Marianne Segal featuring Circulus
Discoveries (2010, 66.29) **½A Draconian Tale
The Inner Outside
Chileans S.E.T.I. are apparently a Subterra side-project, not that I've heard their parent band. Their second album, 2010's Discoveries, is solid modern neo-prog, love it or loathe it, influences including Marillion, IQ and various prog-metallers; amazingly, they've actually managed to rope Damian Wilson (Rick Wakeman, Threshold, Landmarq) in on guest vocals, although I couldn't tell you where. The album's material is pretty uninspired, if truth be told, veering towards Andrew Lloyd-Webber territory in places, when it isn't aping Dream Theater, which is simply not acceptable. I'm afraid to say that S.E.T.I. are saying absolutely nothing that hasn't previously been said, possibly with (slightly) more panache, by a host of modern neo-proggers and prog-metal merchants.
Claudio Momberg adds Mellotron samples to several tracks; strings kick in half way through lengthy opener A Draconian Tale, with more of the same on Ellipse and choirs on The Inner Outside, plus other possible bits, assuming it actually matters. I'm sorry I can't be more (or indeed, at all) enthusiastic about this album, but its blatant refusal to even remotely attempt to do anything not already done a thousand times before has defeated me. Unless you're a total neo-prog addict, don't bother. Really.
Let it Come Down (1995, 50.38) **½
Just When I Had it Under Control
Pin the Tail on the Donkey
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
Wild Goose Chasing
Do You Wanna Go Out?
Million Dollar Bet
St Johnny were based in New York, sounding like an unholy amalgam of indie and hard rock, which probably isn't a million miles away from the grunge scene with which their career was contemporaneous. 1995's Let it Come Down was the last of their three albums, not dissimilar in places to Mercury Rev, although the songwriting level's never going to trouble that outfit unduly.
Given that production's handled by Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse), notorious ('round these parts, anyway) for using samples up until a few years ago, not to mention the general murkiness of the Mellotron sounds on offer, it's almost certain that they're early, fairly crummy samples (possibly from eMu's horrible Vintage Keys module). Anyway, we get flutes on Just When I Had It Under Control, strings on Pin The Tail On The Donkey, Hey Teenager! and closer Salvation Arm, for what it's worth. Overall, I'm afraid this hasn't impressed me one bit; I don't think I've applied the phrase 'of its time' to anything this (relatively) recent before, but I have now.
Actor (2009, 39.05) **½
Save Me From What I Want
Actor Out of Work
Laughing With a Mouth of Blood
Just the Same But Brand New
Annie "St Vincent" Clark, ex-member of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' band, released her first solo album in 2007, following up with Actor two years later, a record apparently written in GarageBand on a Mac; may I say, it shows? The string arrangement on Marrow, amongst others, has that 'programmed' sound to it; in fact, the whole album sounds quite 'artificial', but that may be the effect she was after, I suppose. Her indie singer-songwriter sound isn't going to appeal to everyone (it doesn't appeal to me), although it's done perfectly well, best track probably being Black Rainbow, which builds up to a fairly intense peak.
Clark plays Mellotron samples on several tracks, with choirs on opener The Strangers, Marrow, The Bed and Black Rainbow, plus flutes on the last-named and strings on The Party. Does GarageBand include Mellotron samples? No idea, but these don't sound much like the real thing. Maybe she isn't bothered.
Beyond the Beyond: Original Game Soundtrack (1996, 47.45) ***½Land of Promise
Moments of Flight
Beyond the World
Shining the Holy Ark OST (1996, 57.43) ****
|Prelude - Invitation From the Eclipse
Festival of Darkness - Part I
Search in the Void
End of the Horizon of Turbulent Winds
The Dance of Life and Death
A Lament for the Wanderer
Festival of Darkness - Part II
|Rhapsody of Repose
Motoi Sakuraba is one of the seemingly endless stream of amazing Japanese keyboard players, in this case, the one who drove Déjà Vu, also playing with Pazzo Fanfano di Musica and on the Kings' Boards album, amongst other projects. In the '90s, he turned to computer game soundtracks, making a name for himself producing proggy incidental music for onanistic fanboys games geeks to kill everything in sight to, nicely subverting the usual dance rhythmed rubbish.
A handful of these soundtracks have gained a commercial release, edited into listenable pieces, rather than the frequently-few-second-only snippets used in the actual games. 1996 brought Beyond the Beyond: Original Game Soundtrack (which it isn't, precisely), consisting of five lengthyish tracks, making up a perfectly decent prog album. Sakuraba uses loads of sampled Mellotron, but the samples are really poor, probably due to their being mid-'90s ones. The flutes occasionally sound like the real thing, but the strings and choir are terrible, as are many of the other sounds, sadly. Then again, this is for game-players, not prog fans, and it's a good few steps up from the usual drivel they're force-fed, so stop complaining.
Shining the Holy Ark, from later the same year, is quite brilliant; why is this music currently out of print? Sakuraba's produced a minor progressive classic here, largely unknown to Western audiences, only ever available as an import outside Japan. He really knows how to construct pieces in the grand tradition, retaining enough 'Japaneseness' to make them stand out from the pack. Apart from the occasional Emersonism, there's little to fault here, if only you could get hold of the damn' thing. Less sampled 'Tron this time round, and seemingly slightly better samples; did a new sample set appear that year? Maybe Roland's.
Anyway, if you can track either of these down, you'll be doing yourself a huge favour. Maybe Musea could license them for European distribution? Forget about the 'Mellotron' and just listen to the music.
See: Pazzo Fanfano di Musica | Kings' Boards
Aus den Kolonien (2004, 35.45) **
|Bis der Tag Beginnt
Tip Zur Sonne
Haben und Halten
Aus den Kolonien
Sie Atmen Durch
Gib Mir Karma!
|Durch die Gassen
In Unserer Stadt
Samba (terrible name, especially in these days of Internet searchability) are no more or no less a German indie outfit, which tells you more about them than I ever wanted to know. 2004's Aus den Kolonien is possibly their fifth album, a thankfully brief trawl through various modern pop stylings, every bit as dull as you might expect.
Andreas Bonkowski is credited with Mellotron on Sie Atmen Durch, although the nearest the album gets to it is the flutes on the following track, Gib Mir Karma!, although they still sound sampled. Please don't bother with this album.
Electrolight (2010, 53.45) ***
|Illusions and Dreams/Wake Up
Cleared to Land
Kentucky Fried #1: Gratitude
Kentucky Fried #2: Big Jim Slade
In the Afternoon
The Electric Yellow
Alien Jelly Baby
Love & Magic (2011, 95.29) ***
|There is No Beginning
Anything But Love
Love & Magic
She's So High
Dancing Happily Forwards
|Ash & Memory
Love's Green Truth
The Midget in Me
Make Love to You
Lift Up the Veils
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Drift Away (Let it Go)
Carry Me Home
Love & Magic (demo)
There is No Ending]
In the Autumn of Forever (2011, 35.24) ***½No One Else
The Only Way
Forever and Today
Obsessed & Possessed
Lost in a Dream (2011, 39.20) ***½
Madman's Construction (Break Me Down)
I'd Wait a Million Years
Alone in the Middle of Nowhere
Not Me Not You
I'll Give You Everything
I'm Lost in a Dream
The Last Dream Dies
Andy Samford is not only frontman for Telestrion and several previous outfits, but has also found time to record a largish clutch of solo material from the mid-'90s onward. Most of it doesn't concern us, but Andy has pointed me at four of his recent 'releases' (all available, absolutely gratis, from his website), all containing the same Mellotron samples as Telestrion's self-titled debut. Stylewise, unsurprisingly, Samford sticks to his main band's template in the main, that being psychedelic hard rock of the early '70s variety (there's any other variety?), Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath being obvious touchstones.
2010's Electrolight is a decent enough effort, highlights including the propulsive Demon Seed, the psychedelic In The Afternoon and the epic The Electric Yellow, although a little too much filler drags its overall rating down. Shedloads of samplotron, with strings and flutes on opener Illusions And Dreams/Wake Up and In The Afternoon, strings on Cleared To Land and Superdust and flutes and spectacularly murky choirs on Mello, amongst other usage.
The following year's Love & Magic is a 'double', or would be if you burnt it to CD, with a five-track 'bonus EP' to boot. While much of its contents are pretty much what you'd expect, exceptions include the gentle title track, the psychedelic Lost Sunshine and above all, the '70s soft soul/pop (!) of Make Love To You. Is this a step too far in your '70s worship, Andy? The album's (possibly unintentional) highlight, however, is the bonus EP's opening track, Jim Steinman/Bonnie Tyler's finest hour, Total Eclipse Of The Heart, played in the style of Hawkwind. Ludicrously magnificent. Samford adds samplotron strings to several tracks, notably opener There Is No Beginning, with choirs here and there an flutes on the title track, but overall, less so than on Electrolight.
Samford's second and third (!) releases of 2011, In the Autumn of Forever and Lost in a Dream, are similar enough to review in one hit. In fact, going by previous releases, these two could easily make up one overlong disc, but are sensibly served up in two shorter (and more listenable) chunks, making for an easier listen (if not actually easy listening) all round. Highlights of the former include Sleep and Curtain Call, while energetic opener Nothing Left, the doomy Not Me Not You and closer The Last Dream Dies are possibly the latter's top tracks. Surprisingly little samplotron on both releases, although an extended choir chord is the first sound heard on the former (the strings on Curtain Call being the only other obvious use), with the choirs on I'm Lost In A Dream and strings on The Last Dream Dies being the latter's chief proponents.
Given that you too can download these albums, absolutely FREE, to your desktop, means that moaning because Love & Magic is too long and lacks cohesion is entirely churlish. None of these albums is top-notch all the way through, but they all contain a percentage of good material, certainly enough to make one killer compilation. Listening to them one after another gives the impression that Samford has learnt to moderate his sampled Mellotron usage; impressive though it is at first, subtlety is definitely the way to go.
Uno No es Uno (2009, 50.26/58.43) **
No Veo la Hora
Un Minuto del Sol
Nadie Me Hace Mas Feliz Que Tu
Quien Necesita Mirar
Aunque Duela Aceptarlo
Nadie Se Va a Marchar
|Gracias por Entrar
Hay Luna Nueva
Regresar (Tema Principal de la Pelicula Regresar)
No Importa (Solo Noel)]
Nahuel Schajris "Noel Schajris" Rodríguez, ex-Sin Bandera, is actually Argentinian by birth, relocating to Mexico in the '90s. 2009's Uno No es Uno is his first solo album, mixing Latin balladry with more upbeat styles in a way that is unlikely to appeal to a Western rock audience. Like he cares.
To absolutely no-one's surprise, Schajris' 'Mellotron' appears to be sampled, the attack portions of the notes being too long and regular. Anyway, we get strings and flutes on No Importa, flutes on bonus track Regresar and a reprise of No Importa's strings and flutes on the bonus Solo Noel version. Are you going to bother to hear it for yourself? Shouldn't think so, no.
Everyday's Life (2007, 45.02) ***½In the Darkness
In the Morning
Solo Chi Ha Sofferto
In the Evening
Luca Scherani is a sometime member of Finisterre and their offshoot Höstsonaten, as well as playing on Zuffanti & Heward's Merlin project, and has found time to record a solo album, Everyday's Life. It's an eclectic mix, going from 'straight' prog, through electro-tinged jazz (Anonimous) to an almost lounge feel on parts of the title track, not to mention a soundtracky feel on several tracks. Disconcertingly, it frequently switches styles within songs, but then, isn't that sort of experimentation what progressive rock should be about? Almost entirely instrumental, the only vocals (not to mention the only guitar solo on the former) are on Solo Chi Ha Sofferto and Soli, so don't panic; no terrible neo-prog singers here.
Luca has generously not only sent me his album, but has owned up to using 'Tron samples, which he employs with considerable taste, rather than the usual 'do 'em to death' approach. Most tracks feature some strings, with the odd bit of choir; if it were real, it would probably get a TT to TT½ rating. So; I'm not saying that I like all of this album, but it's most professionally done, and some of the music will appeal to the Italian prog fan. Worthwhile.
See: Finisterre | Höstsonaten | Fabio Zuffanti & Victoria Heward
Klaus Schulze (Germany) see:
Hard Listening (2000, 66.44) ***
|Ugly World At 9:00 a.m.
Travels Without Moving
Sun and Moon Vibrations
I'm Bored With Rock'n'Roll
Through Your Eyes
The Hardest Way
Cheesy (2002, 46.31) **½Gasoline
The Impossible Dream
You and Me and the Vacuum
I Belong to Winter
Glad of Being Sad
Say Goodbye With a Kiss
Although Schwarz are often lumped in with the modern psych/space-rock crowd, the overwhelming influence on their second album, Hard Listening (LOVE it when bands from non-English speaking countries pun in English!) is post-rock. Yup, this basically sounds like Mogwai with some psych/prog bits thrown in, not least the Theremin on Sun And Moon Vibrations, although Narcotic is definitely more late-'60s than late-'90s. Band leader Alfonso Schwarz, also known as Alfonso Alfonso (real surname unknown) seems to have a pretty coherent vision for his band, and as long as you accept said vision, you'll probably enjoy what they do. Sadly, I don't really get it, but it seems to be passably good at what it does (he said, grudgingly). María "Ma" Dolores González (and, reputedly, Alfonso himself) play 'Mellotron', although its veracity has to be considered suspect, to the point where I've put it in 'samples' until/if anyone proves it's real. Anyway, there's some rather murky flutes on Travels Without Moving and the same, low in the mix, on Outsider, only surfacing as the other instruments die away, although the flute runs at the end of Tsunami are presumably generic samples, as no-one's credited with a real one. A high string line on Through Your Eyes is trumped by the full-on strings in Moonsickness, but it all sounds a bit fake to my ears. Go on, prove me wrong.
The band released two discs in 2002, the Plays Christian Music EP and the Cheesy album, recorded at the same sessions but regarded as distinct releases. I don't believe there's anything Mellotronic on the EP, but the album sounds a lot like its predecessor, only for some reason it outstays its welcome even sooner, despite being shorter. It's not that it's a terrible record, just that (for me, at least) it goes on and on and on... The post-rock of opener Gasoline, the uptempo The Impossible Dream, the psych-out title track and the overlong Peppermint... Sorry, guys - I was bored. The 'Mellotron' sounds even less real this time round, with a distant string part on Peppermint, rather clunky flutes on Glad Of Being Sad and more flutes and strings on closer Say Goodbye With A Kiss. I think we're talking samples.
Overall, then, a post-rock/psych crossover thing that may appeal to fans of both, or neither. If both albums were rather shorter and more concise, they might be more enjoyable, but then, that might be missing the point. Oh well, point missed.
Wag (2009, 40.21) **½
|Old Dog, New Trick
Sins of Loving You
I Need Longer
Resolution of the Heart
Lost & Found
|Crazy in Love
One World, One Dream
You May Not Know
Guitarist Steve Scorfina and keyboard player Tom Nickeson played in the legendary Pavlov's Dog in the mid-to-late '70s, teaming up again for 2009's Wag (ho ho), although recording actually began in the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, I have to report that the bulk of the album consists of rather undistinguished AOR/mainstream rock, with some especially tedious balladry in the middle of the record. Best tracks? Probably instrumental Pavlov's-esque opener Old Dog, New Trick (ho ho again) and closer You May Not Know, which has something of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross about it.
Nickeson plays Mellotron samples on a couple of tracks, with strings on After Running and strings and flutes on closer You May Not Know, actually enhancing the latter, despite their inauthenticity. I can't really recommend this, sadly, but get to hear its two best tracks if you get the chance.
See: Pavlov's Dog
Batuu (1998, 42.17) **½
|15:20 Soldering Point
Charmingly-named German trio Scumbucket (frontman Kurt Ebelhäuser also plays in Blackmail) fit into the 'melodic yet fucking heavy' category, which is another way of saying that they're influenced by Nirvana. Their second album, 1998's Batuu, gets the requisite quiet parts in amongst the noisy ones, but all to relatively little effect, I'm afraid. A few tracks of this stuff is genuinely exciting; a whole album is just dull.
Someone (Ebelhäuser?) adds Mellotron samples to a few tracks, with strings on Spot Parts, slow, interweaving flutes on Atomic Gun and strings all over elegiac closer Wimp. I can't honestly say that I'm too keen on this stuff, but it clearly has its audience. No real Mellotron, though.
Spanaway (1995, 40.36) **
|Free Drug Zone
Crush Us All
|Assistant (to the Manager)
Punchy (the Clown)
Not Saying Anything
Seaweed's career is both boundaried and defined by the '90s; playing a punky version of grunge clearly seemed like a good idea at the time, although history is unlikely to be overly kind to their fourth album, 1995's Spanaway. In fairness, it isn't terrible, but nor is it even remotely memorable; I mean, I managed to forget most of its songs while they were playing, which isn't a good sign.
Vocalist Aaron Stauffer supposedly plays Mellotron, but if the squally strings on Saturday Nitrous are supposed to be a real machine... I've heard an awful lot worse albums than this, but that's only because I've heard some utter, utter shite. Dull and pointless. No wonder they split up.
Like it Like That (2009, 47.49) **
|Like it Like That
All to Myself
Art of Love
Never Hold You Down
Fail to Mention
|Never Be You
After hearing Guy Sebastian's fifth album, 2009's Like it Like That, it should come as no surprise to discover that he was the first winner of Australian Idol, back in 2003. The album is a highly tedious collection of faux-soul/R&B dross, having little, if any, of the authenticity of the genre's progenitors. Is this Sebastian's fault? Possibly not, but he might note that sometimes it's worth ignoring the more recent years/decades of a genre's development and going back to its roots.
David Ryan Harris is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but the squeaky-clean string line on All To Myself fails to convince, ditto the mellow flutes on Fail To Mention and string chords on Never Be You, although he allegedly used real Mellotron and Chamberlin on an album of his own in the late '90s. I'm sure Sebastian is a genuine soul fan, but his (or his musical director's) vision is seriously askew. Just don't.
The Gathering (2007, 45.51) ***½
Little Lucy Vignette 1
Little Lucy Vignette 2
Circle Round the Sun
Saints on Tapestry
Little Lucy Vignette 3
|Kicking Up the Sands of Time
Little Lucy Vignette 4
Marianne Segal was vocalist with folk-rock trio Jade, whose sole album, Fly On Strangewings, appeared in 1970, while Circulus are the UK's premier (OK, only) medieval folk/rock/psych outfit. Despite knowing the band, I don't know the full story, but Segal sings and plays guitar on Circulus' version of her composition, Swallow, on their first full-length album, 2005's marvellous The Lick on the Tip of an Envelope Yet to Be Sent, essentially making them her backing band for the track, a function they performed again two years later on an entire album of her material, The Gathering.
To be honest, the album's a slightly mixed bag, stronger material including opener September Song, Lapis Wings, the slightly medieval-ish Saints On Tapestry and Dreamers, although I'm not entirely convinced by the band's attempts to 'rock it up' on a couple of tracks, even though they're perfectly capable of doing so on their own records. An unusual feature of the album are the four Little Lucy Vignettes, brief instrumental pieces consisting of (in order) Will Summers' medieval woodwind, Oli Parfitt's harpsichord, Oli's lute and Ian Catt's fakeotron, all leading up to final, hidden track Little Lucy (presumably), a terribly cutesy song about a puppy owned by Marianne as a child. Yes, it's easy to be cynical about such things, but it's actually very sweet. No, really.
Ian Catt plays what I'm fully assured is sampled Mellotron on three tracks, with flutes and choirs on Saints On Tapestry, flutes opening and throughout Dreamers and strings and flutes on Little Lucy. To be fair, they almost sound real, but, er, aren't. While not up to the standard of Circulus' own albums (in my humble opinion, of course), The Gathering's still a very listenable record, well worth the effort for those who've rediscovered Jade in recent years.
Semente (1999, 41.53) ***Semente
Passos de Dinossauro
Semente's lone (at least to date) eponymous album is something of a mixed bag, to be honest; the opening title track is quite reasonable, but the band seem to run out of ideas as the record progresses, until the tired jamming of Novas Forças and Mundo Guerreiro makes you rather glad it's all over. A shame, as they have some good ideas in places, but they don't seem to be able to sustain them.
Sérgio Benchimol and Pedro Kosinski are both credited with 'Melotron' on different tracks (Kosinski on the title track and Ninfa Azul, Benichimol on Mundo Guerreiro), but the only thing I can hear that approaches it at all is some indeterminate strings on Ninfa Azul which must be, at best, fairly poor 'Tron samples. Of course, I've been wrong before... So; a rather uninspired record with some decent moments, and very little 'Tron, real or otherwise. Incidentally, Benchimol's 2004 solo album, A Drop in the Ocean, an Ocean in a Drop, is supposed to contain 'Mellotron', too, but I couldn't even hear samples this time round. Not a bad record, however.
See: True Illusion
Madness (2002, 53.22) **½We Are Living Here
Be the One
You and I
The Fire Burns
I Was There
Out of Range (2004, 43.08) **½Out of Range/Out of Line
Nothing Left for You
Shadows of Ignorance
Stone in the Sky (2005, 46.26) **Stone in the Sky
Out of Range
Mood for a Day
Shadows of Ignorance
I Know What I Like
You and I (closing section)
Going Home (2007, 46.45) **½The Sweater
Stone in the Sky
Stranger Coming Home
Sense are a modern Québecois neo-prog outfit, led by guitarist/bassist/keyboard player Stéphane Desbiens (how do they do this stuff live?), who confuse the issue by throwing in the occasional interesting bit. Their debut, 2002's Madness, is largely generic neo-, with a smattering of prog metal thrown in for good (?) measure, although the band occasionally manage something slightly more original, not least the acoustic-based 'hidden track' that closes the record. All of the album's string and most of the choir parts are generic samples, although some 'proper' Mellotron choir samples crop up in I Was There.
2004's Out of Range is weirdly schizophrenic, in that one minute it's trying to be standard neo-prog, and the next it's flying off at an interesting tangent, sounding more like Guapo, or anybody else with a dissonant turn to their music. Unfortunately, it tends more towards the former than the latter, with most of the interesting work being in lengthy opener Out Of Range/Out Of Line, while a burst of jazzy piano in Nightmare keeps the listener on their toes, although the occasional Celtic interlude serves only to confuse. Desbiens' credited with Mellotron, which is a bit naughty, as he's become known (around here, at least) as a sample user. Their use is intermittent, with a couple of credited tracks having no more than a few string chords, but Out Of Range/Out Of Line has a fair chunk of string work, with a medium helping of choirs on Nightmare.
2005's Stone in the Sky is an odd one: two studio tracks, around ten minutes in total, plus several live ones, the disc being paired with a DVD that partially overlaps the CD's live tracks. Confused? Me too. Once again, although the band default to a form of tedious, clichéd neo-prog, every now and again they confound us with a properly 'out there' section, like the one several minutes into Out Of Range. I'm not sure about those covers, though... Steve Howe's Mood For A Day on clean electric guitar and bass? An atrocious version of Genesis' I Know What I Like, with loads of wrong chords and outrageously-accented vocals? No thanks.
Their latest effort, 2007's Going Home, is basically more of the same, albeit with more of a Yes influence this time round. Stranger Coming Home is reasonably nice, if a bit bland, but everything else here makes me want to hit the 'next' button. On the samplotron front, we get strings all over one of the album's better efforts, Stone In The Sky (a different version to the one on the album of the same name) and the Yes-ish title track, although that's pretty much it.
Overall, this is a pretty dullsville selection, frankly, playing it safe far too often; it isn't difficult to produce interesting and extremely listenable progressive rock with no malign Marillion influence, chaps. Variable on the fake 'Tron front, but with so many far better albums around, many using the real thing, why would you bother?
See: Ère G | Mélia