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Toadies  (US)

Hell Below/Stars Above  (2001,  44.50)  **

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?

TobyMac  (US)

Renovating→Diverse City  (2005,  52.52)  *½

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.

Tomten  (US)

Wednesday's Children  (2012,  41.31)  **½
The Farewell Party  (2014,  39.27)  **½

Tomten, named for a variety of Scandinavian folkloric elf, play a variety of indie-influenced powerpop. As a result, Wednesday's Children's better moments are fatally overshadowed by a dreary, well, indie-ness, while Brian Noyes-Watkins' 'Mellotron' flute and cello parts on Lofty sound more like generic samples. The Farewell Party is marginally better, particularly the jaunty Thomasina and the gentle She'll Pass Me By, but Noyes-Watkins sticks to samples, with barely-Mellotronic strings in You Won't Be On My Mind.

David Toop  (UK)

Black Chamber  (2003,  53.56)  ***

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.

The Tories  (US)

Wonderful Life  (1997,  57.09)  ***½

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  (Italy)

La Torre dell'Alchimista  (2001,  50.07)  ****
Neo  (2007,  50.07)  ****

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. Incidentally, is it just me, or are the band's two releases exactly the same length? Odd.

Toy Hearts  (UK)

Femme Fatale  (2010,  52.50)  ***½

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)

SMPTe  (2000,  77.14)  ****½
Live in America  (2001,  100.03)  ***½
Bridge Across Forever  (2001,  76.52)  ***
Live in Europe  (2003,  140.52)  ***
SMPTe (The Roine Stolt Mixes)  (2003,  77.47)  **½
The Whirlwind  (2009,  77.47)  **
Whirld Tour 2010: Live From Shepherd's Bush Empire, London  (2010,  183.21)  **Kaleidoscope  (2014,  75.51)  ***

The aptly-named Transatlantic are a prog 'supergroup' consisting of Spock's Beard main man Neal Morse, Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings, Marillion's Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater and the end results, at least on their debut, were vastly better than might be expected from such a potential clash of egos. The wittily-titled SMPTe (in case you don't know, 'smpte' is a studio MIDI/video conversion protocol, and the four members' initials, of course, pronounced 'simpty') comes across as an amalgam of the 'Beard and various '70s bands, with very little of the other three members' outfits in there at all, although I suppose we should be grateful for that in at least two cases, if not all three.

All Of The Above is an overblown half-hour epic, but you know what? It works really well, although it could probably have been trimmed down a little. It opens with a chord sequence straight out of the Neal Morse songbook and carries on in fine form, moving through all the various twists and turns you'd expect, although it ends up being rather predictable in its unpredictability, or something. However, its saving grace is its strong use of melody, without slipping into the AORisms of which the 'Beard are sometimes guilty and which could be levelled against track two, We All Need Some Light. I personally really like it, but I can see why some critics have lambasted it for its near-'soft rock balladry' approach. Less sure about Mystery Train (not the Elvis number), but My New World's another grand epic and the album closes in fine style with a cover of Procol Harum's In Held Twas In I; the original was named after the first word of the lyric in each of its five parts, and Transatlantic left out the 'Twas' section, thus the brackets, just in case you were wondering. Roine Stolt is credited with 'Mellotron', alongside his usual guitar and vocal duties, but however good it sounds, I know for a fact that The Flower Kings neither own nor use a real 'Tron, relying on high-quality samples taken direct from a real machine, so it seems a fair assumption that these are what are being used here. Shame, really, as a real Mellotron always lifts anything on which it's used (well, usually) and it shouldn't be that difficult to find a working one, especially in Sweden, land of the 'Tron revival, but there you go. 'Trad' prog fans might not like this album, but in my book, it's well worth owning.

In 2001, the band released a double live CD, Live in America, with unseemly haste (can you smell the distinctive pong of a quick buck being made?), seemingly from their first ever gig. Of course, with a mere one album to promote (and they don't even attempt In Held (Twas) in I), much padding is needed, including covers good (a proggy Strawberry Fields Forever) and less good (a slightly pointless Watcher Of The Skies/Firth Of Fifth medley), while the grand finale is a medley of excerpts from material by all four members' parent bands, finishing with a prog take on the stupendous end section of The Beatles' She's So Heavy. As a document of Transatlantic's early live work, Live in America works reasonably well, but as a hundred-minute listening experience, it drags in places; judicious editing would've made for a less complete but more listenable product.

Later the same year, they rattled off what turned out to be their last album for nearly a decade, Bridge Across Forever. To be honest, it captures none of the manic joy of their debut; 26-minute opener Duel With The Devil feels far longer than that and not in a good way, while Suite Charlotte Pike is a bit of a disjointed mess. The title track is a by now typically schlocky Morse ballad and by far the shortest song on the album, leaving Stranger In Your Soul as the most cohesive piece here, though it says a lot that the best track here isn't much better than the worst on SMPTe. With hindsight, Morse's forthcoming breakdown/religious conversion/whatever is quite apparent in his lyrics, too; well, doesn't Duel With The Devil say it all? The 'Mellotron' is used more sparingly this time round, with the only real highlights being an unaccompanied string part in Duel With The Devil and some flutes at the beginning of Stranger In Your Soul. Disappointing, though the album's relative musical failure made their God-induced split less painful. Incidentally, in case you still feel the need to obtain this, don't go out of your way to get the 'Special Edition'; apart from a vaguely interesting take on Floyd's Shine On blah-di-blah and a genuinely good Morse demo of what became Duel With The Devil, most of it consists of tedious studio dicking about. Pointless.

Transatlantic were stunningly dull the one time I saw them live, insisting on playing just about all of Bridge Across Forever and then, for some unknown reason, the whole of side two of The Beatles' Abbey Road, boring many of us into a bad prog-induced stupor, while Morse had the gall to berate us for not enjoying it! They then misjudged the audience enough to encore with All Of The Above, rather than something a little snappier, all this on top of lining all four members up along the front of the stage, Portnoy included. Egomania. The tour is documented on 2003's Live in Europe, recorded in November '01 in the Netherlands, the band augmented by Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlöw, who stood at the back; what I remember as 'the whole of side two of Abbey Road' is actually some (all?) of it intercut with the Suite Charlotte Pike Medley (or probably vice versa), but it's no more interesting on a second listen, ditto most of the rest of the set, the honourable exception being We All Need Some Light, still a great song.

The following year, of course, Morse got God, leaving both the 'Beard and Transatlantic to concentrate on his Christian solo career. Yawn. The original version of the band bowed out with one of the most pointless releases it's been my displeasure to plough through for a while: SMPTe (The Roine Stolt Mixes). Er... why? I believe that this is actually the original mix, but was the released version that bad, Roine? Without exhaustively listening to both versions, minute by minute, all I can tell you is that the odd intro/outro has been left in and there's more guitar (big surprise there). Do you need to hear this? No, you do not. If anyone thinks they can convince me that this is any more than Stolt's total vanity project, good luck to you.

As the late 2000s approached, Morse obviously decided that his Christian principles (barf) would allow him to work with Transatlantic again. The other three (and Gildenlöw live) all came along for the ride, the end result being 2009's The Whirlwind. Were you expecting something as good as SMPTe? Dream on, dude... Essentially one near-eighty minute track, this is every bit as utterly overblown as you could wish for/feared (delete according to taste), stretched out to that unfeasible length by vast acres of musical padding and remarkably light on real ideas. Surprised? Nor me. The best twenty minute would make a decent Spock's piece (once again, Morse is clearly the main writer), but this just goes on and on and on... I know some of you love it that way, but since when did quantity outweigh quality? Oh, hang on, one of these guys is in Dream Theater... Actually, Portnoy left his band around this time, then had the gall to berate them for carrying on (in fairness, he'd apparently suggested a hiatus, then found himself replaced), but given that Transatlantic are just one of many side-projects with which he's been involved over the years, I doubt whether he'll find himself at a loose end any time soon. The inevitable special edition's bonus disc contains another four yawnsome Transatlantic pieces (none wholly by Morse) and four covers, three of which (Genesis' Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Procol Harum's A Salty Dog and Santana's Soul Sacrifice) are worth hearing. Actually, the best track on the entire set is the hidden ukelele/barber shop ditty stuck on the end of disc two. Well, I think so, anyway. Er, samplotron? Here and there throughout the title piece, here and there on disc two, notably extra parts on Hogweed and the strings on A Salty Dog.

The best thing about the following year's three-CD/two-DVD Whirld Tour 2010: Live From Shepherd's Bush Empire, London is the tour name; very witty, chaps. Now, a quick piece of disarming honesty from yours truly. I didn't listen to this all the way through. There. I've said it. Why not? Couldn't bloody face it, frankly. I mean, three bloody hours of this overblown drivel? It's actually getting to the point where hearing multiple versions of their first album material is beginning to put me off it, which would be a shame. Never mind the band's exhaustion at the end of a marathon like that, what about the audience? Oh, I'm sure they loved it. I wasn't there, as you might've guessed and after hearing (well, skimming) this, I'm extremely glad I was somewhere (anywhere!) else. Now, you think this is bad? 2011 brought another fucking three-CD/two-DVD live set, More Never is Enough: Live in Manchester & Tilburg 2010. Holy Mary, Mother of God, spare us. For the first time on this site, I actually point-blank refuse to attempt to review this. The Manchester audio's essentially the same as the Shepherd's Bush gig and no, I'm not interested in minor variations which I wouldn't spot anyway. So; I'm on strike. OK, back off strike, but I'm still not reviewing it. Yes, more really is more than fucking enough. Now just stop it.

To my great surprise, 2014's Kaleidoscope, while quite clearly a Transatlantic album, raises the bar somewhat after its tiresome predecessor, opening epic Into The Blue actually being, well, not bad, if nowhere near 'classic'. Black As The Sky and the even more epic title track are quite listenable, all things considered, although both ballads, Shine and Beyond The Sun are eminently disposable. Disc two's by now usual covers are a mixed bag, ELO and Elton tracks somewhat giving the game away on Morse's soft rock influences, although decent takes on The Small Faces' Tin Soldier, Focus' immortal Sylvia and (startlingly) King Crimson's skronky Indiscipline redeem matters slightly. Samplotron? All over the shop, of course, even finding its way onto several disc two tracks, although I remain unconvinced by the choirs on their otherwise excellent take on Yes's And You And I.

The most shocking thing about Transatlantic is that they market their grotesque excess as a plus point. Then again, it's what they unashamedly do, so they're hardly going to apologise for it, are they? Not with two (possibly three) major egos on board, anyway (I'm assuming Pete's 'the quiet one'). Anyway, ignore albums two and three and everything live, but buy SMPTe, even with fake Mellotron.

Transience  (US)

Sliding  (1999,  66.31)  **
Primordial  (2003, recorded 1995-2003,  61.51)  **½

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.

Traumhaus  (Germany)

Traumhaus  (2001,  60.12)  ***½
Die Andere Seite  (2008,  63.07)  ***

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.

Traumpfad  (Germany)

Aufbruch  (2011,  69.13)  **½

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.

Travis  (UK)

The Invisible Band  (2001,  45.29)  *

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.

Trembling Bells & Bonnie Prince Billy  (UK/US)

New Trip on the Old Wine / Lay it Down 7"  (2014)  ***

Glaswegians Trembling Bells collaborated with Will "Bonnie Prince Billy" on New Trip On The Old Wine, a suitably Americana-esque effort, although Joe Kane's Mellotron... isn't.

Tribulation  (Sweden)

The Children of the Night  (2015,  56.32/69.03)  ***½

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.

Triggerdaddy  (US)

Stereosonic Meltdown  (2005,  32.07)  ***

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.

Trion  (Netherlands)

Tortoise  (2003,  50.08)  ***½
Pilgrim  (2007,  76.09)  ***
Funfair Fantasy  (2013,  53.51)  ***½

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.

Triosphere  (Norway)

Onwards  (2006,  47.11)  ***
The Road Less Travelled  (2010,  56.21)  ***

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.

Troya  (Germany)

Point of Eruption  (1976,  32.49)  ***

Troya's sole album is a very typical German progressive release of its time, competent, yet uninspired, with a dearth of either memorable melodies or any great level of complexity. Opener She might be the best thing here, if only for its unusual approach to vocal melodies. Peter Savelsberg is credited with 'Melotron', which is quite clearly a cheap string synth, heard in all its solo glory on Chromatik and Festival, amongst others.

True Illusion  (Brazil)

True Illusion II  (2000,  43.16)  **½

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.  (US)

Truth & Salvage Co.  (2010,  45.47)  ***

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.

Tsuki no Wa  (Japan)

Ninth Elegy  (2000,  44.01)  ***

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.

Michelle Tumes  (Australia)

Listen  (1998,  44.54)  *

Michelle Tumes' debut album was called Listen. Listen. Yes, listen. Listen to me. Do. Not. Buy. This. Album. There, was that clear enough? Imagine an overtly Christian Enya. From Australia. Get the picture? This is really pretty horrible, though it would be less offensive without all the usual God-bothering claptrap. And she's wearing virginal white on the sleeve. Yuck. So why am I even listening to the bloody thing? Usual reason, of course. Supposed Mellotron from Charlie Peacock and guess what? Nope, not 'Strawberry Fields' flutes. Nothing. Nothing audible, anyway. And I sat through this drivel for nothing? Piss off.

Nik Turner  (UK)

Space Gypsy  (2013,  50.35)  ***

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.

Slim Twig  (Canada)

A Hound at the Hem  (2014,  34.54)  **½

Toronto's Max "Slim Twig" Turnbull apparently recorded A Hound at the Hem in 2010, but sidelined it until 2014. It's a frequently exhilarating ride through decades of pop history, not least ELO's very particular take on the genre, sadly almost ruined by its programmed percussion. Turnbull's occasional not-that-Mellotronic strings and flutes (the latter clearly audible at the end of All The Wanting) consign this to samples, however.

Twin Age  (Sweden)

Lialim High  (1997,  50.40)  ***½

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, 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, while 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 Mellotron 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.

Twin Peaks  (US)

Wild Onion  (2014,  40.12)  **½

Wild Onion is Twin Peaks' first full-lengther (their twenty-minute debut really isn't an album, is it?), veering between a kind of heartfelt indie/powerpop hybrid and a punkier version of the style, at its peak (sorry) on Fade Away. Colin Croom and Cadien James are both credited with Mellotron, but the extremely dodgy flutes that open Mirror Of Time and the indifferent cellos and choirs on Ordinary People are clearly nothing of the sort.

Judie Tzuke  (UK)

Under the Angels...  (1996,  46.39)  ***

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.