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Marcelina  (Poland)

Marcelina  (2011,  41.04)  **

Marcelina is a Polish starlet, which is about all I can tell you, given that anything about her on the 'Net is in Polish, not one of my top languages. I mean, I can't even tell you her surname, never mind a website URL. I suspect that 2011's Marcelina is her debut, an odd mix of vaguely 'trad'-sounding singer-songwriter stuff and modern dance pop, the latter, sadly, largely taking precedence over the former. For future releases, she really should stick to her own language; her English diction is terrible and she's pretty unlikely to break through to the international market. Jan Smoczyński is credited with 'Mellotron' on Motyle, but the strings most certainly aren't, while the solo flute part is fairly obviously sampled. What else can I say about this? Not a lot, really. 'Reasonably good at what it does' is about the best I can do.

Márcia  (Portugal)

Dá  (2010,  49.55)  **½

Márcia (Santos) seems to be a Portuguese version of those rather drippy American singer-songwriters whose anodyne songs constantly turn up on the kind of TV programmes I wouldn't watch if you paid me. The only thing that caught my ear was six-minute closer Vem, with its mournful, muted flugelhorn solo; I can't imagine Márcia would sell many records if they sounded more like this, but they'd certainly be better. Although Luís Nunes is credited with Mellotron on Céu Aberto, his flute samples (I can't imagine a real machine came anywhere near this record) are actually on O Novelo. You're most unlikely to want to hear this, I can assure you, although Vem is at least vaguely interesting.

Marcy Playground  (US)

Lunch, Recess & Detention  (2012, recorded 1997-2012?  61.14)  **½

Marcy Playground's debut went platinum in their home country, although I've never heard of them before. Avoiding popular culture? Job done. The indie-friendly Lunch, Recess & Detention apparently combines rarities/b-sides and new material, including a bizarrely pointless, drumless, seemingly straight take on (A) Whiter Shade Of Pale and a far better go at Leonard Cohen's deathless Hallelujah. Dylan Keefe's 'Mellotron'? What, the flutes on Special? Or on The Angel Of The Forever Sleep?

Mariha  (Germany)

Elementary Seeking  (2006,  53.33)  **½

German singer Mariha released her debut album, Elementary Seeking, in 2006, possibly best described as adult pop (isn't that an oxymoron?); it's certainly far more mature than your typical teenage fare, anyway. To be honest, unless you go for her relatively lightweight sound, you're not going to get much out of this; it hardly rivals, say, The Beach Boys for complexity, but then, it's probably not trying to. Christian Fleps plays samplotron, with flutes on opener It Hurts, Free Now and Alive, while Christian Decker adds flutes to Sir, What's Your Name?

Marillion  (UK)  see:

Marillion

Marina & the Diamonds  (UK)

The Family Jewels  (2010,  45.27)  **½
Electra Heart  (2012,  46.54)  *½

Marina Diamandis, of Welsh/Greek extraction, uses her professional nom de plume Marina & the Diamonds (from her surname) not in reference to her backing band, but her fans, apparently. Her debut album, 2010's The Family Jewels, is a not-too-appalling collection of new wave-ish pop, veering between pseudo-electro numbers and ballads, like a less irritating Lily Allen, maybe, nowhere near as bad as it might be, which isn't actually a recommendation. Liam Howe plays samplotron, with background strings on opener Are You Satisfied?, faint string parts on Obsessions and Hermit The Frog, plus flutes on the latter, with nothing obvious on I Am Not A Robot and Numb. 2012's Electra Heart is essentially more of the same, only a good deal less so; while its predecessor didn't overly appal me, this album had me reaching for the 'next' button on every track bar the relevant one. Speaking of which, Howe returns on samplotron, with naught but a couple of faint string chords on closer Fear And Loathing.

Maritime  (US)

Glass Floor  (2004,  45.02)  **

Maritime coalesced out of two other bands, then mutated again before reaching their final form. 2004's Glass Floor is their first full album, after the preceding year's Adios EP and, I have to say, you'd be hard-pushed to find a wetter record. Actually, you probably wouldn't, but I'm trying to convey the album's deep, abiding wetness; its wussy, badly-strummed guitars, its limply-sung, insipid, cliché-ridden lyrics, its fake emotion... If you're thinking, "He doesn't like this album much, does he?", you'd be absolutely right. Flaccid indie nonsense, although, in fairness, I've heard worse. Although string sounds crop up a few times, I suspect the bulk of them are the credited real violin and cello used in tandem, David Durst's samplotron strings finally appearing on Souvenirs.

Graig Markel  (US)

Verses on Venus  (1999,  43.38)  **

Graig Markel has played (usually sampled) Mellotron for several other artists and, after hearing Verses on Venus, I rather wish he'd stuck to production. This is one of the limpest indie/singer-songwriter efforts it's been my displeasure to hear recently, against stiff competition, at its least offensive on All That Glitters, maybe and at its weirdest on Better Lost Than Gone, smothered in inappropriate percussion. Markel plays a samplotron flute line on Winter Never Saw Better Light and ridiculously pitchbent strings on Pixels To Percent.

Kate Markowitz  (US)

Map of the World  (2003,  56.08)  **

Kate Markowitz' Map of the World is a soul-inflected singer-songwriter adult pop album, which is every bit as excruciating as it sounds, not helped by what sounds disturbingly like the occasional lyrical Christian reference. Tony Harrell plays background samplotron strings on These Wheels.

Jennifer Marks  (US)

My Name's Not Red  (2000,  42.08)  ***

What makes a fairly ordinary singer-songwriter album like Jennifer Marks' My Name's Not Red so much better than a thousand similar? The music? Acceptable, but unstartling. The lyrics? Definitely; Marks' wit shines out like a beacon. An overall lack of sentimentality? Ah. Got it. Sentiment has its place, but, bear in mind, the Nazis were a terribly sentimental bunch (apologies for invoking Godwin's Law...) Anyway, Jennifer Marks clearly isn't a Nazi, not even a grammar one, she's a really rather good songwriter, her album's highlights including Thick, the title track and the excellent High School Reunion, all as much for their lyrics as the accompaniment. With no Mellotron credited, it's no surprise that the vaguely Mellotronic background strings on High School Reunion are sampled.

Marlango  (Spain)

The Electrical Morning  (2007,  52.48)  **½

I've rarely heard a Spanish band sound less Spanish than Marlango; initially described as 'smooth jazz', by their third album, 2007's The Electrical Morning, 'jazzy indie with a hint of Tom Waits' might be more appropriate. It clearly does what it sets out to do, although I have no affinity with their style myself; the only track which catches my ear at all is the brief Rhodes-and-vocal Shiny Fish. Alejandro Pelayo supposedly plays Mellotron on I Do, with a background cello line that, despite being low in the mix, is almost certainly sampled. So; one for sophisticates, or at least, people who like to think they are. With no real Mellotron, how can I possibly genuinely recommend this?

Marlene Kuntz  (Italy)

Che Cosa Vedi  (2000,  60.08)  **½

Marlene Kuntz translates as... Well, suffice to say that when you hear the phrase 'Anglo-Saxon adjective', they mean it; in other words, it means pretty much what you think it does, with regard to Ms. Dietrich. Charmed, I'm sure. 2000's Che Cosa Vedi is something like their fourth studio release, a sort-of Italian-language goth/punk/noise hybrid that, frankly, is unlikely to appeal to many people outside the band's home market. Gianfranco Fornaciari is credited with Mellotron on four tracks, but the strings on opener Cara È La Fine, L'Abbraccio, Due Sogni and La Mia Promessa sound pretty fake to me. So; this isn't actually bad as such, just uninspired and dull, which is slightly different. But only slightly.

Marlowes  (US)

Sugarbursts & Thunderbolts  (2003,  38.13)  ***½

Sugarbursts & Thunderbolts is a rather splendid powerpop album, shining out like a beacon in the dark amongst the steaming heaps of insipid singer-songwriter dreck with which I'm usually faced. Highlights? All of it, really, although opener Because Of A Girl, Clown College Reunion and vocal/piano closer A New Kind Of Weather possibly have the edge. To be perfectly honest, though, I've no idea why Peter Linnane's credited with Mellotron.

Marmalade Souls  (Sweden)

Marmalade Souls  (2007,  44.31)  ***

Swedish powerpop outfit Marmalade Souls are fronted by Michael and Johanna Klemmé, whose chief influence, at least on 2007's Marmalade Souls, is clearly various eras of The Beatles in particular (notably on Mr Lemon Tea) and '60s pop in general. Other top tracks include jangly opener It Won't Be Too Long, Famous and Words Of Love, although the vaguely swing-era Goodbye and the bluesy Baby Come Back are exceptions to the stylistic rule. Michael is credited with Mellotron, but the flute part on Fall Into The Sky lacks veracity, ditto the ones on Famous and Good Days. Too murky, too background; now tell me I'm wrong (wouldn't be the first time). Not bad, then, but should be avoided by anyone allergic to jangly pop.

Edith Márquez  (Mexico)

Duele  (2009,  42.59)  **

Edith Márquez' Duele is a Latin pop album from a singing soap star. None of Armando Avila's 'Mellotron' credits are genuine, this one included.

Brian Marquis  (US)

Blood & Spirits  (2013,  45.17)  ***

Blood & Spirits sits in an area somewhere between powerpop (opener Drink You Up), acoustic punk (Paralysis By Analysis, From Boston) and Americana (I'm Still Chasing You, Highways And Heartache), amongst other genres. Diverse, but in a good way. Not sure what Doug Grean's 'Mellotron' is supposed to be doing: the flutes on I'm Still Chasing You? More likely the strings on Burn The Bridges, Swim The River. Sampled either way.

J J Marsh  (Sweden)

Music From Planet Marsh  (2005,  58.47)  ***½

Kurt Joakim Ellner Juno "J J" Marsh is the guitarist with Glenn Hughes and Joe-Lynn Turner's Hughes-Turner Project, although his first solo album, 2005's Music From Planet Marsh is more Hendrix-esque old-school hard rock than AOR, thankfully. Style-wise, it shifts between the bluesy, funky likes of opener Electric Women (GREAT title!) and Is It Real and the longer-form, more progressive hard rock of Into The Light and closer The Change, highlights including Into The Light and the Hendrixy Move On. Need A Friend's a bit on the weak side, however, which brings me to a recurring point on this site: why so long? OK, so you've got an hour's-worth of material, but do people really want to hear it all in one go? Our old pal The Flower Kings' Tomas Bodin plays 'Mellotron', alongside other 'boards, with flutes and strings on It's Not Too Late and strings and choir on The Change, none of it sounding that authentic, frankly. Mainly because it isn't. Overall, this is a worthy effort, although some judicious editing would've improved things no end. Worth hearing.

Jasun Martz  (US)

The Pillory/The Battle  (2005,  148.02)  ***½

In 2004, word started circulating of a follow-up to Martz's '78 avant-classic, The Pillory, finally released in 2005 as The Pillory/The Battle. Yours truly was asked to participate in the recording, along with many others, but sadly, didn't get his act together in time to contribute, or it may not have been necessary to put the review here. Mind you, I rather doubt whether the end result has been seriously compromised as a result... Stylistically, the album isn't a million miles away from the original Pillory, being largely dissonant modern classical, crossed with just plain 'weird'. Battle 3 lives up to its subtitle of 'Tribal/Prog Rock', with some (relatively) straightforward drumming and riffy guitar, overlaid with a killer violin solo by Benedict Brydern, while the disc-long Battle 7 is possibly the best piece on the album, including a ten-minute plus solo organ part.

Upon being asked directly, Jasun admitted that while the album featured 'Mellotron sounds', and while he has owned several 'Trons over the years, this time round there was no actual tape-replay involved. Apart from the fact that all too many current releases feature samples (damn you, M-Tron!), my suspicions were aroused for all the usual reasons: too clean, long, sustained notes, not enough real Mellotron 'feel'. Who'd have thought it was so difficult to sample a keyboard instrument properly? Anyway, the fake 'Tron parts vary in quality, though the 8-choir on Battle 5 is good enough to fool the ear, and the super-loud, distorted strings on Battle 1 (repeating on 7) are excellent. Incidentally, Jasun has expressed his intention to produce the third album in the trilogy in ANOTHER 25 years, which by my reckoning makes it around 2030. Now, I'll be nearly 70 by then, and I'm sure Mr.Martz has a few years on me... Good luck, Jase!

La Maschera di Cera  (Italy)

In Concerto  (2004,  78.40)  ****
Le Porte del Domani  (2013,  45.18)  ****½

La Maschera di Cera's studio albums feature real Mellotron, but their 2004 live effort, In Concerto, clearly doesn't, as can be seen from the lack of anything Mellotronic in the booklet pics. The album itself is a good representation of the band live, warts'n'all; they seem to feature a 'garage prog' sound on stage, rough as hell, but very live. Bassist and bandleader Fabio Zuffanti plays the entire set through a fuzzbox, for reasons known best to himself (an attempt at a Ricky impersonation?), and what has to be a straight-from-the-desk recording has Agostino Macor's Roland monosynth (not sure which one) too high in the mix, but it's quite nice, for once, to know that what you're hearing is what was actually played on the night. Macor's 'Mellotron' work goes to some lengths to sound genuine, so credit there, with sustained chords faded quickly out and back in, as you might with a real 'Tron. Plenty of strings, with bursts of choir and flutes here and there, source unknown, though they sound as good as any samples I've heard before.

Unusually, 2013's Le Porte del Domani has also been issued in an English-language version, The Gates of Tomorrow, in the manner of, say, Maxophone's lone, mid-'70s LP, or, perhaps, Le Orme's Felona e Sorona. Speaking of which... Does that sleeve art look familiar? Think blue... This album, possibly uniquely, is intended as a continuation of the story from Felona..., which is a little... ambitious, shall we say. No reason why not, but I can't imagine trying to write the next part of Rush's Hemispheres, for example. Saying that, the band have gone all out here, producing a superb piece of work, to the point where trying to pick out individual highlights is completely futile; the album should be approached as a complete piece, rather than as a collection of tunes. Macor is credited with Mellotron, Chamberlin and Birotron. Really? Where did you source the other two, Agostino? Especially the rare-as-rocking-horse-shit Birotron? All sampled, I'd say. Anyway, we get strings, choirs and (to a lesser extent) flutes all over everything, drummer Mau di Tollo sticking his samplotronic oar in on opener Ritorno Dal Nulla. And is that a Chamberlin female voice I can hear on Ritratto Di Lei? I've no idea how effectively this tells the further story of the two warring planets, but it's a superb album. Best yet, gentlemen. Congratulations!

Willy Mason  (US)

Carry on  (2012,  37.27)  ***

Carry on displays two sides to Willy Mason: his haunted Americana side and his haunted Americana-with-extraneous-electronica side. For what it's worth, I vastly prefer the former, which, fortunately, describes the bulk of the album. Dan Carey's 'Mellotron'? The warbly flutes on opener What Is This? The flutes and strings on Pickup Truck? The vague cello-y sound towards the end of the title track? None of the above?

Pat Mastelotto  (US)

Recidivate  (2012,  150.43)  ***

Unsurprisingly, King Crimson's Pat Mastelotto's hugely lengthy Recidivate sounds a lot like the parent band across much of it, multifarious guests including other Crims, the California Guitar Trio, Steven Wilson, Terry Bozzio, BPM&M and the Reuter/Boddy combo. Personal favourites include the organ-heavy Kataklasm and the decidedly weird take on Fleetwood Mac's Green Manalishi; certainly more inventive than Judas Priest's, anyway... Samplotron on several tracks, including the strings on opener Salvaging Remix Mash, brass on Blackwell and flutes on Dig and Alpha & Omega.

Master Musicians of Bukkake  (US)

Totem One  (2009,  40.08)  ***
Totem Two  (2010,  41.23)  ***
Totem Three  (2011,  40.40)  ***½
Far West  (2013,  43.40)  **½

I had to look this one up: bukkake is a weirdly sexless sexual activity, involving several men ejaculating over someone of either sex, the practice allegedly originating in Japan. Nice. Aside from this, The Master Musicians of Bukkake reference, of course, the Brian Jones-popularised Master Musicians of Joujouka, in case you hadn't spotted it. The Seattle-based outfit feature members of Sunn O))) and Earth, their second album, 2009's Totem One, being an odd mixture of droning, er, drones and surprisingly Joujouka-like ethnic drumming and chants laid over the aforementioned drones. Don McGreevy and Randall Dunn are both credited with Mellotron, but the extended choir chords and distant strings on a couple of tracks, notably opener Bardo Chikkhai, have little to do with a real Mellotron, I strongly suspect.

The following year's Totem Two isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, better tracks including the churchy The Heresy Of Origen and Coincidentia Oppositorum. Dunn and James Davis are credited with Mellotron, but the only obvious part is the choirs on lengthy closer Patmos, quite certainly sampled. 2011's Totem Three takes the concept further by injecting more variety into the project's sound, from the Egyptian rhythms of In The Twilight Of Kali Yuga through the quietly beautiful 6000 Years Of Darkness and the '80s electronica of closer Failed Future, although despite another credit for Dunn, there's no obvious 'Mellotron'. Far West takes a turn for the less interesting, sadly, its experiments with massed vocals an acquired taste. Samplotron strings on Circular Ruins.

Masters of Reality  (US)

Welcome to the Western Lodge  (1999,  38.39)  ***½
Deep in the Hole  (2001,  39.43)  ***½

It took the Masters of Reality seven years to follow Sunrise on the Sufferbus up with 1999's Welcome to the Western Lodge, and guess what - it sounds like a Masters of Reality album. Opening with the statement of intent It's Shit, the album covers several bases across its refreshingly vinyl-length, er, length, not least the largely acoustic Baby Mae and the under-a-minute Ember Day, although its most Masters-like track (i.e. the one that sounds most like their debut) is probably excellent closer Also Ran Song. This is an assumption, but the 'Mellotron' to be heard on a handful of tracks here is almost certainly sampled. What you get is a strings part on the chorus of The Great Spelunker, a repeating flute melody and phased choirs on Take A Shot At The Clown and background string chords on Ember Day, while the overly-slick string chords on Boymilk Waltz give the game away; I mean, a Mellotron played that fast and that accurately with no key-click? Yeah, right. Getting back into the studio clearly galvanised Goss, as Deep in the Hole appeared a mere two years later, a blink of an eye in Masters terms. More than its predecessor, this album rocks out, despite its occasional quieter tracks, notably Roof Of The Shed, ending on a particularly raucous note with Shotgun Son. 'Mellotronically' speaking, the brief Major Lance features strings and cello parts that sound far too clean to be real, although I'm willing (and happy) to be proven wrong, plus background strings on Corpus Scorpios Electrified.

Mastodon  (US)

Crack the Skye  (2009,  50.03)  ***½

Mastodon are one of the most ambitious of America's current crop of power/progressive metal outfits, concentrating on semi-concept albums and, amazingly, picking up an audience at the same time, which isn't a criticism, more wonder that some people still want to listen to something with even a little musical depth. They're actually pretty good at it, as long as you like/can ignore the occasional growled vocal or blastbeat and don't expect anything that progressive.

Crack the Skye is their fourth album proper; the obvious reference point (for me, at least) is Baltimore heroes Crack the Sky, although I haven't seen them mentioned anywhere else. The official line on the title is that it's a tribute to drummer Brann Dailor's sister Skye, who tragically committed suicide aged fourteen, crossed with a reference to feeling that the sky has cracked when in the depths of despair. Lyrically, the album has some bizarre concept involving astral projection and Rasputin; if you really want to know more, track down the lyrics. Musically, it's vastly more interesting than most modern metal (I had the bad luck to be subjected to Machine Head recently - quite appalling), although a long way from the best of the '70s bands, but then, that's not really where they're coming from, so it's probably not fair to judge them on those criteria. Touring keyboardist Rich Morris is credited with Mellotron, but you'll need sharper ears than myself to hear it, I suspect. Mind you, no-one's credited with the Hammond that crops up on a few tracks; maybe someone doesn't know their vintage keyboards? Actually, a really close listen unearths a few seconds of a choir sound of some description on closer The Last Baron, which has to be what we're looking for, albeit quite certainly sampled.

Matchbox Twenty  (US)

More Than You Think You Are  (2002,  50.11)  *½

I'm sorry, but what exactly is the point of this music? I know that's not a very positive way to open a review, but I'm most of the way through this thoroughly depressing album of Rock That Doesn't Rock (see: Train), beginning to wonder why I even bother. Ironically, for music that's often described as 'soulful', More Than You Think You Are has as much soul (and I don't mean stylistically) as... I dunno; I'm lost for words. Huey Lewis and the News? Actually, that's what I'm reminded of here; this is so unremittingly bland that it leaves no trace whatsoever, yet they're HUGE! That really says all I ever need to know about the taste of the general public (I don't mean you, dear reader). So; what do I hate about this? Where shall I start? Rob Thomas' infuriatingly touchy-feely voice, that makes me want to punch him out? The semi-gospel choir (is there such a thing?) on Downfall; why? To try to import some emotion into an utterly clinical effort? Oh, I give up.

Drummer Rob Doucette is supposed to play Mellotron on the album, Hand Me Down and You're So Real being the tracks most frequently referenced. Well, I'll be fucked if I can hear it, even in the 'quiet bit' in the latter. Plenty of Hammond and Rhodes for that all-important '70s credibility (read: sub-Counting Crows, in themselves not exactly an aural joy), but no audible Mellotron whatsoever. Please let me know if you can hear any, 'cos I can't. I don't think anyone has any real idea how many albums have been produced that can loosely be described as 'rock'; a couple of million? Could be way off beam; I wouldn't even know how to find out. Whatever, most of them are better than this; not necessarily more professional, not necessarily with more memorable tunes, not necessarily better played or sung. But almost certainly made with a little more passion, a little less corporate arse-sucking and more genuine SOUL. This is truly horrible, and doesn't even have any audible Mellotron despite a credit. Just don't.

Matt the Electrician  (US)

Animal Boy  (2009,  39.31)  ***

Matt "the Electrician" Sever picked up his nickname when playing coffee bars straight after work at the beginning of his career. Animal Boy is something like his sixth studio album, full of naïve little songs detailing day-to-day occurrences in a pop/folk style. Not completely my thing, but it'd be churlish to dismiss this charming album, possibly at its best on Bridge To Nowhere and the not-quite-twee College. Mark Addison plays obvious samplotron strings on Divided By 13.

Matthew  (US)

Everybody Down  (2002,  53.37)  *½

Going by their (they're a plural) debut, 2002's Everybody Down, Matthew are one of the blandest, most unoriginal guitar pop bands of the decade, which, believe me, really is saying something. Kind online reviewers compare them to The Posies and early Radiohead, to which I'd like to add sodding Coldplay, complete with that horrible, pointless falsetto utilised on almost every track. I'm completely unable to dredge up anything even approaching a 'best track' (although Streams is the only thing here that contains any actual rock), stopping for just long enough to point out that 53 minutes of this guff is at least fifteen minutes too long. Actually, make that 53. What a waste of money and resources. Ed Ackerson guests on samplotron, with the occasional pointless high string note on In Your Car, flutes on In The Wonder (huh?) and Breathing and a faint string part on closer (at last!) Overboard, all to little effect, frankly.

Dave Matthews Band  (US)

Stand Up  (2005,  56.21)  **½

Having heard several Dave Matthews Band albums (a monicker which can be seen either as unpretentious or shatteringly unimaginative), I'm at a slight loss as to understand why they're lumped in with the 'jam band' scene. String Cheese Incident: yes. Phish: yes, with bells on. But the DMB? Maybe they let rip on stage, but on record, they're a desperately unexciting mix of singer-songwriter and mainstream rock, with country and folk influences thrown into the pot, all fronted by Matthews' careworn voice that you'll either like or, er, won't. Stand Up is his/their sixth album, not sounding that dissimilar to the others I've heard by him, and certainly no more interesting. OK, the occasional track shifts out of Matthews' comfort zone (see: the hip-hop-lite beats of Stolen Away On 55th And 3rd), but that's hardly a recommendation, more an observation. Mark Batson's credited with Mellotron, with a very brief burst of sampled strings on American Baby.

Bain Mattox  (US)

Bain Mattox  (2004,  41.34)  ***

Athens, GA native Bain Mattox sits somewhere in between powerpop and Americana on his second, eponymous album, at its best on the fuzz-guitar driven Jet Black Ash, the strings-laden Sixes And Fives and Three Days, maybe. Don McCollister's credited with Mellotron; what, the strings on Thorn?

Roger Matura  (Germany)

Time Traveller  (2005,  51.09)  **½
The Return of the CaveMan/Auf Wiedersehen Zukunft!?  (2007,  171.40)  **½

German singer/songwriter Roger Matura has been musically active since the late '70s, although 2005's Time Traveller is only something like his twelfth studio album. Mostly acoustic guitar or piano instrumentals with added accompaniment, often hand percussion, it comes across as a kind of West Coast new age effort, fine for a handful of tracks, tedious for fifty minutes. Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock's credited with Mellotron, but I don't believe Klaus has recorded with a real machine since the '90s, backed up by the background strings on opener Far Beyond The Sun, MkII 'moving strings' (?) on Poor Gigolo Me and definite MkII rhythms and moving strings on Radio Nights. I can't work out what's going on with 2007's The Return of the CaveMan/Auf Wiedersehen Zukunft!? A triple-disc set, it features some overlap with Time Traveller; is this no more than a compilation? And I thought fifty minutes of Matura was more than enough... The only 'Mellotron' tracks are also on Time Traveller, making this even less worth the effort.

The Mavericks  (US)

The Mavericks  (2003,  44.13)  **½

This is the second eponymous album by Florida's Mavericks, but, thankfully, it's the first not to be stuffed to the gills with cheesy mainstream country'n'western. The Mavericks is more mainstream pop/rock, to be honest, with side helpings of Latin (they've been here before, apparently) and, would'ja believe, Sinatra-style crooning? Is doesn't start too badly, with I Want To Know being a breezy, uptempo sort of thing, but by four or five tracks in, they've descended into MOR hell, though at least it isn't bloody country. Many reviewers have detected a strong Roy Orbison influence on mainman Raul Malo's vocals and I have to say, Too Lonely is a seriously Orbison-lite waltz-time ballad; well, no-one else much is doing it at the moment, are they? And I think we could all have done without a faithful cover of The Air That I Breathe, thank you. Gordon Mote plays samplotron, but not a lot; the only things I can hear that it even might be are the weird, muted strings on By The Time and The bloody Air That I Breathe.

Maybe it's Reno  (US)

Maybe it's Reno  (2008,  50.53)  **½

Bridget Cross' Maybe it's Reno play a kind of sparse, haunting, (her) bass-driven indie on their eponymous album, at its least irritating on the atypical, punky Drunk Pilot. Now, I've had trouble working out what's going on here: Phil Krauth's credited with Mellotron, but the distorted flute part that kicks off Feathers And Wings, sounding like it's been recorded via an amp, somehow fails to convince. The part reiterates throughout, adding similarly distorted octave strings later on, although a super-protracted chord gives the sample game away.

John Mayer  (US)

Room for Squares  (2001,  54.14)  *½

Room for Squares was John Mayer's first major label album, after an independent EP. Although Mayer has apparently moved towards the blues in more recent years, this is a cheeso, 'acoustic rock' effort, i.e. acoustic-driven, poppy singer-songwriter stuff, like a more ballsy James Blunt. Cor, that's a bit harsh, innit? Never mind. This really is insipid stuff; Mayer's voice has that 'confessional' tone that usually only serves to irritate, at least if you take your music at all seriously. Yeah, that's what this is; to borrow a quote, 'music for people who don't like music'. Brandon Bush plays samplotron on the album's last two tracks. Well, they would be the last two, only for some bizarre reason, track 13 is a four-second blank. Superstition? Sorry, which century/millennium are we living in? Anyway, he contributes faint flutes to Not Myself that could have come from anything, frankly and, er, something on closer St. Patrick's Day. Strings? Choir? Who knows?

David Mayfield Parade  (US)

Good Man Down  (2013,  46.49)  ***

Good Man Down is a superior Americana release, at its best on Another Year, closer Goodbye Farewell So Long and, best of all, the point in Was It Only Me when everything kicks in. Sadly, Mayfield's 'Mellotron' is no more than samplotron flutes on Was It Only Me.

Jessica Lea Mayfield  (US)

Tell Me  (2011,  37.41)  ***

Jessica Lea Mayfield was effectively discovered by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who has produced her two albums to date, 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt and 2011's Tell Me. The latter combines a windswept Americana with Morricone (Our Hearts Are Wrong), cheap electronica (Grown Man) and new wave (the title track), amongst other influences, helping her to stand out from your common-or-garden countryish singer-songwriter. David Mayfield is credited with Mellotron, but are we really supposed to believe that the murky, squashed-sounding strings on Trouble are a real machine? Really? The speedily-played notes at the beginning of Tell Me are no better, so into samples this goes. Americana fans after something a little different may wish to give this a go, but it probably isn't for everyone.

Mayfield Four  (US)

Fallout  (1998,  57.27)  **

Fallout is The Mayfield Four's first full-length album, begging just one question: why? Why have you made this soulless piece of faceless 'modern rock', stuffed full of fake emotion and non-riffs? About the only difference I can hear from one track to the next is its tempo and volume, although I admit that's probably being a little unfair. Not much, though... It comes as no surprise to me that not only did the band support Creed, amongst other similar empty, stadium-rock bores, but vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy has gone on to form the artistically moribund Alter Bridge with most of Creed after their split with frontman Scott Stapp. I'm afraid I can't think of anything nice to say about Fallout, so as your mother probably told you, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. A largely pointless record, only marginally alleviated by their cover of Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) from his standout release, What's Going on. Kennedy is credited with Mellotron, but the only time you can even vaguely hear it is a few seconds of sampled strings on Realign. You'll probably be as pleased as me to hear that the band split after their second album, 2001's Second Skin.

Mayflies USA  (US)

Summertown  (1999,  47.42)  ***

Summertown was the Mayflies USA's second album (was there another Mayflies somewhere else, in the manner of 'The British Beat' or 'U.K. Squeeze etc?). Essentially, it's classic powerpop, although the songs just aren't quite as memorable as you might like and it just doesn't have the... oomph that one might expect from the best exponents of the genre. Perfectly pleasant, but just not quite there... Producer Chris Stamey (the d.b.'s) allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'm afraid to say, it's not obviously audible anywhere.

Maze of Time  (Sweden)

Tales From the Maze  (2006,  62.25)  **

Maze of Time are a Swedish blatantly neo-prog outfit, clearly in thrall to Marillion and their ilk, for some unknown reason. What is it about certain musicians that makes them think that a cross between prog-lite, AOR and (ulp) musical theatre was ever a good idea? Their debut, 2006's Tales From the Maze, sounds like a combination of Spock's Beard-esque 'modern prog' and bloody Marillion, shifting seamlessly from just-about-passable verses into horrible, cheesy choruses, typified by The Maze, other downsides including the ultra-clunky lyrics and the Court Of The Crimson King rip in Lady May. Alex Jonsson plays obvious samplotron strings on Ocean Of Dreams, Daydreamer, The Maze (spot the horrendously stretched low notes) and Lady May, not that you're going to buy this for its 'Mellotron' use. To be honest, I wouldn't recommend that you buy anything by Maze of Time for any reason; their two follow-ups are equally bad (2008's Lullaby for Heroes is actually possibly worse). Avoid.

Me & My Kites  (Sweden/UK)

Like a Dream Back Then  (2013,  45.18)  ***½
The Band / Isis' Adventure  [as Me & My Kites with Tony Durant of Fuchsia]  (2013)  ***½

David Svedmyr's Me & My Kites named themselves after a song on Fuchsia's lone 1970 release, which, to my shame, I've never heard. Like a Dream Back Then contains a gentle form of psych/folk with undercurrents of something weirder and darker than that suggests; probably rather like Fuchsia, in fact. Top tracks? Through My Kaleidoscope, A Tiny Song To Lisa and the proggy All You'll Have, perhaps, but nothing stands out in an obvious 'should've been left off' kind of way. Svedmyr's credited with Mellotron, but the strings, cellos and flutes here don't even come close to convincing. Svedmyr finally went the full monty, collaborating with Fuchsia's Tony Durant on a single for the excellent Fruits der Mer label. The Band is from an archive Fuchsia release, while Isis' Adventure is a band original, both in the same vein as the album, with samplotron flutes on the flip.

David Mead  (US)

The Luxury of Time  (1999,  52.38)  **½
Mine & Yours  (2001,  50.16)  **
Tangerine  (2006,  40.40)  ***

For some reason, I had high hopes of David Mead's The Luxury of Time, but it turned out to be a drippy, ballad-heavy singer-songwriter effort, at its least toe-curling on Sweet Sunshine and Telephone. Carl Herrgesell plays obvious samplotron strings on While The World Is Sleeping. If anything, Mine & Yours is even worse, the only minor respite being on Girl On The Roof, but even then, it quickly deteriorates. Mead plays faint samplotron strings on Figure Of Eight (which sounds not a little like Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in places). Thankfully, Tangerine is a considerable improvement, Mead having tightened up his writing and put his propensity for slush somewhere it can't do any harm. Highlights? The Trouble With Henry, Chatterbox and the vaguely Queenlike Hunting Season, although, again, Mead's 'Mellotron' is merely samplotron flutes on Sugar On The Knees.

André Mehmari  (Brazil)

...De Árvores e Valsas  (2008,  65.02)  **½

Or, Trees & Waltzes. Many of the mostly instrumental pieces on ...De Árvores e Valsas are, indeed, waltzes, composed and performed in what seems to be pianist/multi-instrumentalist André Mehmari's trademark, classical/jazz/soundtrack-esque style. All very pleasant, in a light orchestral kind of way, albeit rather unengaging. Er, Mellotron?

Dieter Meier  (Switzerland)

Out of Chaos  (2014,  42.10)  ***

Dieter Meier? Yello's vocalist, it turns out, although I couldn't have placed the name without help. 2014's Out of Chaos seems to be his first solo album, released the year before he turned seventy, sounding not unlike an updated version of Yello, to be honest. Best tracks? The jaunty Paradise Game, the overwrought Loveblind and Annabelle, maybe, although I couldn't warm to the oddball electro of Jimmy or Fat Fly. Patrick "Nackt" Christensen is credited with Mellotron on Loveblind, The Ritual and Another Day, Patricia "Cherie" Peters also playing on the last-named. However, the Mellotronic choirs on all three not only fail to have that ring of authenticity about them, but there's no machine visible in the extensive studio shots in the CD booklet, so into samples it goes. Decent enough at what it does, then, but principally for Yello fans.

Meiko  (US)

Meiko  (2008,  40.35)  **

Meiko (Pronounced 'Meeko', real/full name unknown) is one of those American singer-songwriter types whose music ends up on several mainstream TV shows, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about her. She self-released Meiko in 2007, although it was remixed and generally messed-about with for reissue the following year, adding one track, Boys With Girlfriends. The album doesn't start off too badly, but deteriorates across its (actually very reasonable) length, until by the last few tracks, the temptation to hit the 'off' button becomes almost unbearable. Greg Collins plays background samplotron flutes on Boys With Girlfriends (which is why I'm only quoting the 2008 version), in a 'not sure why they bothered' kind of way.

Paul Melançon  (US)

Slumberland  (2000,  23.13)  ***

Paul Melançon's debut (?) recording, the Slumberland EP/mini-album/whatever, is a decent powerpop effort, without being especially outstanding, highlights being both parts of the title track, Guy Fawkes Day and 1985 By The Get-Go's; most of the EP, actually. Rob Gal plays rather obvious samplotron strings and flutes on It Was Something.

Michael Meldrum  (US)

Open Ended Question  (2006,  49.59)  ***

It seems Michael Meldrum was something of a legend in his hometown of Buffalo, NY, acting as mentor to Ani DiFranco, amongst others. His sole release, Open Ended Question, is an album of adventurous Americana, standard material such as Tavern Road Tune and Today The Sun spiced up with guitar-and-sitar near-instrumental Then God Will Dance and strange, brief (DiFranco?) vocal piece Imagine Our Bodies. DiFranco's credited with Mellotron, consisting of a single, sampled flute chord at the beginning of opener Forget It. Sadly, Meldrum died in 2011, aged sixty.

Mélia  (Québec)

Certitudes  (2005,  49.21)  ***

Essentially a duo of vocalist Claudia Côté and guitarist Stéphane Desbiens (Sense, Ère G), Mélia's debut, Certitudes, has garnered surprisingly few 'Net reviews for a three year-old album, probably because it isn't easily pigeonholed. Folk? Prog? 'Melodic rock'? All of the above? It starts off in a bright'n'breezy folk style, until the rockier Perseides, three tracks in, after which the rest of the record chops and changes between styles. You can see this as 'varied' or 'directionless', largely depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty, I suppose. My chief criticism is that it all starts sounding a little samey after a few tracks. Côté's voice is slightly bland, although perfectly 'nice' in an Annie Haslam kind of way, but without her distinctiveness, while Desbiens' electric guitar work is rather faceless, too.

'Mellotron', presumably from Desbiens, on opener Je M'Incline, with decent helpings of strings and choir throughout the rest of the album. I'm afraid M. Desbiens is known as a sample user round these parts and it's all too easy to spot here; there's no dirt under its fingernails, some of the notes hold for too long, and it's all just a bit too smooth for its own good. I know there are several working Mellotrons in Québec, but it's a big place, and there's no good reason Desbiens should know any owners, but if you're going to fake it, try to keep it a bit lower in the mix; it's just all a bit too obvious here, but then there's a good argument to be made that 'it's just another colour in the instrumental palette, who cares if it's real?' Well, me actually, but who cares that I care?

Mellow  (France)

Another Mellow Summer  (2000,  42.12)  ***½
Perfect Colors  (2004,  50.56)  ***

After some 'Net research, I believe I've finally straightened out the confusion over French electronic duo (who said Air?) Mellow's three albums, '99's Another Mellow Winter, 2000's Another Mellow Summer and 2001's Another Mellow Spring. It seems that Winter was the original French release, Summer was the slightly amended UK one, and Spring was the barely-altered US version, with a further Japanese version with more tracks. Confused? You should be. Unsurprisingly, Another Mellow Summer is the version I've tracked down, making me rather unwilling to shell out for another two or three very similar albums. The general consensus is that they're a low-budget Air, with one member (the rather un-French sounding Patrick Woodcock) actually being ex- of that band.

I'm actually of the opinion that they're more like Air crossed with King Crimson in places; Shinda Shima actually sounds like a rewrite of Epitaph, to be honest. Woodcock supposedly slaps Mellotron all over the record, but the flutes (the first sound you hear on the album) sound like hissy samples from a real machine to my ears. Either that or a Mellotron with severe head-cleaning issues. Anyway, they turn up on a good half dozen tracks, while the female choirs on Paris Sous La Neige (Single Version) and Another Mellow Winter are presumably Mellotron samples, too. Anyway, a decent enough album, loaded with Fender Rhodes (should that be your thing), actually preferable to Air in some ways (in my humble opinion, of course). Plenty of samplotron flutes, though I'm not so sure about those choirs. Worth a listen.

Their second album, Perfect Colors, is essentially a more insipid version of their debut, with most of its interesting bits removed. Any of the proggy excess shown on this album's predecessor have been ruthlessly excised, leaving a bunch of the modern equivalent of middling soft rock songs with little real individuality. It's not that the material is actually bad; it just isn't that good, either and doesn't make this reviewer want to press the 'play' button again. There seem to be a couple of major pointers towards the album's 'Mellotron' use being samples; nobody's credited with playing it and the choirs on the semi-unlisted track, A Place For Meditation, are far too clean to be the real deal. Anyway, what we're left with are a couple of string chords on Where Flowers Don't Grow and the previously-mentioned choirs, though this time round, the flutes are all real. Anyway, if you liked Another Mellow..., don't automatically assume that you're going to get more of the same this time round, although some of you may like it anyway.

Melon Diesel  (Gibraltar)

Real  (2002,  64.24)  *½

Melon Diesel (named for a cocktail, I believe) have to be almost unique in coming from the minuscule Gibraltar, surely one of the weirdest places on God's good Earth. Unsurprisingly, they're often quoted as being Spanish, although their third (and last) album, 2003's Real, is clearly sung by a native English-speaker, although I'm sure, like everyone else on that tiny strip of land, they're fully bilingual. Sad to say, it's absolute crap; that kind of mainstream guitar pop that clogs up our airwaves and finds its way onto bad TV programmes. There are no best tracks, the handful of Spanish-language remakes added to the end, resulting in the album's ridiculously extended length, only add to the misery. Danilo Ballo plays samplotron, with background strings on All That You Want and its Spanish version, Naúfrago En El Peñón. This is the kind of fluff that's tailor-made for vapid teenagers to play out their lives to, rather than for anyone who actually likes music.

Sara Melson  (US)

Dirty Mind  (2008,  40.57)  **½

Sara Melson is another modern singer-songwriter with a country edge, tailor-made for Starbucks; her debut album, 2008's Dirty Mind, is a pleasant enough effort, though rather unengaging, better tracks including Hard Pressed and Rise Up, although we're hardly talking 'classic' here. A bit harsh? Maybe, but there's so much of this stuff around that reviewer objectivity goes out of the window. Samplotron from Joe Cassidy and Scott Seiver, with a strong string part on Turquoise Sky, a lesser one on Nuclear Sun and what appears to be a reiteration of the earlier part on closer Turquoise Sky (Acoustic).

Memorials  (US)

The Memorials  (2010,  67.58)  *½

Ex-Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen subsequently formed the female-fronted The Memorials, whose eponymous 2010 debut manfully attempts to combine 'alt.metal', whatever you take that to mean, with indie, psychedelia and various other genres not always seen speaking to each other. To be perfectly honest, the nutsoid synth work on Day Dreamer is its only feature of any note, in this humble writer's opinion; the vast bulk of its horrendously overlong contents irritated the fuck out of me. Nehemiah E. Johnson is credited with Mellotron. Really? I think not... All I can hear are a single string note on GTFOMF and a background flute part on Enough, neither sounding at all authentic, frankly. The Memorials, already an awful album, is made even worse by its in-yer-face production, making its horrible caterwaulings impossible to ignore; quite possibly the intended effect, but it makes the painful task of listening to it quite unbearable.

Maria Mena  (Norway)

Mellow  (2004,  39.59)  **
Viktoria  (2011,  35.10)  ***

What kind of person names their children after characters from West Side Story, especially when they're Norwegian? Maria (and Tony) Mena's parents, that's who. In fairness, their Nicaraguan musician dad paid for Maria's first demos in her early teens, although, to counteract that, they were probably awful. Going by her third album, 2004's Mellow, they would've been slushy, mainstream pop/rock of the kind used in crummy TV shows. Hey, guess what? She's had two songs used on something called So You Think You Can Dance. What a surprise. Anyway, this album is complete slop, avoid at all costs. Arvid Solvang plays samplotron, with an uncredited flute part on Just A Little Bit and credited flutes on Come In Over Me, although whatever's used on So Sweet is effectively inaudible. 2011's Viktoria sees a more grown-up Maria, being a mature singer-songwriter album, only occasionally slipping into mainstream pop tropes (Homeless, This Too Shall Pass), her genuinely meaningful English-language lyrics at the centre of her sound. Bjarne Chr.B.B. Gustavsen is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on My Heart Still Beats fail to convince, while whatever's on Money is inaudible anyway.

Mendelson  (France)

Personne Ne le Fera pour Nous  (2007,  89.57)  **½

How the hell do I describe Mendelson's Personne Ne le Fera pour Nous? Talking blues electronica? Idiot savant post-metal? I believe the ninety-minute, two disc set is their fourth album, a sprawling, eclectic collection that shifts genre track-by-track, the whole held together by Pascal Bouaziz' essentially spoken vocals, despite the stylistic incongruities. Despite the range of styles the duo attack, it's difficult to pick out any one track for praise, although the longer material (three tracks hover around the ten-minute mark) tends to stand out slightly. Nicolas Becker and Charlie O play samplotron, with distant choirs on the final track on disc one, the lengthy 1983 (Barbara), echoed flutes on Micro-Coupures and a major string part towards the end of equally lengthy closer Le Monde Disparaît.

Shawn Mendes  (Canada)

Handwritten  (2015,  48.52)  *½

Shawn Mendes was all of sixteen when he released his debut, 2015's Handwritten; allow me to say: it shows. I suppose the songs are relatively 'mature', in that they're professional-sounding, but his delivery is obviously heavily-manipulated by his producer, with excessive use of Autotune, although whether for effect or out of necessity isn't known. Better tracks? The acoustic Bring It Back might be reasonable if rearranged and sung by someone else, but that's it. I hate to be so negative (no, really), but this is absolute crap. Sample lyric from Air. "Air, air, air, air, air, air, air, air, air, air airair airair (etc.)". Genius. Martin Terefe is credited with Mellotron on two tracks, but the brass (?) on I Don't Even Know Your Name (the strings appear to be real) is pretty ropey, while whatever's supposed to be on This Is What It Takes is inaudible. However, it sounds quite like Mellotronic flutes and strings on Air, so who knows. I think the chances of any of it being genuine are minimal, though. I suppose I should give Mendes the benefit of the doubt due to his youth, but I can't. Quite horrible.

De Mens  (Belgium)

Wil Je Beroemd Zijn?  (1996,  41.20)  **½

Wil Je Beroemd Zijn? ('Do You Want to Be Famous?') is a Flemish-language pop/rock album, '90s style, making it entirely inessential for anyone who wasn't into the region's music during that period. Despite rumoured Mellotron use, Jean Blaute's keyboard strings on hit single Sheryl Crow I Need You So are, at best, samples, quite possibly not even that.

Mercury Rev  (US)

Deserter's Songs  (1998,  44.46)  ****
All is Dream  (2001,  49.47)  ****

Mercury Rev had been around for years, starting life as a vastly more abrasive proposition than the one into which they've mutated. Deserter's Songs has been reviewed extensively by people who understand the music a great deal better then I, so suffice to say, it's a sort of Appalachian folk/intelligent pop/singer-songwriter crossover thing, with great songs and a beautiful, relaxed sound. I know it's a cliché, but this is perfect late-night (nite?) music, with more than a touch of the Neil Youngs in the vocals and almost Beatley arrangements in places. Another obvious reference is The Band, with Levon Helm guesting on one track.

There's no credit on the album for anything orchestral, although the strings on some tracks absolutely have to be. What is credited is both Mellotron and Chamberlin (strings only, apparently), played by three different band members; Jonathan Donahue (Chamberlin), Adam Snyder and Dave Fridmann, although a little bird tells me that when Snyder was confronted with a real Mellotron, his comment was along the lines of, "Oh, so that's what they look like", ergo, he'd never seen one before, ergo, everything on the album is samples. Various brass, flutes (some real) and woodwind instruments on many tracks, which are sometimes definite 'Tron samples (Holes) and sometimes not (Endlessly), although they all sound a bit suspect, and now we know why.

Three years on, and All is Dream carries on from where Deserter's Songs left off, with even more Neil Youngisms on the vocal front, and a more dramatic sound overall, and fewer, but longer tracks. Credited string players confuse the issue on the Mellotron front, although veteran producer and 'Tron user of old, Tony Visconti, is credited with Mellotron flutes on Spiders And Flies, which I find highly suspect; he's known for hating Mellotrons these days, so given the disinformation on their previous album, I think it's fairly safe to say these are samples. It appears that Dave Fridmann plays all other 'Tron' parts (almost certainly samples, then), not that there's many apparent; flutes on Little Rhymes, strings on Spiders And Flies alongside Visconti's upfront flutes, and strings on Hercules.

Mermonte  (France)

Audiorama  (2014,  34.58)  ***

On their second album, 2014's Audiorama, Mermonte occupy an area somewhere between progressive rock, indie and post-rock, leader Ghislain Fracapane's ten collaborators hailing from a wide variety of musical backgrounds. Describing individual tracks is... challenging. Opener Jérôme Bessout fooled me into thinking the album was going to be wall-to-wall chamber prog, there's a Glass/Reich-influenced passage on Fanny Giroud, Gaëtan Heuzé is textbook indie, Angélique Beaulieu sounds like a classical romance-era woodwind piece hijacked by Yes playing in the style of The Arcade Fire... Let's leave it at 'eclectic'. Julien Lemonnier and Antoine Tharreau are variously credited with Mellotron, with vague background strings on Karel Fracapane, quiet chordal flutes (that mercilessly smash the eight-second limit) on Gaëtan Heuzé and more upfront strings on Cécile Arendarsky, pretty obviously sampled. I'd be lying if I said I loved every minute of this, but it has enough vim and cross-genre experimentation to earn itself three stars, although, of course, none for the Mellotron.

Tift Merritt  (US)

Traveling Alone  (2012,  44.16)  ***

Tift Merritt's Traveling Alone is acceptable enough, if a little bland, at its best (to my ears) on the more upbeat numbers, particularly In The Way and closer Marks. Rob Burger is credited with Mellotron on Spring, although, given that I've consigned several of his recent credits to the Sample Dungeon, it's unsurprising that the vague background flutes on the track sound, at best, sampled.

The Merry Way  (US)

Debut  (2010,  20.27)  **½

The Merry Way's 'does what it says on the tin' Debut is possibly best described as chamber pop, for want of anything better. At least two of its six tracks, if given a contemporary pop production, would be indistinguishable from the kind of shlock that's played on commercial radio, so let's be thankful they weren't. Brian Eichelberger plays fakeotron flutes on Yellow.

Metal Church  (US)

Masterpeace  (1999,  53.59)  ***
This Present Wasteland  (2008,  57.11)  ***

Metal Church are usually labelled as a thrash band, despite pre-dating the genre by a couple of years; aficionados would probably stick them in the 'power/speed metal' category, meaning they sound a bit like '80s Judas Priest crossed with Metallica, assuming you can tell the difference (and yes, I can. Just). 1999's Masterpeace is their sixth album; while it has its moments (They Signed In Blood's relative complexity, the short, inventive acoustic duet of the title track, a passable cover of Aerosmith's Toys In The Attic), much of the album cuts the thud'n'blunder mob far too close for comfort. Guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof (Vanderhoof, Presto Ballet) plays samplotron, with a cranky-sounding string part on Falldown and a more straightforward one on Into Dust, until it goes off-piste at the end of the song. Kiss For The Dead is the standard acoustic-into-heavy number, with a melodic string part, while They Signed In Blood gets the choirs out, along with the strings. Nearly a decade later, This Present Wasteland isn't markedly different to its predecessor, better tracks including the slower Deeds Of A Dead Soul and A War Never Won, but it's mostly pretty generic, Priest-like stuff, frankly. Vanderhoof on samplotron again, with choirs opening and throughout Deeds Of A Dead Soul and strings in closer Congregation's quiet middle section.

Metaphor  (US)

Starfooted  (2000,  73.58)  ***½

Metaphor have been around since the early '90s, initially as a Genesis tribute band, before switching to writing their own material. It took them until 2000 to release their debut, Starfooted, but the wait seems to have been largely worthwhile, with the band's various prog influences melding into a (relatively) unified whole. I'm not so sure about the lyrics, mind you, which seem to be based around the Christian creation myth, although this isn't what I'd call a 'Christian' album, unlike, say, the dreadful Akacia. Despite an occasional slip into dreary neo-prog territory, most of the album is pretty inventive, with a good dose of melody thrown in (remember that?), although it is a little over-long; you don't actually have to fill that disc up, chaps...

Marc Spooner uses a variety of keyboard sounds, though whether any of the older ones are 'authentic' is difficult to say; the Mellotron definitely isn't, as was confirmed for me by a new band member. The giveaway (as with so many similar) is the amount of fake 'Tron used on the album (mostly strings, with bits of flute and choir). It seems to me that most bands using a real one will restrict its use, as too much can be overwhelming and swamp the mix. On the other hand, samples will usually sit nicely in a modern, stereo-reverbed mix, and as such are frequently wildly overused, often tipping well over the 8-second limit; a serious giveaway. Nonetheless, it's nice to hear it here, and their new guy assured me they'd be using real Mellotron on their next album. That came out two years ago, so I'll be doing a bit of research into the matter. (n.b. They didn't).

Thomas Metcalf  (US)

One  (1989,  43.08)  ***½

I can tell you very little about Thomas Metcalf, other than that he is (or was) an American electronic musician and released what may have been his lone solo album, One, in 1989. I have to say, it's refreshing to hear someone using synths and samplers without trying to ape Tangerine Dream, just for once; Metcalf takes a far more contemporary (for the late '80s) stance, far nearer the avant-garde than any Berlin School artist you might care to name. Unsurprisingly, The Art of Noise are quoted as an influence, to which I'd add pretty much all of Trevor Horn's iconic production work for ZTT earlier in the decade. How to describe this... Metallic percussion samples vie with atonal drones, while the synths veer between gloomy bass notes, slippery portamento and tinkly chimes, synthetic choirs providing a backdrop for the occasional more 'standard' synth melody line. Metcalf is as inventive with his sampler as most modern practitioners are lazy; spot the tiny snippet of Psycho strings in C. Incidentally, for those of you (like me) who might think that his track naming refers to key signatures (titles: D, C, A, B, E, G, F), every track seems, quite deliberately, to be in any key but. Although Metcalf's credited with Mellotron, his use sounds more like early Mellotron sample manipulation than an actual instrument. Anyway, we get an outrageously choppy choir part on D and choir swells and pitchbends on A, although all other choir parts sound like the era's synth+sampler factory patches.

MetroGnom  (Norway)

Twangyluck  (2006,  64.20)  ****

MetroGnom (ho ho) are a Norwegian outfit whose take on progressive rock involves long instrumental workouts, jazzy sax and choppy, offbeat riffs that land so far from the prog-metal mainstream that there's (thankfully) almost no point of contact. 2006's Twangyluck is their debut, combining ridiculous 'song' titles with fearsome arranging skills and playing, somehow managing to keep things interesting over four track and 64 minutes, all without vocals. That isn't to say the album's faultless; it is a bit overlong, although as faults go, there's a lot worse and there's a slight lack of overall focus, but they're pretty minor quibbles, really. Guitarist Ole Ivar Jörgensen plays samplotron, with strings on Ten Peppermint Butterflies In A Ray Of Moonlight, cellos on Opening Ceremony To The Trolls' Seventeenth Olympic Games and strings again on Tellus Will Tell Us Its Will, none of it to any major effect.

Emi Meyer  (US)

Galaxy's Skirt  (2013,  34.10)  **½

Japanese/American Emi Meyer makes mainstream pop/rock that manages to be relatively inoffensive, which is worth commenting on in itself. David Ryan Harris is credited with Mellotron, but the fairly random flute part at the end of the opening title track, strings on Tokyoto and occasional background choirs elsewhere all fail to convince.

Michael's Statement  (Germany)

Beauty of Sadness  (2012,  55.45)  ***

Michael's Statement are The Night Patrol's Michael Vuckovac's solo project, Beauty of Sadness probably being his first release. It doesn't start well - opener Black Sea Incident is eight minutes of overwrought prog-metal that says nothing new - although Baba Fuma's Tale does rather more interesting things with Vuckovac's influences, the other four tracks being of variable quality. Most ambitious? Seventeen-minute closer Enter Sadness, no contest. Vuckovac's credited with Mellotron, but the strings and choirs on Black Sea Incident, Enter Sadness and elsewhere are pretty obviously sampled (spot the MkII 'moving strings' on Enter Sadness for proof).

Lori Michaels  (US)

Living My Life Out Loud  (2008,  42.23)  *

Lori Michaels plays (or, rather, sings) a particularly atrocious form of R&B/pop on Living My Life Out Loud, like all the worst music you've ever heard drifting out of car windows or clothes shops frequented by teenagers. Any better tracks? Pretty When She Cries is mainstream pop/rock enough to be relatively inoffensive. Worst? Her attempt at a gay anthem, Meet Me At The Partay, complete with the inevitable Autotune. Scott Treibitz is credited with Mellotron, by which I can only imagine they mean the background strings on Be Mine. As they say, the fuck?

Ingrid Michaelson  (US)

Everybody  (2009,  43.15)  **½
Parachute (download)  (2010)  **

Ingrid Michaelson (married to fellow singer-songwriter Greg Laswell, fact fans) is a New York-based singer-songwriter of the type who gets her songs used on mainstream TV shows, which should give you some idea of her sound. Her fourth album, 2009's Everybody, is pleasant enough, although most of its contents are unremittingly bland, if largely inoffensive. I'm reminded strongly of Alanis Morissette on opener Soldier, although the rest of the record is rather more generic; exactly what TV producers look for, in fact. Dan Romer is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, both obviously sampled: I would guess that those are Chamby strings on Soldier, Mellotron flutes on Incredible Love, (Chamby?) cellos on Mountain And The Sea, (Mellotron?) strings on Once Was Love and an occasional Mellotron flute melody line on Locked Up, although the small string ensemble on several tracks sounds real. Michaelson co-wrote Parachute in 2010, subsequently recorded by Brit non-talent/ex-footballer's wife/TV 'talent show' judge Cheryl Cole. Now, here's where things become slightly confusing: Ingrid's released her own version as a single, although it doesn't seem to appear in any discographies I can find (although it's apparently on her Everybody/Girls & Boys twofer). Download only? Nevertheless, here it is, a pretty crummy effort, clearly written for a mainstream popster, Romer's sampled tape-replay strings clearly audible throughout.

Microdot Gnome  (US)

4D Sugarcubes  (2010,  44.21)  ****

You might just possibly be able to guess what area Microdot Gnome and their 4D Sugarcubes opus inhabit. Trance reggaeton, perhaps? Electro-doom? (That might actually be worth hearing). Oh, OK, it's full-on lysergia, almost to the point of pastiche, although I have difficulty in criticising something this good, made with so much evident love. Top tracks? The jaunty Stained Rainbow, Moonflower and lengthyish closer To Andromeda, which (intentionally?) reminds me of The Stones' 2000 Light Years From Home, but nothing, repeat, nothing here disappoints. Gary Lee Conner's 'Mellotron' clearly isn't; a pity, as it'a all over the thing, with swirly strings and cellos on opener Gardens Of Time, strings on Stained Rainbow and To Andromeda, amongst others and flutes on several other tracks. Rather splendid, actually.

Malcolm Middleton  (UK)

Waxing Gibbous  (2009,  61.17)  **½

Malcolm Middleton used to be half of Arab Strap, going solo after they split in 2006, although he'd already release two solo albums by that point. 2009's Waxing Gibbous is his fifth such, sounding not wildly dissimilar to his previous outfit, its contents a mélange of wispy indie, pre-psych '60s pop and folk, 'best track' award going to the vulgarly-titled Ballad Of Fuck All, which is, indeed, a rather sweet ballad, title notwithstanding. A major fault here is length, both of the album overall and most of its tracks, which average around five minutes, a good ninety seconds too long for their content. Edit, sir, edit. Middleton plays samplotron cellos and strings on Carry Me and strings on Shadows and closer Love On The Run.

Midnight Movies  (US)

Lion the Girl  (2007,  44.03)  ***

Midnight Movies seem to be part of the new wave of American goth, assuming there is such a thing, although any chance of material as memorable as anything by Siouxsie & the Banshees or The Cure are vanishingly small, I'm afraid. Please don't tell me either of those outfits aren't actually goth (which they are); you know what I mean. Gena Olivier's vocals do that female gothy thing passably well, although her voice has little character and sounds like it would be more comfortable singing something a bit more mainstream, or possibly nothing at all. Samplotron on two tracks, with strings on Coral Den and 24 Hour Dream, probably from producer Steve Fisk, a known sample user.

Mighty Mocambos  (Germany)

Showdown  (2015,  36.23)  ***

The Mighty Mocambos are a German funk outfit, indistinguishable (at least to my ears) from an American one, whose third (?) album, Showdown, complete with a host of special guests, not least the genre legend that is Afrika Bambaataa, is as good as anything you'll hear by a current outfit, I'd reckon. While I'd be the first to admit that this isn't really my bag, they do it well and it's nice to hear dance music that's actually being played by musicians, not merely programmed. Top tracks? Maybe Political Power, the groove of Locked And Loaded and the instrumental title track. Hank Dettweiler's credited with Mellotron, but... no. The vibes on Drifting Stars are not only an unusual sound to find on a real Mellotron, but are nowhere near cranky enough, and while those might be background flutes on Locked And Loaded, they're of no particular consequence. So; good at what it does, well-written, well-played.

Paulo Miklos  (Brazil)

Vou Ser Feliz e Já Volto  (2001,  42.28)  **½

Paulo Miklos is apparently best known as multi-instrumentalist with Titãs, although he's released a couple of solo efforts some years apart, 2001's Vou Ser Feliz e Já Volto being the most recent. Much of the album is decidedly ordinary poppy, Portuguese-language singer/songwriter stuff, its better (i.e. rockier) tracks clustered in a block around the middle of the record, specifically Por Querer, Lâmina De Vidro, complete with its outrageous bass work and Orgia, not to mention closer O Milagre Do Ladrão's authentic acoustic blues. Dudu Marote is credited with Mellotron, with flutes on Todo O Tempo and occasional, distant strings on O Que Você Me Diz?, albeit sampled.

Asa Milbankx  (US)

Simple Shapes + Patterns  (2008,  39.40)  ***
Angry Sun download  (2012)  ***

Asa Milbankx (a.k.a. James Ward of Analog Birds) released Simple Shapes + Patterns in 2008, by posting a download, gratis, at his website. Far less electronic than his group work and heaving with mandolins and ukuleles, his obvious love for The Beach Boys rears its head in several places, notably Tilt and Wayward Panther I, various other '60s (and later) influences cropping up on most tracks (spot the Leslie (or realistic simulator) vocal on If There Is A Reason). Ward/Milbankx utilises Mellotron samples on at least half the album, with flutes on Tilt, Ricochet and If There Is A Reason, mandolins and oboe on Embassy Blues, vibes on Naomi and cello and strings on Wayward Panther II, amongst probable other use. Four years on, 2012's Angry Sun download-only single displays similar influences to Simple Shapes... and is (James informs me), based around a 'four chord Chamberlin harp sequence'. A lovely sound, but I'd never have spotted it without help. Well, given that these are free downloads, what are you waiting for?

Lynn Miles  (Canada)

Unravel  (2001,  48.06)  **½

Lynn Miles' Unravel is an unashamedly country album, possibly at its best on Over You and the title track. A few more tracks like those would have put an extra half star on its rating, but the album dips into country slush a little too often for comfort. I have no idea why Lynn's credited with Mellotron.

Robert Miles  (Italy)

Organik Remixes  (2003,  75.36)  **½

Roberto "Robert Miles" Concina is an Italian DJ/producer type, who elected to commission remixes of his 2001 album, Organik, fittingly titled Organik Remixes, released two years later. It's difficult to know how to describe this other than by saying, 'it's a remix version of a dance album'. Aficionados will be able to appreciate the subtleties (no, for once I'm not being sarcastic) of the various sub-genres and the sound manipulation involved. The rest of us will probably think, 'it's a remix version of a dance album'. Mike Rowe (of Future Sound of London/Amorphous Androgynous) is credited with Mellotron, but given that (as far as I can ascertain) both those outfits use samples, I can't imagine it's any different here. While I don't know which tracks he plays on for certain, it seems likely that he contributes the not-especially-Mellotronic strings on FSoL's Cosmic Jukebox Mix of Paths that opens the two-disc set, although the album features string sounds on several other tracks. I think you already know whether or not you're interested in hearing this, so I can't imagine that anything I say is likely to make you change your mind one way or the other.

Bill Miller  (US)

Raven in the Snow  (1995,  54.37)  ***

Bill Miller's Native American heritage informs Raven in the Snow, heavily in places, although much of it falls neatly into the Americana bracket. Highlights? Listen To Me, the ethnic flute-driven Red Bird, Yellow Sun and After The Storm, maybe. David Hoffner plays samplotron flutes on Listen To Me.

Michael Miller  (US)

When We Come to  (2003,  44.30)  **½

I've seen Michael Miller compared to the likes of Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, a case of wishful thinking if ever I heard one. When We Come to isn't actually bad, but nor is it that good, the insipid likes of Naked Prayer and Pony Ride dragging the less uninteresting tracks down with them. Someone plays distant samplotron strings on Smile Priscilla and flutes somewhere else.

Rhett Miller  (US)

Rhett Miller  (2009,  42.25)  ***
The Traveler  (2015,  46.23)  ***

Rhett Miller's eponymous 2009 release, while perfectly pleasant, is all a bit unengaging, being more alt.country than The Believer's powerpop and a more downbeat record all round. Despite the presence of Jon Brion, Rip Rowan plays samplotron, with ripping pitchbent strings on Another Girlfriend, plus a more subdued part on closer Sometimes. 2015's The Traveler is another decent album, without being in any way startling. Highlights include opener Wanderlust, with some fiery banjo and fiddle playing, Jules, Fair Enough and Good Night, but nothing here should offend. Jenny Conlee-Drizos allegedly plays Chamberlin, but, amongst all the real strings on the album, it's entirely inaudible.

Rick Miller  (Canada)

Dreamtigers  (2004,  42.42)  **½

Rick Miller is a Canadian musician who, I believe, started off in the new age field, having minor success with 1984's Starsong. Two decades on, his 'mood music' background is all too apparent in his first progressive album, Dreamtigers. It's one of those records where, if you put the virtual needle down at almost any point along its length and play it for a few seconds, you'll think, "None more prog!" Unfortunately, listen for much longer and you'll quickly tire of the repetitious, simplistic chord structures and the all-too-obvious melodies. It's not that it's bad, exactly, more, well, dull. Nor is originality exactly Miller's strong suite; I keep hearing vaguely familiar chord changes or snatches of melody: Kansas here, Steve Hackett there, not to mention the Hackett-referencing Return Of The Acolyte. Although he credits himself with 'Mellotron', the samples on display here are pretty obvious, with strings across the whole album and the occasional flute part, although the choirs sound like something else entirely. Anyway, if you're up for a vaguely Gandalf-like new age/simplistic prog crossover with plenty of sampled Mellotron, Miller's yer man.

Chris Mills  (US)

The Silver Line  (2002,  37.16)  **½

The Silver Line is an album of mournful kind-of Americana, albeit not in an especially interesting way. This appears to be another of those albums which used to have an online reference to Dave Max Crawford's Mellotron use, but doesn't any more, the relevant track, Everything's Gonna Be Cool, featuring real strings.

Leslie Mills  (US)

Different for Girls  (2003,  51.37)  **

I'm not sure why Leslie Mills has the male form of her name, but she does. Married to Aussie ex-pat Chris Pelcer (himself a past Mellotron user), her first album, 2003's Different for Girls mixes'n'matches genres, shifting between the pop/punk of the opening title track (about the best thing here), limp balladry (Violet, Good Life, Wings) and mainstream pop/rock (most of the rest), in a generally displeasing fashion. Dave Barron is supposed to play Mellotron, but the nearest anything here gets to one is the vaguely Mellotronic background strings on the title track, which I'd be willing to wager have little to do with a real machine. I can't imagine why on earth you'd want to find out for yourself anyway.

David Minasian  (US)

Random Acts of Beauty  (2010,  61.49)  **½

Classically-trained pianist David Minasian is best known for his DVD production work, although he was persuaded to record 2010's Random Acts of Beauty (actually his second solo album) by Camel's Andy Latimer, after working with him on several DVD projects. It sits firmly at the more 'lightweight symphonic' end of the progressive spectrum, having more in common with The Moody Blues or Barclay James Harvest than any of the genre's more musically adept outfits. Key changes or modulations are pretty much an unknown quantity here, every track (average length: slightly over eight minutes) beginning in one key and doggedly sticking to it through thick and thin, while most of opener Masquerade sounds like it's about to break into Justin Hayward's soft rock 'classic', Forever Autumn (from Jeff Wayne's crummy War of the Worlds) which hopefully gives you some idea of the album's sound. And it's far too long.

Minasian credits himself with 'Mellotron', to which I can only say: you have to be joking, pal. OK, you couldn't source a real one, so don't make out you have. To be honest, the string and choir parts here don't even sound like a Mellotron, just generic samples, along with every other keyboard sound used. Despite the number of rave reviews this has picked up online, I'm afraid I have to say, this is only going to keep the most undemanding prog fan happy; like many other acts I could name, it has only the most distant of connections with its '70s forebears. Christ, even Camel (never the most demanding of listens) sound complex in comparison. More the prog end of soft rock than anything truly progressive.

The Minders  (US)

Right as Rain/Up & Away 7"  (1999)  **½

The Minders are an American psych/indie outfit, initially featuring two members of Apples in Stereo, before going on to forge their own identity. Out of a ten-album career (including two compilations of singles), I've heard a grand total of two tracks, so it seems a little unfair to judge them on those. However, what choice do I have? I always feel I should like Elephant Six Collective bands more than I do; the same goes for this lot, sadly. OK-ish US indie with a vague psych bent is all a bit reinventing the wheel, to my ears. Rebecca Cole plays 'Mellotronics' on the flip, Up & Away, which amounts to 'a stringy-sounding thing that might just be Mellotron samples'. You may like this, but I'd find it difficult to recommend.

MindSpiral  (US)

It's Come 2 This  (2006,  62.13)  ***

Going by It's Come 2 This, MindSpiral operate at the gentler end of the EM spectrum, to the point where, in places, you barely notice anything's happenening at all. EM/new age crossover? Very little samplotron, either way, merely flutes on The Screaming Reds.

Darcie Miner  (US)

Loneliness Anonymous  (2009,  42.44)  **½

Although Darcie Miner's been around for a while, 2009's Loneliness Anonymous is her first full-length album, after EPs in '02 and '05. She's probably best described as her generation's Sheryl Crow; the same kind of alt.country-influenced mainstream singer-songwriter style and songs about relationships that aren't really going to appeal to anyone used to anything more sophisticated, be it King Crimson or Richard Thompson. The album's a long way from 'terrible', but also quite a trot from 'excellent', leaving it in a no-man's land of relative mediocrity, with no real standout tracks. Matt Thomas plays samplotron, with a lush string part on the title track and cellos on Trainwreck In Pennsylvania, complete with sample-giveaway overly-even attack.

Ming  (US)

Summer Day  (2007,  43.27)  *

I think Ming Chou is Chinese-born, but grew up in the L.A. area, deciding, for reasons known only to himself, to become a Christian artist. Summer Day is full of hideous 'transcendent' CCM, faceless adult pop with shit lyrics for the hard of thinking. Seriously, this is enough to trigger violent feelings in the most pacifistic of individuals. Does anything here rescue this from immolation? No, but Holy, Holy, Holy is a pop/punk version of the well-known hymn (!), while Yes You Are kicks out the jams, albeit fairly gently. These aren't to be taken as recommendations, mind... Justin Schier's 'Mellotron'? What, the strings all over opener Bless Yourself? Fuck off.

Mini Mansions  (US)

The Great Pretenders  (2015,  45.02)  **

I've seen Mini Mansions mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Tame Impala and Arctic Monkeys, which might give you some idea of the contents of their second album, 2015's The Great Pretenders. My best shot as describing it is a kind of electro-indie, better tracks including Mirror Mountain and, er, that's about it, while the bulk of the record merely serves to irritate. Obviously sampled Mellotron throughout, of course, with strings on Any Emotions, Vertigo, Honey, I'm Home, Heart Of Stone and Double Visions, plus little bursts of choir here and there. It's all a bit irrelevant, really; I'm not going to recommend this and you're probably not going to bother hearing it.