. Whether or not you think that's a good thing, of course... The variety this time shifts between the acoustic indie of Romanticism, the female-vocalled Rooms Without Doors, the drifting post-rock of Guangdong No Soul and Street Lights and the electronica of White Elephant, while closer "Die Nächtliche" is a solo piano piece. The album's chief problem, though, isn't just its overall length, but individual track lengths: Did I Change? is no fewer than eleven minutes long (it would've worked better at about five), while ten minutes of Street Lights is, well, probably ten minutes too many. Karsunke's 'Mellotron' use this time consists of background strings on opener Wilhelm Quixote Love Song and Did I Change?, major flute and string parts on Rooms Without Doors, background strings and choirs on One World Is Not Enough For Two and distant choirs on Hotel Two Chords, although the album's top fakeotron moment is the full-on unaccompanied flute part that opens the title track, augmented later on with strings.
The Way Home, from later the same year, is pretty similar to its predecessor, albeit even further down the post-rock road, more notable material including quiet/loud opener Farewell Demons, The Atonal Anthem, to which I can only say, "You ain't kiddin'" and several instances of lush pseudotron/electronica clashes, not to mention more overlong nonsense in the shape of three ten-minuters, Body Integrity Identity Disorder, The End Of A Band and accordion-and-piano closer Pisno. Fakeotron use includes cellos and strings all over opener Farewell Demons and Winter Of Discontent, lush strings on Body Integrity Identity Disorder and Spring Of Discontent, background choirs and upfront flutes on The Well, flutes and swelling strings on Chiaroscuro and The End Of A Band, brass (a new one here) on 76 and background strings on We Must Obey.
Do you bother with Jagat Skad, especially given that these titles are (or were) available for nothing? I prefer Alchemy to their two later releases, but that's meaningless in the grand scheme of things, frankly. Loads of samplotron, but then, there are hundreds of albums as laden with the real thing, if that's what you're after, so if I were you, I'd probably go there first.
The Bruised Romantic Glee Club [as Jakko M. Jakszyk] (2006, 86.32) ***½
|The Bruised Romantic Glee Club
Variations on a Theme by Holst
When Peggy Came Home
No One Left to Lie to
The Things We Throw Away
Doxy, Dali and Duchamp
When We Go Home
As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still (incorporating: That Still and
Perfect Summer - Astral Projection in Pinner)
Pictures of an Indian City
Nirvana for Mice
The Citizen King
Jakko Jakszyk's had a long and varied career, working in all kinds of areas, some of the better-known being the 21st Century Schizoid Band and Level 42, which may give some idea as to his versatility. His early-'80s solo album, Silesia, contains a smattering of Mellotron, but despite a credit, I'm of the opinion that 2006's The Bruised Romantic Glee Club features nowt but samples.
The one thing it has in common with its distant ancestor (aside from Jakko's voice and guitar) is a certain way with a vocal melody, although stylistically, it's more Porcupine Tree than Japan; unsurprisingly, as that band's ex-drummer, Gavin Harrison, plays here, along with many more famous friends than before, not least Dave Stewart (again), Danny Thompson, Mark King, Hugh Hopper and even Fripp. Speaking of whom, Jakko gives a couple of nods to his Crimson connection with Pictures Of An Indian City, a slightly Indianised (!) version of the Wake of Poseidon track, and a beautiful version of the very underrated Islands. Jakko's credited with Mellotron on one track, disc two's As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still medley, but 'that string sound' is all over both discs, with strings on all highlighted tracks plus flutes on No One Left To Lie To, but I'm quite sure they emanate from a sampler of some description. All a bit too smooth, frankly.
So; a good album, very good in places, definitely one for older Porcupine Tree fans to investigate, though I'm not sure I'd bother for a bunch of Mellotron samples alone.
See: Jakko Jakszyk | 21st Century Schizoid Band
Contra la Corriente (2006, 47.32) **½
|Contra la Corriente
Ven por Favor
Sentir en la Vida
Nada Se Compara Contigo
Contra la Corriente" (pop version)
Actitud (Attitude) (English version)]
Janina Irizarry is a Puerto Rican pop starlet, although her expected Latin pop is tempered with a rock influence, apparently due to her own wider-than-you-might-think musical tastes. As a result, her second album, 2006's Contra la Corriente ('Upstream'), is less unpleasant than it might have been, but please don't take that as a recommendation. Originality's in rather short supply, too; the opening title track is a dead ringer for The Police's Every Breath You Take, right down to the guitar tone, while several other tracks sound familiar without actually being plagiaristic.
Armando Avila (Avila Boys, RBD) is credited with Mellotron, but as with the other albums on which he supposedly plays it, I find the little string swells on Actitud and vague flutes on Sentir En La Vida too unrealistic for their own good. To cut a long story short, you probably don't need to hear this, even though it could have been a lot worse.
If I Could See Dallas (1999, 73.27) **½
|Now Wait for Last Year
A Short Mile
The Sleepy Strange (2001, 49.28) **½The Waiting
Disconnect the Cables
The Year's Beat
Soft n EZ
The Sleepy Strange
Japancakes are yet another entrant in the over-subscribed post-rock arena, recording lengthy albums full of lethargic, mostly instrumental pieces that seem more suited to creating a mood than to actually be listened to at all closely. I'd imagine that the best bands in the genre are those who create said mood most successfully, leaving Japancakes somewhere in midfield, I suppose. Their debut, '99's If I Could See Dallas, is a little on the interminable side, trapping on for a good half-hour longer than they needed to make their point, although I can see genre fans going for it. No-one's credited with Mellotron (often a bad sign), although there's a fast, high flute part on Baker Beats, sounding most sampled, with more 'standard' flutes and strings on Dallas. Of course, these may not be samples, but the faster bits don't sound particularly real, at least to my ears.
They followed up two years on with The Sleepy Strange, essentially more of the same, although at least it's shorter. More uncredited 'Tron samples, with ethereal (sorry) strings on Disconnect The Cables with a flute line later on, strings (alongside real cello) on The Year's Beat and more strings on Vinyl Fever alongside some quite cool echoed monosynth portamento work. Overall, these are albums you're unlikely to study in great detail, but if you want something modern and not too intrusive in the background, they knock spots off, say, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Still boring, though, although plenty of sampled 'Tron, if that's what you're after.
Tout Ce Que J'ai Rêvé (2008, 62.40) ***½Tout Ce Que J'ai Rêvé
Caché au Fond Plus Haut
Dans la Peau d'un Autre I
Dans la Peau d'un Autre II
La Cage des Vautours/Liberté
Symbiose (2011, 57.43) ***½
Au Nom d'Apo Calypso
Les Amants de la Guerre
Le Marchand d'Hommes
Jellyfiche are a new Québecois progressive band whom, like many of their countrymen (although by no means all), eschew '80s neo-prog for earlier influences, avoiding much unpleasantness in the process. Their debut, 2008's Tout Ce Que J'ai Rêvé, isn't the classic I've been led to believe; it's too derivative, for starters, opening almost exactly like a mid-'90s Porcupine Tree album (that is, like an early '70s Pink Floyd one), although its considerable Frenchness (in classic sort-of ex-pat style) rescues it from accusations of complacency. Other unusual touches include the bluesy guitar work on Les Arbres and Caché Au Fond Plus Haut's jazzy feel, although too much of the album falls back on a slightly clichéd 'generic prog' feel that's a bit overdone these days. Eric Plante adds Mellotron samples to a couple of tracks, with strings on Source Infinie and strings, flutes and choir on closer La Cage Des Vautours/Liberté, which could probably have been used a little more without approaching overkill, although I should probably admire his restraint, compared to some.
The band followed up with 2011's Symbiose, which, although a slightly mixed bag, has many highlights, including Dualité, Au Nom D'Apo Calypso's Eastern tonalities and the Crimsonesque guitar work on Genèse and Le Marchand D'Hommes. On the downside, Ève is a bit wet, but they acquit themselves with a broader stylistic palette than before, not least with the drum'n'bass rhythm programming on Les Amants De La Guerre. Sampled Mellotron on a handful of tracks, principally the strings on Genèse and Au Nom D'Apo Calypso, although the jury's still out on the ones used on Expansion.
Overall, then, two albums worth hearing for the prog fan who's as bored as I am of flashy, bombastic metal-influenced nonsense or neo-prog drivel. Not classics, but far, far better than many.
Silesia (2011, 52.29) **Silesia
Waifs & Strays
The Beat of Our Own Blood
A Drink to Remember
Where the Hills Fall Towards the Ocean
Jeniferever are a Swedish goth/post-rock quartet from Uppsala, whose third album, 2011's Silesia, is an unholy mix of pseudo-transcendent 'crescendo rock', mainstream indie and sub-orchestral goth, mostly taken at a dreary mid-pace, Deception Pass being the one, (relatively) speedy exception. To add insult to injury, almost every track is a minute or two too long, leading to a forty-minute album turning into a fifty-two-minute one. Deadly. Worst example? Closer Hearths, 'cos it's the longest.
It says 'Mellotron' here... Vocalist Kristofer Jönson is credited on Waifs & Strays, but if that shrieky string part is supposed to be a real Mellotron, then I'm a fucking Martian. This is dire. You have been warned.
Plugged (1997, 73.30) ***Erstes Schattenspiel
Jiannis Zedamanis is a Greek electronic musician, working firmly in post-Tangs 'Berlin School' territory, whose early releases appeared on cassette, before the cheap CD pressing revolution later in the '90s. 1997's Plugged (ho ho) appears to be his first CD release, possibly recorded in Germany, as all track titles are in German and it was released on a German label. Then again, the market for this kind of stuff tends to be in northern rather than southern Europe, so I suppose the Germanic connection makes sound business sense. The material's exactly what you'd expect: three very lengthy tracks of Tangerine Dream-ish EM with what sounds like some improvised parts over the ubiquitous sequenced backing. Frankly, if you like EM, you'll like this; it seems to be as good as any, while sticking firmly to the genre 'rules'.
Despite the preponderance of Mellotron sample use in the EM field (not to mention zero information on Jiannis' ownership of a real 'Tron), much of the album's 'Mellotron' use made me think it was real, until some unfeasibly sustained string chords on Drittes Schattenspiel, unless some studio trickery was involved. Might this be a German studio machine? Doubt it, to be honest, although the flute, string, string section and choir parts all sound reasonably authentic. Anyway, pseudo-Mellotron-laden EM, just like lots of others. Your choice. Incidentally, other Jiannis 'Mellotron' albums include 1990's Paramorphon 1 & 2 and the following year's Das Tonale Schweigen cassettes and 1998's Nightsessions.
A Theory of Anything (2009, 111.52) ***½
This is Your Awesome Banner
And That is Why You Should Remain Content
(Beta) Androids Dream of (Malfunctioning)
Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?
|As Long as the Music Plays
The Mundanely Narrowed Out Deli Corner
A Theory of Anything
Veritas (2010, 79.11) ***½
|Hamster-Vest for My Squirrel
Before You Pretend to Agree
Is a World (2010, 62.18) ***½A Room With a View
An Earful of Sins, a Mindful of Shame
Aeons of Silence
Königsberg Wailers (the Topology of Absence)
Turn of the Lake
Fog on the Shore
Jorm (named for a region in northern Sweden), a new Swedish prog/psych outfit, are effectively Frederik Andersson's solo project, although other musicians have been brought in for live work. He's found a novel(ish) way around the expense of self-releasing albums, by making them download-only, cutting out several levels of middle-men in the process. Obvious influences include Jethro Tull, Yes, Caravan (maybe surprisingly) and countrymen Dungen, but be warned: despite the overall quality of their material, it might be stretching things slightly to call Jorm 'original', to the point where familiar musical phrases crop up all too frequently.
His/their debut, 2008's The Hemperor's New Garments (****), is an excellent, if rather long effort, while 2009's A Theory of Anything appears to be his first release to use Mellotron samples. A massively long album, its non-physical status makes its length almost irrelevant to its release method; a pity, as some judicious editing would probably have made it an easier listen. Don't get me wrong; Andersson doesn't really put a foot wrong anywhere, but this is two long albums in one, making an uninterrupted listen more of a chore than a pleasure. Highlights include opener Cosmopolitan, the jaunty The Mundanely Narrowed Out Deli Corner and the outrageous, twenty eight-minute title track. (Sample lyric: "Silent night, holy shit"). Unfortunately, I feel honour-bound to point out these release's relative lack of originality; Newspeak features echoes of The Zombies' She's Not There, with the album as a whole featuring a few too many 'haven't I heard that bit before?' moments, although they never last long. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get the usuals: flutes, often very timestretched strings and (mostly very background) choirs, although they're never really going to fool even the most unattuned ear.
2010 brought two more virtual albums: Veritas is (just) CD length and, amazingly, another strong collection of material, less obviously unoriginal than before, highlights including the title track and the seventeen-minute Almost Human. Plenty of samplotron again, not least the prominent flute part that opens album closer Hemmavid. Unfortunately, the year's second release, Is a World (or Jorm is a World, I suppose), slips back into near-plagiarism in places: eighteen-minute opener A Room With A View contains snippets of several Yes tracks, not least Close To The Edge, Soon and Siberian Khatru, Turn Of The Lake is almost an And You And I/Awaken mash-up, while the spirit of Caravan's In the Land of Grey & Pink hangs over the album like a cloud of pot smoke, from when pot was called, er, pot. Once again, loads of samplotron, not just the usual sounds this time, as we get a brief brass part at the end of Pinetree Romance.
All in all, Jorm make fine, if a tad derivative, albums, the kind that'll give you many hours of listening pleasure (who said, "Spot the riff"?). In all honesty, there's too much here to take in on an initial listen, so give 'em a go if you're after a psych/prog crossover with no modern influences.
Starfire (2000, 47.45) ***
Edge of the Blade
Break it Up
The Day the Earth Caught Fire
End Comes Easy
Just the Same
Abyss of Evil
Gate of Tears
Jørn (Lande) is a Norwegian rock vocalist who straddles the borderline between hard rock and AOR (yes, there is one), keeping a foot firmly in each camp, although, admittedly, more in the latter than the former. I gather Starfire is pretty typical of the man's style; it's pretty cheesy, truth be told, without actually slipping into full-on Journeyisms, for which we should be truly grateful. More epic rockers like The Day The Earth Caught Fire and Gate Of Tears redeem the album slightly, but they sound pretty flat up against anything from, say, Rainbow Rising. Speaking of which, Jørn really shows where he's coming from with his rather pointless cover of Purple's Burn, although he manages a pretty credible Coverdale impersonation. Suffice to say, it's the album's best track by a fairly wide margin; why do artists cover tracks that make their own look crap in comparison? Discuss.
'Mellotron' on the acoustic-ish/Eastern End Comes Easy from Jon A. Narum (NOT John Norum, original guitarist with Europe, when they were good. No, really; lovers of UFO/Lizzy/Rainbow-style hard rock will love their first two albums, particularly the second, the magnificent Wings of Tomorrow. Then came The Final Countdown, and it all went both up and downhill from there, depending on your point of view. Er, I digress). Anyway, said 'Mellotron' quite clearly isn't anything of the sort, being ultra-smooth 'Tron string samples that barely even count as that. Well, we wouldn't want anything as grungy as a real Mellotron here, would we?
You really don't need this album unless you're a massive fan of the style, or have to have every Purple cover ever recorded, to be honest. I dunno; there's a market out there for this kind of stuff (hi, Phil), but I really don't get what's supposed to be so good about it. Maybe it's me. One average 'Tron sample track doesn't add to the album's appeal one bit, I'm afraid.
American Whip (2004, 42.49) **
Baby You Should Know
Out of the Sun
Dosed and Became Invisible
In the Never Ending Search for a Suitable Enemy
Joy Zipper are the Long Island-based duo of Tabitha Tindale and Vincent Cafiso, who specialise in a kind of vaguely Velvets-inspired indie thing, while missing most of what made that particular band so iconic. I'm sure their second album, American Whip, has its devotees, but I'm afraid I'm not among them, being unable to see why anyone would want to listen to this rather dull record a second time. I'm obviously missing something, probably related to my age and overall taste.
I'd already decided that the 'Mellotron' flutes I was hearing weren't, when a 'Tron string note in Ron held for what must be well over a minute, satisfyingly proving my point. Flutes (mostly background) on several other tracks, but that's it for the-'Tron-that-isn't. This bored me rigid, and the Mellotron doesn't even have the grace to be real.
Waters Ave. S. (1997, 41.18) ***½
Angel of May
Treasures of Gold
The Joke is Over
Space Age Mom
Circus, Circus, Circus
Hell or Highwater
Waters Ave. S.
Waters Ave. S. is Damien Jurado's first album proper, following a handful of self-produced cassette releases and a couple of singles. In some ways, it's typical Sub Pop fare, hailing from Seattle, full of dark, well-observed material like the mournful Treasures Of Gold and Independent. The pace picks up every now and again, but the bulk of the album consists of drumless, genuinely heartfelt material, a very, very long way from the 'punk rock' (US '80s style) with which his label started off.
Steve Fisk (too many high-profile names to mention) is credited with Mellotron, but I believe he only obtained a real one around 2006, all previous credits being samples. Saying that, I couldn't really tell you where it might be here, sampled or otherwise, unless it's the non-Mellotronlike strings at the end of the closing title track; the nicely ironic (real) Theremin on Space Age Mom is far more overt. Anyway, a good album, with a few tracks bordering 'great'; worth hearing. Incidentally, Jurado got to use a real Mellotron on 1999's Rehearsals for Departure, once he hooked up with The Posies.
See: Damien Jurado
All Things Are Quite Silent (1994, 47.23) ****
All Things Are Quite Silent
Moon Calf's Waltz
Mariamne the Martyr
|Streets of Derry
Flowers Fell From My Hand
Juri et Lisa are actually Japanese, with all the usual problems regarding artist information, so I've no idea whether they released more than the one album, 1994's beautiful All Things Are Quite Silent. It's one of those folky records full of breathy strings, harmoniums and gently plucked acoustic guitars, not to mention two female voices in this case, the English-language lyrics covering all the usual folky concerns. Best tracks? The rhythmic title track, the harpsichord-driven Mariamne the Martyr, the harmonium-fuelled Flowers Fell From My Hand and nine-minute vocal drone Ancient Chant, maybe, but there isn't actually a bad track here.
Juri is credited with Mellotron on Moon Calf's Waltz and Yuichi Tanaya on From Away, but there's nothing obvious on the former, while the flutes on the latter aren't kidding anyone, frankly. While you're never going to bother for a Mellotron that isn't, this is a lovely album that deserves a wider audience, particularly amongst the wyrd folk crowd.