Spice & the RJ Band
Sunny Day Real Estate
The Will (2007, 47.40) ***½
|Pick a Rose
As We Lie
Don't Tell Me
Fat Snakes and Robots
All I Know
Like a Rose
I'll Be Alright
Spiritual Beggars' Christian "Spice" Sjöstrand played in The Mushroom River Band at the end of the '90s, who mutated into Spice & the RJ Band by the mid-'00s. 2007's The Will is their debut, a retro/stoner hard rock effort where every track actually sounds different from every other; remember when albums used to do that? Amongst its highlights are See Ya, the gentler Don't Tell Me and the fab jammed-out eight-minute closing title track, but truth be told, there isn't a bad track here.
Olle Blomström is credited with Mellotron, but I'd be amazed if the smooth, distant strings on Hold On were anything other than samples, especially given the Beggars' sampledelic history. So; another entrant in the 'good retro hard rock' stakes, as against the 'generic, Sabbath-channelling doom stakes'. Worth hearing.
The Way to Bitter Lake (2006, 33.47) ***The Clearing
Don't Be Afraid, I've Just Come to Say Goodbye, "The Ballad of Clementine Jones"
I Don't Know if She Had Any Teeth Because She Never Smiled
The Bitter One
Maggie's Song for Alice
Midnight on the Nile
I'm not sure what possessed Jane "Spider" Herships to adopt that particular nom de plume; does she not realise what a ubiquitous band/artist name it is? Discogs.com lists over forty alone, not least the early '80s Status Quo copyists and sole exponents of 'Merseyboogie'. Ahem. Anyway, her choice. Her debut, The Way to Bitter Lake, was originally privately released in 2006, gaining a 'proper' issue on Storyboard the following year. It's a sparse, haunted half-hour or so of intimate, personal material that transcends the usual 'boring singer-songwriter' effect, not to mention one of the quietest albums I've heard in a while, making it all the more shocking when a squall of feedback introduces the album's first electric guitar part (of all of two) several minutes into Maggie's Song For Alice. That isn't to say that I find it particularly engaging, but that's probably more my fault than hers.
Matt Boynton is credited with Mellotron, but if those thick string notes under the real violin on The Bitter One are a genuine Mellotron then I'll be etc. etc. So; an album sounding as though it's sitting on the edge of desperation, whether or not it actually is. Probably a grower.
The Real Feel (2009, 46.13) ***
|Call the Ceasefire
A Mighty Mighty Fall
|The Real Feel
Spiral Stairs are/is Pavement's Scott Kannberg's solo project, named for his original Pavement nom de plume. They/he released The Real Feel in 2009, possibly best described as indie Americana, which is less bad than it sounds, at its best on the rip-roaring Subiaco Shuffle, although some of the slower material drags somewhat.
The Posies' Jon Auer supposedly plays Mellotron, just as he did on his own Songs From the Year of Our Demise, in other words, whatever's here is sampled. To be honest, I'm not even sure what is supposed to be here: vague choirs? Even vaguer flutes? No honest-to-goodness Mellotron, that's for sure. Not bad then, but no classic.
Earth Born [as Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart] (2008, 63.56) ***
One Way Trip
Hit the Moon
Behind the Veil
Crafted From Wood
Dancers at the End of...
Spirits Burning were originally formed in 1986, although the 'current' version of the band, whatever you take that to mean, has only been in existence since the late '90s. Led by Don Falcone, the San Franciscan outfit have taken on collaborators from across the space-rock scene, not least Daevid Allen and numerous members of Hawkwind, past and present.
2008's Earth Born is a straight collaboration between the band (essentially Falcone) and Hawkwind's Bridget Wishart, the latter singing on most tracks. As with all the band's albums, moments of sublime, er, sublimeness are scattered amongst long stretches of trippy, jammed-out space-rock, mostly at the gentler end of the spectrum. On the site set up for the collaboration, Falcone gives the sample game away for all their recent releases, mentioning the M-Tron plug-in by name. He adds it to three tracks, with a near-inaudible Genesis 'Watcher Of The Skies' strings/brass mix on the opening title track, upfront strings on Hit The Moon and backwards strings on Child Growing.
So; space-rock par excellence, especially for Gong fans, the band Spirits Burning resembles more than any other. There is genuine Mellotron to be heard on several other albums, which isn't to lessen the impact of the above releases.
Official Spirits Burning site
Official Spirits Burning/Bridget Wishart site
See: Spirits Burning | Michael Moorcock | Daevid Allen | Hawkwind
Mantra III (1998, 53.37) ***½
|Homage to the Betrayed
Lack of Prozac
Send Me a Smile
Mushroom Tea Girl
Ad Astra (2000, 54.17) ***½
|Left Brain Ambassadors
Angel of Betrayal
Per Aspera Ad Astra
Save Your Soul
Until the Morning
|Escaping the Fools
On Dark Rivers
On Fire (2002, 45.54) ****
|Street Fighting Saviours
Young Man, Old Soul
Beneath the Skin
Dance of the Dragon King
The Lunatic Fringe
Demons (2005, 49.00) ***½
Throwing Your Life Away
Salt in Your Wounds
One Man Army
Through the Halls
Dying Every Day
Born to Die
|Born to Die (Reprise)
In My Blood
Sleeping With One Eye Open
No One Heard
Return to Zero (2010, 52.44/56.59) ***½
|Return to Zero (Intro)
Lost in Yesterday
The Chaos of Rebirth
We Are Free
Spirit of the Wind
|A New Dawn Rising
Believe in Me
The Road Less Travelled
[Japanese bonus track:
Time to Live]
Spiritual Beggars are a Swedish retro hard rock outfit, thus combining several of this site's favourite things (Sweden, the '70s, hard rock, Mellotrons), only really missing full-on prog to complete the set. 1998's Mantra III was their third album and, I believe, the first to feature keyboards, with Per Wiberg guesting on Hammond, Rhodes and (fake) Mellotron on several tracks. The music is that sort of pseudo-retro metal thing, with too many modern influences to be really full-on '70s; it works in places, but a lot of it's a bit too much for me at times. Can't really pinpoint standout tracks, although Superbossanova surprises as the band suddenly go all Santana on us. Not much 'Mellotron', as it happens, although the strings on Euphoria and flutes on Inside Charmer are very upfront and sound real, even though they're not. Shame about the 'Mellotron overdubs recorded at' credit, all things considered...
by 2000's Ad Astra, Wiberg had become a full member, adding digitised Hammond and Mellotron to their early-'70s smorgasbord. The only thing about their sound that really gives the game away is the raw-as-fuck vocals and the occasional guitar line, which simply don't ring true for their chosen era, but at least add a smidgeon of modernity to the mix. Wiberg sticks mostly to the organ, although there's a couple of 'Tron' tracks of varying intensity. Wonderful World has some background strings, to the point where you have to listen closely to make sure they're there at all, but Mantra has some quite full-on strings and flutes, before the inevitable heaviosity kicks in again.
The band changed vocalists for 2002's On Fire, and for some reason, I find the end result far more listenable than its predecessor, although I suspect that's partly to do with the more sympathetic production. The riffs are even more '70s than those on Ad Astra, with one shocking Black Sabbath cop on Fool's Gold (a subsidiary riff from Killing Yourself To Live, from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, for what it's worth), but with a concomitant reduction in '90s doom stylings, this really doesn't present a problem. Wiberg expands his sonic palette slightly here, with some (mono)synth on a couple of tracks, and a little more 'Tron'than before, with string parts on several tracks, and flutes on the short instrumental Fejee Mermaid.
Three years on, Demons is as listenable as its predecessor, giving the impression that this is where Spiritual Beggars' collective hearts really lie. Standouts include the Queensrÿche-esque Salt In Your Wounds and the funky (!) wah pedal-driven Dying Every Day, but in truth, there ain't a bad track here. On the 'Mellotron' front, Wiberg plays choirs on instrumental opener Inner Strength, with flutes and strings on another short instrumental, Born To Die (Reprise) with a background flute part on closer No One Heard, rounding things up nicely. For some reason (everyone's very busy?), it's taken the band another five years to produce 2010's Return to Zero, with another new vocalist and all to prove that nothing much has changed. Another good album, never in any danger of being considered 'great', better tracks including Star Born, Coming Home, Dead Weight and the Japanese bonus version of Uriah Heep's Time To Live, Wiberg adding 'Mellotron' strings to Lost In Yesterday, The Chaos Of Rebirth, Dead Weight and The Road Less Travelled.
So; I found Mantra III and Ad Astra a tad too full-on for my personal taste (they remind me slightly of UK doomsters Cathedral in places), but On Fire, Demons and Return to Zero are a great improvement, with more 'Tron' to boot. Incidentally, there's a 14-track version of Ad Astra, but having only heard the shorter one, I've no idea if there's any 'Tron samples on the extra tracks.
Spock's Beard (US) see:
Etherlands (1999, 73.57) ***The Synthesizer Experience
Monotonous Stereo part I
Birds on the Wire
Six Miles South of Hastings
Monotonous Stereo part II
Etherlands part I
Etherlands part II
Wolfram "DER" Spyra has been releasing albums since the mid-'90s, '99's Etherlands (ho ho) being something like his seventh in four years. His particular brand of EM borders 'Berlin School', but with a heavy trance influence, giving it a (not necessarily welcome) contemporary edge many other current artists in the field lack. Nothing wrong with listening to what's around you, but it can sound terribly dated a few years down the line... Or not. Highlights include the reflective Birds On A Wire and brief closer Mellotron Etude, but too much of the album sounds like the plinky Radio Noordzee or the rather dull Etherlands Part II for its own good.
The odd Mellotron sample crops up across the album, principally cellos (unusually) and choirs, although closer Mellotron Etude is, unsurprisingly, the major 'Mellotron' track, featuring cellos and particularly unconvincing flutes. Etherlands is for the trance fan looking to broaden their horizons, rather than the hardened EM fan, I suspect; it has its moments, but too much of it sounds like late '90s TV background music for it to really convince.
Machinery (2011, 40.54) **½
|Ah, I See
I'll Never Marry You
Old MacDonald Don't Have No Farm No More
I'm a Rat
Keep Me Home
Back to the Grind
De Staat fall fairly and squarely into the 'alt.rock' bracket, I think, their second release, 2011's Machinery, pointing towards the American scene of the late '80s and early '90s, with maybe a hint of Beefheart, only, er, not as original. OK, I've heard a lot worse (no, a lot worse), but tracks like Old MacDonald Don't Have No Farm No More could've been left off without harming the overall effect.
Vocalist/mainman Torre Florim plays 'Mellotron' on two tracks, with nothing obvious (distant choirs?) on opener Ah, I See and distorted choirs on Rooster-Man, but I can't say it sounds particularly authentic. Anyway, catchy yet underwhelming alt.rock, anyone? Thought not.
Stackridge (UK) see:
De-Alaltăieri... Şi Până Ieri Vol. II (2005, 44.31) ***
|Ioan Voda Cumplitul
Balada de Copilarie
Scrisoarea Soldatului de Oriciunde
Cum Se Naste-un Mit
|Maria Si Marea
Ei Bine, DA!
Cafeaua de Dimineata
I'm having trouble locating any useful biographical information regarding Doru Stănculescu; pretty much everything online is in Romanian. For all I know, he's recorded thirty albums, but the only thing of which we can be reasonably certain is that 2005's De-Alaltăieri... Şi Până Ieri Vol. II, which seems to translate as From the Day Before Yesterday Until Yesterday, isn't his debut. It's a strange album, combining central European folk stylings and mediæval tonalities, amongst other influences, mostly done very well indeed. It isn't all good, mind; the brief Copiii Pedepsiti is an uncharacteristically jaunty effort and the material tails off towards the end of the album, notably on the countryish Maria Si Marea, docking the album half a star.
I'm sorry, but I really don't believe that Dan Andrei Aldea actually played Mellotron; all we get is a too-clean-by-far flute part on Epifanie, anyway. I actually doubt whether there's ever been a real Mellotron in Romania; I know that the one that used to reside in Bulgaria, at Studio Balkanton, now lives in Norway, owned by Wobbler's Lars Fredrik Frøislie, but that doesn't count. So; modern Romanian folk: don't knock it until you've tried it. No actual Mellotron, though.
Space Metal (2002, 55.47/96.38) **
Set Your Controls
Songs of the Ocean
Master of Darkness
The Eye of Ra
Intergalactic Space Crusaders
[2-disc ed. adds:
Starchild (Dolby Pro-Logic mix)
Spaced Out (alternative version)
The Intergalactic Laxative]
Live on Earth (2003, 113.55) **½
Set Your Controls
Eyes of Time
Songs of the Ocean
Dawn of a Million Souls
The Dream Sequencer
Into the Black Hole
Valley of the Queens
Isis and Osiris
Amazing Flight in Space
Intergalactic Space Crusaders
The Eye of Ra
The Two Gates
Victims of the Modern Age (2010, 53.09) **½Down the Rabbit Hole
Earth That Was
Victim of the Modern Age
Human See, Human Do
It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive
It All Ends Here
Arjen Anthony "Ayreon" Lucassen's Star One, to give them their full name, are one of the titular Lucassen's many projects, apparently originally a proposed collaboration with Bruce Dickinson, until Lucassen mentioned it in an online interview and Bruce pulled out (so to speak). Well, that's what happens when you mess with the Dickster, innit? 2002's Space Metal isn't actually very good, frankly; imagine an off-Broadway prog-metal album, not helped by the dodgy female vocals that dog several tracks and the gratuitous synth solos (including a couple from Rocket Scientists mainman Erik Norlander) that sound like something instrumentally contemporary, although Lucassen infamously owns a pristine MiniMoog. Samplotron on several tracks, unsurprisingly, with choirs on Lift-Off (which sounds suspiciously similar to Colin Towns' Second Sight, from Gillan's debut, Mr Universe), also heard on High Moon, along with pretty crummy strings, both sounds cropping up elsewhere, to no great effect. The bonus disc's Hawkwind Medley, despite being co-vocalled by Dave Brock, is terrible, ditto the drastic rearrangement of Bowie's Space Oddity and the untitled final track, which turns out to be an awful version of Donovan's awful Intergalactic Laxative.
The following year's double Live on Earth is an onstage recreation of most of the album, with a large chunk of Ayreon material thrown in for good measure; given that the two bands are so similar in concept and sound, it's hardly a huge leap of faith for the audience. Although every bit as pompous (and rather longer) than Space Metal, it somehow pulls the trick of being slightly less tedious, although any prospective listeners should ensure that they are already aficionados of Mr Lucassen's work. I would guess it's Joost Van Den Broek who plays the Mellotron samples scattered across the two discs, but it hardly matters, does it?
After a considerable break, Lucassen resurrected the Star One project and released their second studio album in 2010, Victims of the Modern Age. Unfortunately, although I can report that it's better than its predecessor, that's because it's a less individual record, not more, disposing of the bulk of the sub-Lloyd-Webber stuff and ending up sounding like just about any other prog-metal band you could name. Yes, this is an improvement. The formula goes something like this: guitars riff like mad, strident vocalist sings in an epic manner, keyboard player adds synth solo played on a modern instrument. Repeat. Marvellous. The first sound you hear on the album is the samplotron choir on Down The Rabbit Hole, with strings on Digital Rain and bits of choir elsewhere, but you were never, never going to mistake it for the real thing.
Star One have improved by dint of becoming less individual. Is this really the sort of example we'd like to set our children? Eh? Maybe they're following some weird kind of Dutch governmental diktat regarding 'the inadvisability of individual approaches in the prog-metal genre and their practical applications'. Maybe.
See: Ayreon | Erik Norlander
Everyday & Then Some (2002, 43.11) ****
Mother of Pearl
Broken Hearts in Stereo
Produced by Myracle Brah's Andy Bopp, Starbelly's second album, 2002's Everyday & Then Some, is a gorgeous powerpop release featuring all the 'right' influences and actually outdoing Bopp's mob in the process. Top tracks? Beauty Mark is particularly ripping, not least its superb backwards guitar solo, while Plateau, Ordinary Now and Doubt are all top-notch. Your task, should you choose to accept it: find a bad track on this album.
Greg Schroeder is credited with Mellotron, but the only vaguely Mellotronic flutes on Plateau really don't convince; it's no surprise that The Myracle Brah's contemporaneous Bleeder also features samples. Alleged Mellotron use is pretty much irrelevant here, though; the quality of the music is the reason you should own this album.
The Thread (2008, 41.51) ***
|How to Invent a Heart
Him and Her
The World Spins for You
Drag Them Down
The Snake Pit
An Apology Gone Bad
Blood, Bones and a Skull
Starofash are metal gods Peccatum's vocalist Heidi Solberg Tveitan's solo project, whose second album, 2008's The Thread, contains a gothic blend of atmospheric piano work, whispered vocals and muted band performances. Highlights include brief, vibraphone-led opener How To Invent A Heart, the string-laden The World Spins For You and the gentle-yet-slightly-disturbing The Snake Pit, although there's nothing here that should offend those into the darker side of life.
EM musician Markus Reuter allegedly plays Mellotron on Him And Her, but given that he already has an album listed in 'samples', it comes as no surprise that the choirs on the track are too smooth by far. Overall, a pretty decent effort, if rarely in danger of being 'groundbreaking'. Definitely no real Mellotron, though.
Dark Hallucinations (1999, 52.46) **
We Are Not Alone
Look What You've Done
Scarred For Life
Book of the Dead (2001, 40.50) **½
|When Six Was Nine
Church of Mind
Burning Into Blackness
|Ruby Dreams (Faith and Hope)
Steel Prophet have a problem. A big problem. And that problem is, they sound exactly, make that exactly like Queensrÿche. I don't mean, 'influenced by', I don't even mean 'God that's close'. I mean exactly like them, down to the last vocal nuance and twiddly guitar bit. Now, I like Queensrÿche, or rather, I like '80s Queensrÿche, when they still wrote great material and didn't pander to the prevailing 'heavier or lighter' ethos, where the bulk of what would once have been just heavy rock bands had to decide whether to go the Metallica or Bon Jovi route. Talk about the devil or the deep blue sea... Grim days, the '80s; even most of what little prog was being made sucked. Queensrÿche somehow managed to persuade people, not least the cloth-eared record company brigade, that intelligent, thoughtful hard rock was a viable career option and for a while, they were right. It seems to me that hard rock always had two kinds of audience: the blokes who worked in factories and the chemistry students; Queensrÿche managed to capture the latter. All of which is absolutely no excuse for another outfit to rip their signature sound off blind a decade later. I mean, what's the point? I'm not making any great claims of originality on Queensrÿche's behalf (they began as a straight amalgam of Priest and Maiden, the latter legendarily influenced by Halford's Heroes), but to churn out a straight copy, minus the great songs, seems wilfully stupid.
Enough bitching about why Steel Prophet are a waste of time. 1999's Dark Hallucinations and 2001's marginally better Book of the Dead have credits for 'Mellotron', to which I say, "You have to be joking". The former has no more than some vague string sounds on a few tracks, although the latter manages a few 'Tronlike string chords on Anger Seething, plus a couple of other possible parts, but this doesn't sound to me like a band who hauled an M400 into their studio because they love the crankiness of an original machine. This sounds like a band who own an eMu Vintage Keys, or at best, Roland's Vintage Synth module and sensibly keep its grotty approximations well in the background most of the time. Saying this, I'll probably get an irate e-mail from the band saying a) the Mellotron's real, and b) why have you slagged us off?
I'll freely admit that I don't listen to a lot of modern metal and Steel Prophet are a perfect illustration as to why. I'm not saying that originality is a must; I listen to stacks of fairly derivative prog, but most bands manage to put at least a little of themselves into what they're doing and not just slavishly ape someone else's sound, hook, line and sinker. I wouldn't mind quite so much if the songs were good, but they're not. I'm sure there's a market for Steel Prophet, but it's not one where I buy my fruit and veg.
p.s. Amusingly, guitarist/mainman Steve Kachinsky HAS written to me, chiefly to say that he hates Queensrÿche and they've never been an influence. Strange... He was very gracious about me slagging their albums, too, while confirming that the 'Mellotron' is definitely sampled.
Grus Americanus (2007, 48.55) **½
|Wash Us Down With Sea Saline
Hey Hey Hey (it's Gonna Be OK)
Just Wanna Show Ya
Stephanie's Id (originally stephaniesĭd; they've used several spelling variants, largely due to finding themselves mis-spelt as Stephanie's ID) are a 'pop-noir' outfit with a rotating lineup from North Carolina, led by Stephanie Morgan and her husband, Chuck Lichtenberger. Their second full album, 2007's Grus Americanus, starts well, but this listener quickly tired of their schtick, which is probably more due to his failings than theirs; as a result, its best tracks appear to be clustered near the beginning, notably opener Wash Us Down With Sea Saline and the (relatively) raucous Blue.
Collaborator Vic Stafford is credited with Mellotron, but the cellos on Blue and Unmistakably Love don't sound especially authentic to these ears. Pre-M-Tron, sample sets were usually limited to the basic strings/flutes/choir, but now you can access pretty much anything (did I hear some brass at one point?); saying all that, it's probably real... Anyway, while mildly diverting in places, I'm afraid this failed to grab me in any meaningful way (so to speak).
Pete Stewart (1999, 44.07) **½
|Out Of My Mind
Little Country Church
Up in the Sky
|The Reason is You
Waiting for the Son
Frontman for the recently reformed Grammatrain, Pete Stewart (collaborations include TobyMac), released his eponymous debut solo album in 1999. Unsurprisingly, it treads the same Christian alt.rock path as his band, making for an uninspired, yet not completely awful album that largely drifts by without ever really impinging itself on the (or at least, this) listener.
Stewart allegedly plays Mellotron on Don't Underestimate, but I'd be amazed if the weedy string part with which the song is blighted emanated from a genuine machine. So; dull, albeit with a thankfully low-key Christian message. Amusingly, it seems that Stewart is now an ex-botherer, so Grammatrain are having to attract a secular audience. Good luck, guys...
Always Almost (1997, 50.17) ***
Know it No
The Years They Come
Clearer the End
I Used to Be
Sometimes I Drink Too Much
After US prog great white hopes Echolyn split in the mid-'90s (what happens when you trust a major label), three members, Brett Kull (vocals/guitar), Paul Ramsey (drums) and Ray Weston (vocals/bass) formed a power trio, Still, releasing one album, 1997's Always Almost. It's barely 'progressive' at all, whatever you might take that to mean, being more a psychedelic heavy blues effort, better tracks including Loveless and Calculated Truth, although nothing here really stands out. Incidentally, the last track, the bizarre, folky drinking ballad Sometimes I Drink Too Much is listed as a 'bonus', but since there wasn't a version without it, I'm not quite sure what's supposed to be 'bonus' about it.
John Avarese plays piano, accordion and Mellotron, supposedly, although the strings on Calculated Truth barely even sound like samples, let alone a real one, highlighted by the solo section at the end of the song. Mellotron? Actually, guys, that's taking the piss. Anyway, a reasonable release, though not even remotely as good as Echolyn's work. Incidentally, the band changed their name to Always Almost (confusing, eh?), releasing God Pounds His Nails later the same year, featuring Avarese's samples again.
See: Always Almost
The Flower King (1994, 70.36) ***½
|The Flower King
The Magic Circus of Zeb
Close Your Eyes
The Pilgrims Inn
The Sounds of Violence
This is the Night
The Flower of Love
Scanning the Greenhouse
Hydrophonia (1998, 67.47) ***½
Little Cottage By the Sea
Wreck of HMS Nemesis
Bizarre Seahorse Sex Attack
Oceanna Baby Dolphin
Seafood Kitchen Thing
Wall Street Voodoo (2005, 115.08) **
Head Above Water
Everyone Wants to Rule the World
Spirit of the Rebel
Dog With a Million Bones
It's All About Money
Everybody is Trying to Sell You Something
Hotrod (the Atomic Wrestler)
People That Have the Power to Shape the Future
Kaipa's young guitarist, Roine Stolt, was still only in his late thirties in the early '90s, when he decided to have a second stab at the progressive scene, after years of reputedly dodgy albums. Then again, who didn't release dodgy albums in the '80s? Suggestions on the back of a used banknote to the usual address. The Flower King, on top of naming his new band, was a fine return from one of Sweden's major progressive talents, containing at least one song (its title track) that was to stay in The Flower Kings' set for years. Actually, in retrospect, it's rather less exciting than it seemed at the time, though there's some decent enough material on board, not least the first of many, many epics Stolt was to write over the succeeding decade, Humanizzimo (with its outrageous Yes 'borrowings'), also in early Flower Kings' sets.
I didn't know for a while whether or not the 'Mellotron' on the album was real, although after lending the band my own machine for a UK gig back in '99, I was assured that they'd never used anything but samples, so the same is very likely to be true for solo Stolt. Strings and/or choirs on most tracks, with some flutes, tastefully used, unlike some other sample users I could name, who just slap the things all over their records like (to quote my friend Doug) 'an ill-fitting wig'. If you want to know what all the fuss is about with Stolt/The Flower Kings. this isn't a bad place to start, though don't go expecting anything like the other early-'90s Swedish prog explosion outfits (Änglagård/Anekdoten/Landberk). Nice (fake) 'Tron, too.
Stolt spent the next few years spitting out huge chunks of Flower Kings music, not finding the time to record another solo album until '98's Hydrophonia. Given that The Flower Kings' work was already on the slide by this point, I'm amazed to find that much of the album is wonderful, uplifting instrumental prog, especially closer Seafood Kitchen Thing. In fact, apart from a couple of slightly dull pieces around the middle of the album, this is actually very good indeed, although possibly not consistent enough to grab a full four stars. Plenty of 'Tron samples on the album; not just the standard strings, flutes and choirs, but also brass on Wreck of HMS Nemesis, so worth it if you want to hear more of The Beast without caring whether or not it's real.
Roine concentrated on the Flower Kings (oh, and Transatlantic...) for the next few years, finally releasing his third solo album proper, Wall Street Voodoo, in 2005. And it... sucks. A horrendously overlong double-disc set, it largely consists of long, boring blues-rock jams with the odd progressive styling thrown in to keep his regular audience happy, with the occasional bit of pseudo-'Tron on most tracks. This really is an album you want to avoid, having none of the charm of Stolt's earlier work. Run away, fast.
So; if you're interested in Stolt's solo work, buy The Flower King and Hydrophonia, probably in preference to any Flower Kings albums after, say, '98. Just don't even think about Wall Street Voodoo unless you're a complete masochist.
See: Kaipa | Kaipa (samples) | The Flower Kings | Agents of Mercy | Transatlantic | Tomas Bodin | The Tangent | Karmakanic
Below the Branches (2006, 39.29) ***
Ever Thought of Coming Back
Summer's Easy Feeling
|The Rabbit Hugged the Hound
The Sun Comes Through
No World Like the World
Kelley Stoltz is a lo-fi San Francisco-based singer-songwriter with an environmental bent - he 'offset' the electricity used to record his first Sub Pop release, 2006's Below the Branches. Said album is reminiscent, in places, of Brian Wilson and other pre-psych '60s songwriters, the Bowie-esque The Sun Comes Through probably being the most interesting thing here, although he gets the phrase 'barometric pressure' into Winter Girl.
We get faux-Mellotron strings on Memory Collector, although that seems to be it on the fake 'Tron front. Not a bad effort, then, although Stoltz's lo-fi approach may deter some listeners.
See: Kelley Stoltz
What the Night Said (2007, 33.28) **½
Night Will Come
Lost the Fear
I'd Hate to Leave You
Oh Quiet Night
I Don't Wanna Love
Will Stratton was all of eighteen when he recorded What the Night Said in 2005, although it didn't gain a release for another two years. I hate to say this, as he seems extremely sincere, but it's a terribly dull modern singer-songwriter effort, better (i.e. less irritating) tracks including Oh Quiet Night and the harmonium-fuelled Sunol, but nothing here's likely to excite fans of, say, Nick Drake, of whom Stratton is quite the fan.
Stratton is credited with Mellotron, but did he really have access to one? The chordal flute parts on opener Katydid and Sonnet suggest not, frankly, being too clean for their own good. I've actually heard a lot worse than What the Night Said; Stratton lacks that appalling habit of suddenly breaking into a 'heartfelt' falsetto, which has gained this a good half star, but it's still somewhat on the wet side.
Strawbs (UK) see:
Submarine Silence (2002, 46.20) ****
Bicycle Ride From Earth to Saturn
Mr. Submarine's Ordinary Day (part 1)
Venice, a Spooky Love Story
Mr. Submarine's Ordinary Day (part 2)
Shores Where Time Stands Still
Porto di Venere
In their eponymous debut, Submarine Silence have made what must be the most heavily Genesis-influenced album I've heard in a very long time; the opening solo piano piece, The Door, is played on a Banksian Yamaha CP70, and David Cremoni's acoustic work is Hackett to a T, although his electric playing has unfortunate elements of Marillion's Steve Rothery in places. Even the cover's painted by sometime Genesis sleeve designer Paul Whitehead. Submarine Silence is entirely instrumental, which neatly sidesteps 'dodgy vocalist syndrome', not to mention the language problem, as in 'which one to sing in?'. Despite its all-too obvious influences, this really is rather good, although it's not really what you'd call a challenging listen.
Cristiano Roversi (better known as keyboard man with Moongarden) is credited with 'Mellotron', though I've now had it confirmed that it's samples from EMU's Vintage Keys; they're too smooth and consistent, and some of those hanging notes are held way past the eight-second limit. Loads of it, anyway, with several lush string intros, and bits of flute and choir work scattered throughout for good measure. Actually, I think 'lush' is the watchword here, so don't go expecting any dissonance; hey, the reformed Van der Graaf have just put an album out if you want that...
So; very nice indeed, if a tad unoriginal. Given that the band were apparently put together by Mellow's boss to record tracks for their Genesis tribute album, should we be surprised? Shame about the samples, but this is unlikely to disappoint most symphonic prog fans. Recommended.
See: Cristiano Roversi | Moongarden
Dreamer (2002, 44.46) ****Dreamer
My Blue Guitar
Baby Blue Shuffle in D Major
Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band Vol. 1 (2006, 50.30) ***½Slowner
The Night After
Pay for Freedom
Sula Bassana are yet another of Dave Schmidt's psychedelic projects (Liquid Visions, Zone Six), this one sailing closer to the trippier end of Hawkwind than the others. Sula Bassana is actually the nom de plume Schmidt goes under for the project, but it seems to make more sense to file them under 'S' than 'B', so here they are.
Dreamer appears to be his/their first album under this name and is a pleasing amalgam of tripped-out jams and the 'rock' part of 'space rock', mixed with a little electronica. Top track? Probably the lengthy Ananda, but there's no slackers here. Schmidt allegedly plays Mellotron, but the major string part on the title track with the suspiciously long choir chord at the end and the strings on Baby Blue Shuffle In D Major sound a bit forced, shall we say. Samples so heavily suspected that this goes here until/if I should find out otherwise.
2006's Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band Vol. 1 is quite possibly actually Vol. 1 by Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band; it's hard to tell. Anyway, a rather lesser album than Dreamer, at least to my ears, droning on for ages without ever really going anywhere. Doubtless the point. Anyway, the credited 'Tron strings on The Terrascrew and phased strings and choir on Daydreams both sound fake as hell, particularly the former, hurling this into this section without passing 'Go' or receiving £200.
So; one good and one so-so psych albums, fake 'Tron throughout, by the sound of it. Of course, this puts the Mellotron's veracity on Schmidt's other projects into doubt, too, especially as it's effectively inaudible on one of them. Wonder if he'd answer (truthfully) if I wrote?
See: Liquid Visions | Zone Six
Chuck (2004, 41.41) **½
We're All to Blame
Angels With Dirty Faces
The Bitter End
Open Your Eyes
|I'm Not the One
Welcome to Hell
There's No Solution
Sum 41 are possibly Canada's top entry in the pop/punk stakes, releasing their first album in 2001, '04's Chuck being their third. I suppose it does what it does well enough, but it's pretty derivative; Some Say sounds like an Oasis outtake, while The Bitter End rips Metallica something rotten, never mind all the ones I didn't spot. Are there any 'best tracks? Possibly 88, but the bulk of the album falls a bit flat, I'm afraid.
Vocalist/guitarist Deryck "Biz" Whibley is credited with Mellotron, but if the faint, time-stretched strings on Pieces and 88 come from a real machine, I'll be stunned. So, not so much a disappointment, as a 'what I expected', both on the musical and (non-)Mellotronic fronts.
The Rising Tide (2000, 52.00) **
|Killed By an Angel
Fool in the Photograph
Tearing in My Heart
Faces in Disguise
The Rising Tide
Sunny Day Real Estate are apparently 'Emo', which is nothing to do with legendary weirdo Emo Phillips, although it might be a lot more fun if it was. 2000's The Rising Tide was their last album (of four), and is a properly insipid piece of bilge, I have to say. I can't really find anything nice to say about this wuss-fest, so I won't even bother trying. Maybe it's that I've heard worse. Mind you, haven't you always heard worse?
Bassist/frontman Jeremy Enigk allegedly plays Mellotron, although aside from the two tracks with credited strings, all I can hear is the odd not-very-Mellotronic string part that could, at a pinch, be samples. I suppose it could, technically, be a real Mellotron, but I rather doubt it. Please don't bother buying this record either way.
Age of the Sun (2002, 59.19) ***½
|Age of the Sun
That Ole Sun
Everything is Waking
Digging to China
A Better Way to Be
An Illuminated Array
|Inside the Nebula
Hide in the Light
Sail Beyond the Sunset
A 93 Million Mile Moment
Mr. Summer Day
Cycles of Time
Green Imagination (2004, 38.39) ***
|Statues and Glue
What Do You Know
Enjoy the Teeth
|Face the Ghost
Sunshine Fix are ex-Olivia Tremor Controller Bill Doss' new band, although he used the name prior to the formation of the OTC. It would be fair to say they have a distinctly psychedelic sound, although they're far from purist sixties-heads, with more than a nod towards the OTC's Atlanta, Georgia scene, alongside Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo et al. Their first 'proper' album (ignoring a pre-OTC cassette, later reissued on CD), Age of the Sun, is a charming pot-pourri of psychedelia from various eras, top tracks including the title track, Everything Is Waking and Digging To China, although the only really irritating track is the strange, 20-minute disc filler Le Roi-Soleil, which seems a rather pointless way to finish the album. Doss plays what I take to be samplotron, with flutes on Hide In The Light, Sail Beyond The Sunset and Cycles Of Time, although the mess of instrumentation on 72 Years makes its credited 'Tron' not obviously audible.
Their follow-up, Green Imagination, is perfectly good, but unlike some other contemporary psych acts, it somehow failed to really grab me, although maybe it will several plays down the line? Only one obvious 'Tron' track (from Doss), with somewhat background flutes on Rx, although it's possible that the background sounds on a couple of other tracks are also 'Tron-generated. Overall then, not bad, not great, not much 'Tron'.
So; two modern psych albums, one rather better than the other and with more 'Mellotron'. Simple, really.
See: Apples in Stereo | Beulah | Ladybug Transistor | Marbles | Of Montreal | Thee American Revolution
Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos (2007, 48.10) **½
Born in the Desert
Susanna Karolina Wallumrød is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, whose debut album, 2007's Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, has a certain quiet beauty about it, while simultaneously being so relentlessly downbeat that, after the first few songs, listening to it actually becomes a bit of a chore. I really don't like to say this, as her transparent, open-hearted honesty should be applauded, but when an album becomes hard work... I'm not asking her to suddenly throw a polka into the mix, but after a while, a dozen very similar tracks begin to sound... very similar.
Motorpsycho's Helge Sten plays 'Mellotron' on Better Days, but if the background flutes and strings on the track have anything to do with a real machine, I'll be stunned. So; an album to bring out your inner depressive, although a track or two at a time can be quite uplifting, in a strange kind of way.
Soundwave Traveller (2002, 71.35) ***½Soundwave Traveller
Sonus (Part 3)
Thru the Syngate (2003, 63.42) ***½Transcendant
Valles Marineris (edit)
Heart of Orion (edit)
Sonus (part 6)
Thru the Syngate
Synphära (2003, 74.54) ****Cydonia
Sonus (2004, 78.46) ***½Sonus (part 1)
Sonus (part 2)
Sonus (part 3)
Sonus (part 4)
Sonus (part 5)
Sonus (part 6)
Skyline (2005, 76.48) ***½Mellotropica
Skyline (part 1)
Skyline (part 2)
The Glass Bridge (2006, 74.29) ****The Glass Bridge (parts I - III)
Heart of Orion (parts I - IV)
Which comes first, chicken or egg? David T. Dewdney is best known 'round these parts for running an EM label and for kindly reviewing Edgar Froese's Mellotronic output for this site some years ago. However, it turns out that he's a renowned synthesist himself, releasing albums as Syn (ho ho), mostly solidly in the 'Berlin School' style (i.e. heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream), the first of which is 2002's Soundwave Traveller. And it sounds like... a Berlin School album. Sorry, Dave, but I think I've exceeded my limit with mainstream EM; it's almost all good, but except to the hardcore fan, it's essentially all the same, which is why I give most albums ***½. Good, but entirely generic. As the sole musician, Dewdney plays (or sequences) the clearly sampled Mellotron himself, with the usual heavily echoed and/or reverbed strings, choirs and flutes across all three tracks, a choir chord on Freefall holding for a rather unfeasible several minutes, but there you go. The only 'unusual' (if unMellotronic) sound on the album comes nineteen minutes into Sonus (Part 3), where he suddenly uses the 'Leslied piano' effect from Pink Floyd's Echoes (you know the one), the difference being that it's s sampled piano and a Leslie emulator. Oh, and Pink Floyd did it first.
The following year's Thru the Syngate (Syngate being his new label) is, er, another Berlin School EM album, its one 'non-standard' track being Heart Of Orion (Edit), complete with ungeneric, quite startling crashes and overwhelming synth leads. Plenty of samplotron, natch, some of the choir chords again held forever, nice to hear but exceedingly inauthentic. Later the same year, however, Synphära is a minor revelation, plus points including the programmed percussion, the ghostly, spectral voices on Utopia Planitia and the Yamaha CP70 piano (or reasonable facsimile) on Olympus Mons, plus the usual samplotron. Very listenable indeed, sir. 2004's Sonus is a more reflective six-part single track, not actually rhythmless but never really breaking sweat, much of it sounding a little like the intro to Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond extended to full-disc length. Surprisingly little samplotron, too, the most overt part being the strings on the relatively short Part 6.
2005's Skyline is, essentially, another EM album, albeit one absolutely stuffed with sampled Mellotron. It'll come as no surprise that lengthy opener Mellotropica is a total sample-fest, led by strings - certainly Dewdney's most samplotron-heavy piece - while the other four tracks are no slackers, either. Nothing particularly new on the musical front, then, but an awful lot of samplotron. The following year's The Glass Bridge is an album of quiet beauty, at least on two of its three tracks. The title track is the most rhythmic thing here (also the track with the most samplotron use), while the half-hour Shadowfall is, as you might expect from its title, a dark, reflective piece (although never tipping over into discord), leaving the drifting Heart Of Orion as the album's best evocation of the interstellar reaches. Why is this man not soundtracking SF films, I ask?
I haven't heard Syn's 2007 offering, 61 Cygnus-Alpha (and any subsequent releases?), but Dewdney refuses to disappoint on the pure Berlin School front. Although I've rated two of his albums slightly more highly than the rest, they're all quality releases. Worth hearing.