La Torre dell'Alchimista
Truth & Salvage Co.
Tsuki no Wa
Hell Below/Stars Above (2001, 44.50) **
Push the Hand
You'll Come Down
Pressed Against the Sky
What We Have We Steal
Hell Below/Stars Above
After an abortive effort in 1997 to follow their '94 debut, Rubberneck, Texans Toadies finally released a reworked version of the sessions, Hell Below/Stars Above, in 2001, making this listener wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. A desperately unexciting alt.rock effort, it bores and irritates in roughly equal quantities, its one-dimensional songwriting copping elements of several other crummy bands from the era, particularly apparent on punky opener Plane Crash, the vaguely Chilis-esque Little Sin, Sweetness and closer Doll Skin (U2 with a distortion pedal).
Someone adds what sounds like background samplotron strings towards the end of Jigsaw Girl, to no great effect, unless it's real, in which case, it's still to no great effect. This is terrible. Avoid. Incidentally, the sainted Elliott Smith guests on piano on the title track. Why?
Renovating→Diverse City (2005, 52.52) *½
|Getaway Car (jazzadelic freemix)
The Slam (D Dubb remix)
Diverse City (club-a-dub remix)
Burn for You (shortwave radio mix)
Hey Now (D Dubb remix)
Phenomenon (Blanco e Chegro mix)
Gone (long gone remix)
|Catchafire (white rabbit mix)
Ill-M-I (Dutch mix)
Atmosphere (ambiente mix)
West Coast Kid
Burn for You (cat paw remix)]
Toby "TobyMac" McKeehan is that most appalling of things, a Christian rapper and former member of dcTalk, whose Renovating→Diverse City is a remix version of his second solo release, 2004's Welcome to Diverse City. And it's... shit. Is there anything worse than a Christian rap album? Yes, a Christian remix album. To be honest, it sounds like just about every other remix album I've had the displeasure to hear, but with vaguely devotional lyrics, just to add to the pain.
Christopher Stevens is credited with Mellotron on the Long Gone remix of Gone, but when you hear what sounds like MkII 'moving strings' and murky M400 choir on the same track, you know you're talking samples. Very, very poor. Avoid.
See: Freaked! A Gotee Tribute to dcTalk's "Jesus Freak"
Black Chamber (2003, 53.56) ***
Apartment Thunder (Eros + Sacrifice)
Raw Mouth Shape
Plume, Preceded By Far Off Inside
Ill-Faced Doll (Aozameta Omozashi Ni
|Gored Fig Sacs
Blind Eel Priestess
The Slapping Gun
Life in the Folds
David Toop is best-known musically for his membership of The Flying Lizards and journalistically, for his contributions to The Face and The Wire. All of which (OK, not The Face) make it no surprise whatsoever that his tenth solo album (including collaborations), 2003's Black Chamber, is a deeply experimental work, comparable to, say, the weirdest end of the Julian Cope spectrum. I'm not sure that Toop would be particularly happy at the comparison, but who knows? Er, he does, I'd imagine. Most tracks combine fragments of found sound and other samples with largely atonal instrumentation, although Plume, Preceded By Far Off Inside features a relatively normal jazz saxophone solo, while snippets of vocal, guitar and other 'mainstream' elements make themselves apparent every now and again.
Toop supposedly plays Mellotron, but the strings on The Slapping Gun, while loosely 'Mellotronic', are most unlikely to emanate from a real instrument, I suspect, while the strings on the title track sound more like regular samples than ones from a Mellotron. So; not one for neo-prog fans, I think it's safe to say.
Wonderful Life (1997, 57.09) ***½
Not What it Appears
This is Life?
|Might Be Late
Spaceships in the Sky
Don't Be Long
The Tories (terrible name, given its British political connotations) are an L.A.-based powerpop outfit frequently compared to Jellyfish (and not just by me, for once), their 1997 debut, Wonderful Life, being stuffed with joyous songs of the quality of Gladys Kravitz, Not What It Appears, Greenhill and Don't Be Long. Actually, although the album's rather overlong for the style (yeah, I know: value for money), there isn't a bad track here, just some that are less essential than others.
Steve Bertrand and James Guffee are both credited with Mellotron; if the only audible evidence were the brief flute part on Might Be Late and the cellos and strings on Strange, this would be in this site's 'regular' section, but the strings on Gladys Kravitz are the sample giveaway, especially the high notes. Overall, then, a powerpop 'must', if not quite up to the quality of their forebears. Most worthwhile.
La Torre dell'Alchimista (2001, 50.07) ****Eclisse
Delirio (in do Minore)
La Torre dell'Alchimista
I Figli della Mezzanotte
La Persistenza della Memoria
Neo (2007, 50.07) ****
Golem (Storia di una Goccia)
Suoni di Plastica
Risveglio, Procreazione e Dubbio pt. I
| Secondo Esperimento
Le Tre Teste
La Guerra All'Idrogeno
Risveglio, Procreazione e Dubbio pt. II
La Torre Dell'Alchimista set out their stall on their self-titled debut immediately, as Eclisse starts with the modulated roar of a full-throated Leslie cabinet as its speed races up and down, before they lurch into the track. The rest of the album covers a variety of progressive styles, which, while admirable, can sound a little disjointed at times, although there isn't actually a bad track to be heard, so despite a slight lack of musical cohesion, La Torre Dell'Alchimista is a most worthwhile release. Michele Mutti's 'Mellotron' work can only really be heard on a couple of tracks, although there are several 'possible sightings' that probably aren't, principally the male voices on Eclisse. La Torre Dell'Alchimista itself (their 'theme' song?) opens with a solo samplotron string part (its closing string chord is held just a little too long) and Delirio (In Do Minore) has some more muted strings, but that appears to be it.
Six years on, 2007's Neo isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although the band go for more of a 'multi-part extravaganza' this time round. They also throw little bursts of fusion into the mix here and there, while highlights include Mutti's solo piano piece, Idra and grandiose closer Risveglio, Procreazione E Dubbio Pt. II. More samplotron this time round, with string parts on most tracks, sounding surprisingly real in some places, then the precise opposite in others.
So; La Torre Dell'Alchimista's a worthy debut and Neo's a very able follow-up. Incidentally, is it just me, or are the band's two releases exactly the same length? Odd.
Femme Fatale (2010, 52.50) ***½
|Good for Me
This Little Kitty
Bet Good Money
Tequila and High Heels
The Beck is Rising
Devil on the Wall
|Tear Stained Letter
Creek Bluff Drive
She Got There First
The Toy Hearts hail from Birmingham; that's Birmingham, once in Warwickshire, not Birmingham, Alabama, despite their authentic bluegrass and western swing moves. Fronted by the Johnson sisters, Hannah and Sophia, with their dad Stewart backing them on banjo, the only thing about their third album, 2011's Femme Fatale (recorded in Nashville), that fails to fool the ear is a less-than-total vocal commitment to the correct accent, an omission with which I think we can live. There isn't actually a duff track here, the witty lyrics supported by authentic instrumentation and arrangements, highlights including Tequila And High Heels, Tear Stained Letter (not the Richard Thompson song) and the instrumental Creek Bluff Drive, amongst others.
David Mayfield supposedly plays Mellotron, but I'm afraid the flutes, occasional choirs and strings on the title track do little to convince, not least the opening flute note that breaks the eight-second rule. A minor criticism, however, of an otherwise excellent album. One for the more adventurous Americana fan.
Transatlantic (US/UK/Sweden) see:
Sliding (1999, 66.31) **At Squaw Peak
The Seven Pools
Primordial (2003, recorded 1995-2003, 61.51/131.42) **½
|Heaven & Earth
Riding the Iron Rooster
A Stones Throw From Nowhere
How Lucky They Are
Blurring the Margins
For Will Alone
|Blurred Beyond Recognition
[The MP3 Section:
Two Stations Down
See it Now
Hang it Upside Down
LA Post (live)
A Stones Throw From Nowhere (orig.mix)]
Transience are (or, more likely, were) Lands End keys man Fred Hunter's occasional side-project, collaborators including Brazilian guitarist Francisco "Kiko" Neto and vocalist Jeff McFarland. Unfortunately, 1999's Sliding is a thorough bore of an album, insipid, dreary neo-prog with only the occasional 'symphonic' section to leaven the tedium, McFarland's wispy vocals being particularly deserving of criticism. It's also (here's a surprise) vastly overlong, the nineteen-minute The Seven Pools being entirely unnecessary. I suppose hardened neo- fans might describe this album as having 'a quiet beauty', or somesuch; 'very boring' seems a more appropriate description. For what it's worth, Hunter plays fairly obviously sampled Mellotron strings on the Latin/prog (no, really) title track, Desert Falls, Captiva Island and The Seven Pools.
Hunter began work on what ended up as 2003's Primordial after the release of Sliding, but for various personal reasons, it took him over three years to finish it. Was it worth it? Well, it's a better album, the 'insipid' factor being slightly reduced, although McFarland's vocal contributions are just as irritating. As for the actual material, piano-and-synths piece Hollow Gardens is genuinely excellent, although nothing else stands out in any way. Unusually, Hunter has filled some of the disc's empty space with half a dozen MP3 tracks of material that didn't make the cut, for one reason or another, including the absurdly overlong Aquadream (half an hour) and the eighteen-minute original mix of the dullsville A Stones Throw From Nowhere, bringing the album's total length to over two hours; a great idea for actual fans, but rather gruelling for the rest of us. Hunter plays samplotron strings on opener Heaven & Earth and possibly one or two tracks elsewhere, but this isn't even a major player on the sample front, frankly.
Do you bother with Transience? Lands End and general modern neo-prog fans should probably give these albums a go, but I can't honestly recommend them to anyone much else. The website URL splattered all over Primordial's inserts appears to be long gone, so we can probably assume that the project has been allowed to die a death.
See: Lands End | Lands End (samples)
Traumhaus (2001, 60.12) ***½Aufwärts
Peter und der Wolf
Die Andere Seite (2008, 63.07) ***Die Andere Seite (part 1)
Die Andere Seite (part 2)
Die Andere Seite (part 3)
Traumhaus (Dream House/House of Dreams) are a superior German-language neo-prog outfit, whose eponymous 2001 release mixes'n'matches from various progressive eras, coming up with an amalgam of early '80s neo- (they cop some IQ moves in several places), prog metal and '70s symphonic. Sounds appalling? This could so easily be terrible, but the band's knack with a melody carries them through a potential musical train-wreck, examples being the album's Saga-esque opener, Aufwärts, parts of the lengthy Ausgeliefert, the bit that rips off '80s Yes (specifically 90125's Changes) in Peter Und Der Wolf and the triumphal major-key round that ends closer Am Abgrund. Most of the album's string sounds are either string synth copies or generic, leaving the only actual Mellotron samples as the strings on Am Abgrund.
I don't know why it's taken the band seven years to follow their debut, although I'd hazard a guess that an almost complete lineup change could have been involved. Sadly, the end result is that 2008's Die Andere Seite is a far more generic, mainstream prog metal album, far less appealing than its predecessor. The instrumental work is frantic, should you be into that kind of thing, not least the ridiculously busy drummer; calm down, man, calm down! Stacks of Mellotron samples this time round, with strings, watery choirs and flutes all over opener Die Andere Seite (Part 1), carrying on in similar fashion throughout, in a 'don't know when we're overusing it' kind of way.
In fairness to Die Andere Seite, it's a completely different album to Traumhaus, in a completely different style (relatively speaking), but I still prefer their debut. Anyone hoping to hear loads of (admittedly fake) Mellotron should go for album no.2, though.
Aufbruch (2011, 69.13) **½
Auf Unserer Reise
Vater und Sohn
Der Neue Weg
|Der 100. Affe
Traumpfad are a German prog-metal outfit who, at least on 2011's Aufbruch, also appear to have been listening to not only the more recent variety of neo-prog (Arena and their ilk), but also their own countrymen from the '70s, distinct hints of the likes of Novalis and Ramses cropping up here and there. Unfortunately, in Planet Mellotron's humble opinion, neither of these influences are particularly welcome ones, the best thing here being 'bonus' track (what makes it a 'bonus', if it's on every edition?) Octopussy Äther, a lengthy instrumental that largely sidesteps the album's shortcomings.
Keys man Matthias Unterhuber adds samplotron to several tracks, with strings on opener Sol, a major string part on Auf Unserer Reise and here and there elsewhere, plus choirs on Octopussy Äther. I hate to be so negative - no, really - but this album not only says nothing new, but takes an awfully long time to do so.
The Invisible Band (2001, 45.29) *
Flowers in the Window
Follow the Light
The Humpty Dumpty Love Song
Travis really have to be one of the nastiest things to happen to British music in a couple of decades, and I don't say that lightly. Their utterly insipid stadium-MOR is fantastically popular, picking up the kind of fan that Simply Red got in the '80s; "Music for people who don't like music", as a friend of mine once put it. Their mainman is called Fran Healy; now I'm sorry, maybe Fran is an acceptable male abbreviation in Scotland, but where I come from, it's a girl's name. What's wrong with Frank? Anyway... The Invisible Band (though sadly not inaudible) was their third album, and if anything, was even blander than its predecessor, 1999's fairly nasty The Man Who (*½), although it lacks the true horror of that album's chief hit, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? Because God hates you, Frannie, that's why. God hates you, and so do I.
I've been told this horrible, turgid mess has some Mellotron on it, but close listening only reveals one potential track, Dear Diary. The high strings are far too 'clean' to be a real Mellotron, but a few notes towards the end of the song have that 'Tronness about them, although I'm certain they're samples. I paid 50p for this abortion of an album (and the same for its predecessor), and I feel ripped off. I won't even be able to flog them to one of London's handful of remaining second-hand shops, as they're flooded with the fucking things. Down the chazza, then, and wave goodbye to a quid.
The Children of the Night (2015, 56.32/69.03) ***½
|Strange Gateways Beckon
In the Dreams of the Dead
The Motherhood of God
Strains of Horror
Music From the Other
One Hundred Years
Although Tribulation are generally thought of as a death metal band, their third album, 2015's The Children of the Night, features a considerably broader influence base than that description might suggest. Yes, Johannes Andersson's vocals are the fairly standard throaty growl, but the music, while still very much metal, is a great deal more melodic than the uninformed listener might expect, early (pre-leather'n'studs) Judas Priest being invoked in places, along with a loose 'goth' feel to much of the rhythm guitar work and even elements of psychedelia. Best tracks? Opener Strange Gateways Beckon, er, opens with a splendid keyboard intro, followed by some neat octave-guitar work, In The Dreams Of The Dead takes the pace down a little, while losing none of the band's power, while Själaflykt is barely metal at all throughout much of its length. Incidentally, bonus track One Hundred Years gives the goth game away fairly comprehensively, being a Cure cover. Gotcha!
Martin Borgh guests on Mellotron, with cellos on the album intro, before it all kicks off, and strings on quiet, doomy instrumental Cauda Pavonis, plus other background parts here and there. However, I'd be most surprised if it turned out to be genuine, frankly. Given that most modern metal is indescribably awful, this is a very pleasant surprise.
Stereosonic Meltdown (2005, 32.07) ***
|Space & Time
Gimme Sum Skin
Can't Get High
Train 2 Nowhere
Shape of Things 2 Come
|20th Century Boy
Price of Love
Canadian Tim Karr moved to LA at some point, releasing a solo album as far back as 1989, although I've no idea what he's done in the interim before forming Triggerdaddy. They're something of an LA supergroup, featuring not only our old friend Gilby Clarke, but members of Guns N'Roses (and associated outfits), Alice Cooper's band and Love/Hate, amongst others. What I believe is their sole album to date, 2005's Stereosonic Meltdown, is a neat amalgam of '70s glam (notably T.Rex, who they cover) and the glam/powerpop crossover of some years earlier, typified by the storming pop/punk of Gimme Sum Skin and Can't Get High, although their pointless take on 20th Century Boy and a handful of lesser tracks (on an album barely over half an hour long) whisper, "Lack of material" in my shell-like.
Clarke is credited with Mellotron on Shape Of Things 2 Come, but are we seriously supposed to believe that the vaguely flutey sound on the track has anything to do with a real Mellotron? Just because Clarke's used one on several of his own albums doesn't mean that this one's necessarily real and indeed, it isn't. This actually isn't a bad effort at all - Gimme Sum Skin is a minor classic of the genre - but with too much filler, it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this.
See: Gilby Clarke
Tortoise (2003, 50.08) ***½
The New Moon
Radiation part 1
Radiation part 2
Spectrum of Colours
Pilgrim (2007, 76.09) ***
Silence of the Universe
Walk on Land
How We Used to Go
The Magnificent Forest
Reveal the Mystery
The Deep Ocean
Out There Somewhere
Frank (new version)
Funfair Fantasy (2013, 53.51) ***½
In the Distance
|Song for Canada
There's been quite a bit of fuss about Netherlanders Trion ever since the release of their 2003 debut, Tortoise. The band (Their name is a conglomeration of 'trio' and 'Tron') is actually a side project (guitarist Eddie Mulder and keyboardist Edo Spanninga usually play in Flamborough Head, while drummer Menno Boomsma hails from Odyssice), formed as a deliberate attempt to play 'seventies' styled progressive music', according to their site, in which they're largely successful. The trouble is, it all seems a bit... ersatz. The all-instrumental material's perfectly good, within its limitations, but the band have no obvious character of their own; the opening title track has a two-chord 'Mellotron' sequence that is one note away from ripping Watcher Of The Skies, before shifting into a solo Hackett feel, although the rest of the album is less openly derivative. The sleeve art is even more derivative than most of the music, unless it's a deliberate joke? It's a dead-ringer for Gentle Giant's Octopus, only with a... tortoise. Oh, it's got to be a joke. Please.
In fairness, the band are perfectly open about their use of samples; their website credits Spanninga with "Flute, Oboe, Strings, Organ, Cello, Vibe and Choir Mellotron samples". See, told you. I like to think I'd have spotted it without help; the chief giveaway is the overly-smooth strings, often shoved right to the front of the mix, although the flutes almost convince, except when they're played slightly faster. No key-click, no hiss, no... grit. Hey, that's Mellotron samples for you. Spanninga oddly chooses to use 'Tron organ samples rather than an actual fake ('actual fake?') Hammond, giving the sounds a rather dull uniformity, to no particular purpose, as they're not even from an actual 'Tron. Anyway, massive use of all seven sounds, particularly the strings and flute, although he holds back on the choirs, making a nice change for a modern prog outfit.
Although Trion had never been intended as anything more than a one-off project, the trio recorded and released Pilgrim in 2007. To be searingly honest, it's not as good as their debut, too many of its tracks veering towards the insipid end of the progressive spectrum, the rather cheesy Reveal The Mystery being an obvious example. Originality isn't at the forefront of the band's concerns, either; a couple of tracks have a distinct 'Canterbury' feel to them, while Blue Shadows sounds like Führs & Fröhling with a hint of The Doors' Riders On The Storm thrown in for good measure. Spanninga expands his sound palette to encompass pseudo-versions of several other vintage 'boards this time round, although those Mellotron samples (chiefly strings with a smattering of flute) still crop up on most tracks, with particularly bad strings on Reveal The Mystery.
Incidentally, I feel I must quote a section from Spanninga's sleevenotes on the subject of Mellotron samples:
|"Proggers expressed their doubts about our use of mellotron samples (instead of using the original mellotron tapes) which is quite hilarious as the mellotron itself is a sampler".|
Er... Isn't that missing the point by a country mile? Or is it just me? No, the Mellotron (note capitalised 'M') is not a sampler; at best it's a sample player (a very different beast). An A/B comparison between a real machine and perfect samples made from that same machine will be pretty much indistinguishable while playing single notes, but as soon as two or more are played together, the samples suddenly sound flat and lifeless, as the sampler reproduces them exactly, rather than with the unintentional imperfections of a real Mellotron that give the machine its 'character'. So no, Edo, it's not the same at all. Also incidentally, the album 'proper' is actually just under fifty minutes long, but the band have included two 'bonus tracks': Out There Somewhere, from The Cyclops Sampler No.6 and Frank, seemingly a new version of their contribution to Musea/Colossus's The Spaghetti Epic: Six Modern Prog Bands for Six '70s Prog Suites and the best thing here by some way.
After an even longer wait, 2013's Funfair Fantasy is an improvement on its predecessor, although, despite being over twenty minutes shorter than that release, still slightly outstays its welcome. Nothing here offends, although rather too many of its ten pieces have something of that strange beast, the neo-prog instrumental, about them, while Pilgrim's Canterbury influence rears its head on a few tracks, too. Best material? Opener Ampelmännchen, parts of the eleven-minute Scotland, acoustic guitar piece Wandering and the gentle Sealth, perhaps. The samplotron turns up on pretty much every track except Wandering, mostly strings and flutes, although it's possible the considerable vibraphone use is pseudo-Mellotronic, too.
The trouble with Trion is that these come over as rather knowing tributes, as against albums full of music made for the sheer joy of it. For all that, Tortoise and Funfair Fantasy are actually quite good (not so sure about Pilgrim, sadly), although I don't know whether repeated plays will make them grow on me, or grate. Come back next year and I may be able to tell you.
See: Flamborough Head | Odyssice | Colossus
Onwards (2006, 47.11/53.18) ***
|Onwards part I
Onwards part II
The Silver Lining
Gunnin' for Glory
Onwards part III and part IV
[Japanese bonus tracks:
Onwards part V
The Road Less Travelled (2010, 56.21) ***
Death of Jane Doe
The Road Less Travelled
The Anger and the Silent Remorse
The Last Haven
Triosphere started as a three-piece (there's a surprise), releasing their debut, Onwards, in 2006. They're very clearly in thrall to Queensrÿche, despite the occasional bursts of rather needless double-kick work, copying that outfit's patented riffage perfectly. You really can't tell they've got a female vocalist most of the time; Ida Haukland's contralto sounds like your typical prog-metal male tenor for the bulk of the album, thankfully steering well clear of the more typical shrieky female metal vocal clichés, or, indeed, that tedious mock-operatic thing that seems to be so inexplicably popular at the moment. Lumsk's Espen (W.) Godø is credited with Mellotron, but even more than on that band's Det Vilde Kor, its couple of brief appearances here sound fake. Incidentally, I know they've supported them, but covering W.A.S.P.'s Mean Man as a bonus track was a mistake.
Three years on and the band have expanded to a quartet for The Road Less Travelled (UK spelling! Yes!), adding another guitarist to perfect their Queensrÿche twin-lead-and-harmony moves. The material's slightly more mature than before, but at the end of the day, it's a prog metal album and is never going to sound particularly innovative, although there's no denying it's a highly competent recording within its genre. More of Godø's 'Mellotron', particularly the strings on opening instrumental Ignition and at the end of the title track, although it doesn't really sound any more real than before.
At least Triosphere don't sound like Dream Theater, although I doubt whether anyone not at least partially attuned to the genre could tell. Perfectly good at what they do, but not an ounce (or gram; this is mainland Europe) of originality, nor, by the sound of it, any real Mellotron.
True Illusion II (2000, 43.16) **½Maré
Sérgio Benchimol is one of Brazil's more active progressive musicians, releasing albums as True Illusion and Semente, as well as under his own name. 2000's True Illusion II is a passable release, switching between a rather laid-back progressive feel (opener Maré, Indispensável) and a slightly more aggressive jazz approach (everything else), although I'm afraid to say that it all palls somewhat after half an hour or so.
Benchimol adds very obviously sampled 'Mellotron' strings to Indispensável; on the offchance that the word translates as 'indispensible', I can fully assure you it's not. I've heard vastly worse albums than True Illusion II, but then, I've heard vastly better ones, too. It has its moments and as it's available for free, there's nothing to stop you having a listen for yourself, but unless you're big on jazz, you may not wish to bother.
Truth & Salvage Co. (2010, 45.47) ***
Welcome to L.A.
Heart Like a Wheel
Jump the Ship
|She Really Does it for Me
Brothers, Sons & Daughters
Pure Mountain Angel
Although most of Americana outfit The Truth & Salvage Co. hail from the East Coast, they coalesced in LA in 2005, releasing their eponymous debut five years later. Truth & Salvage Co. is a good, if not outstanding album, top tracks including Old Piano (perfectly straddling the sincerity/corn divide), Jump The Ship and Rise Up, although nothing here appals.
Adam Grace supposedly plays Mellotron, but the overly-smooth strings on Jump The Ship really aren't convincing me, I'm afraid. A good album, then, but not one obviously sporting any real Mellotron.
Ninth Elegy (2000, 44.01) ***On Mother's Day
Yoake no Coffee
Hare Nochi Ame
Tsuki no Omosa
Oka no Ue de
Festive in Borotanyo
What to make of Tsuki no Wa (who appear to be almost synonymous with Japanese improv artist Natsume)'s debut, 2000's Ninth Elegy? Its overall feel is sparse and jazzy, typified by opener On Mother's Day and Oka No Ue De (although the two pieces have little else in common), although Yoake No Coffee's ethno-fusion and Festive In Borotanyo's creaky strings rather buck the trend. Best tracks? Hard to say, frankly; closer Going Home's layered vocals are possibly one of the album's most successful experiments, but approaching this record expecting to hear anything even remotely close to the mainstream, even in the jazz world, is to precipitate disappointment.
Tetuzi Akiyama allegedly plays Mellotron strings on Festive In Borotanyo, but the samples are so poor (wildly obvious looping and all) that I'm wondering whether they're being ironic. So; not one for R&B fans, then. In fact, not one for non-fans of the avant-garde, end of.
Space Gypsy (2013, 50.35) ***
|Fallen Angel STS-51-L
Coming of the Maya
We Ride the Timewinds
Something's Not Right
Nik Turner really shouldn't need any introduction: an original member of Hawkwind (he allegedly named them), he flitted in and out of the lineup for years before a catastrophic falling-out with chief Hawk Dave Brock, leading to some tiresome legal action regarding band monikers. Hawkwind aside, Nik's already appeared on this site with his other project, the Hawkalike Space Ritual, but his latest solo effort, 2013's Space Gypsy, goes all-out on the space rock front, coming across as a lost Hawkwind album from the mid-'80s. Unfortunately, most of its tracks fall into the 'like Hawkwind, but not as good' category (see: any number of second-rate space rock outfits, not to mention, er, modern Hawkwind), better contributions including opener (and single) Fallen Angel STS-51-L, complete with a bonkers Turner sax solo and Joker's Song. On the acoustic front, Galaxy Rise and Eternity are Demented Man-style offerings, the former featuring a rather odd flute solo that seems to be in a different key to the rest of the song, while The Visitor is more of a Hurry On Sundown-type busk; nothing startling, but at least they break up the potential monotony.
Jurgen Engler and Chris Leitz are credited with Mellotron, with Litmus-style slow, single-note or octave runs on pretty much every track, but I'm having trouble believing that the overly-smooth strings actually emanate from a real machine, to be honest. Whatever produced the sound, it's rather overused, too; less really CAN be more, chaps. All in all, an album for Hawkwind stalwarts who can't get enough psychedelic biker boogie, but with little standout material, it's unlikely to challenge the original band's ten-year run of great albums in many people's opinions.
See: Hawkwind | Space Ritual
Lialim High (1997, 50.40) ***½Twelve Feet Tall
The Pelican Lie
Famous Last Words
A Sign of My Decline
The Final Decision
Twin Age produced three albums in the mid- to late '90s, but seem to have gone very quiet lately. Going by the second, Lialim High, unlike several other Swedish bands of that era, they're quite firmly members of the neo-prog camp, with relatively simple song structures, few key changes and a vocalist who seems to aspire to be IQ's Peter Nicholls (who in turn, of course, aspires to be Peter Gabriel...). 1996's Month of the Year (***½), funnily enough, is slightly more adventurous than its follow-up, although there aren't even any Mellotron samples on board, never mind the real thing. The material on Lialim High's not actually bad, and better than several similar I've heard lately, but its lack of musical challenge wears me down after a while. Not that I've got a 'thing' about it; I'll quite happily listen to any number of more straightforward acts, but if one aspires to be 'prog', then please BE prog, and don't sit on the fence!
Jörgen Hanson plays 'Mellotron', although I strongly suspect he's using samples. It's slathered all over every track, although Hanson's use is far from innovative, to be honest; loads of string pads, and the choirs sound strangely muted. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it's samples; the album opens with stately solo 'Tron strings, but it all sounds too... clean. Anyway, if you haven't got a problem with 'neo' stuff, or the possibility that the Mellotron may be fake, you may well like this more than I did.
Under the Angels... (1996, 46.39) ***
I Never Liked the Way You Looked
Under the Angels
Life in a Bottle
Shouting at The Big Wall
Don't Let Me Sleep
Joan of Arc
I've always had a bit of a soft (rock) spot for Judie Tzuke; she had quite a way with a tune on her first several albums and her first live release, Road Noise, is well worth hearing. I have to admit, however, that I'd lost interest some years before her tenth studio release, 1996's Under the Angels... Hearing it over fifteen years on and a rather scary thirty since I first saw her live, I can say that it's a very pleasant, inoffensive album of, well, soft rock, I suppose, similar to her early work, although without its obvious highs. Better tracks include typically Tzukian opener Two Mountains, the title track, which could easily be an outtake from one of her early releases, Without Love and mini-epic Joan Of Arc, although the record as a whole bears a distinct air of treading water.
Someone plays a murky Mellotron string sample solo on the title track, but it's hardly anything to write home about. Those who, like me, lost faith in Judie over the years will, in Under the Angels, find an album that's probably best described as 'another Judie Tzuke record'; you know what you're going to get, up to you whether you want it.