Vaka are effectively the one-man band of Karl Daniel Lidén, whose variety of extreme metal would be more palatable if he didn't insist on growling his way through it like a wounded bear. There's certainly more invention here than on many similar (and believe me, there are many similar), although it's slightly spoilt by its frequent incursions into silliness. One bonus is plenty of proggish keyboard work, particularly piano, which makes it stand out from the pack a little. Lidén plays 'Mellotron', although I'm quite certain he's using samples, with strings on several tracks, in a standard 'block chord' kind of way. If you're of an extreme metallic bent, you may well go for this; in fact, you may well do so if you go for the more mainstream stuff, as it's fairly tuneful, almost 'symphonic' in places.
Valinors Tree, going by their debut, Kingdom of Sadness, deal in a sort of metal-influenced prog, maybe like a less talented Anekdoten, while retaining a Scandinavian feel, particularly with regard to the music's darker aspects. I keep finding myself wishing they'd tone down the powerchords a bit, not to mention reinserting the vocalist's laryngeal retaining bolts, but there are plenty of good bits between the overly-Americanised sections.
I've had it confirmed that all the Mellotron on the album is 'first generation' samples, taken from Kenneth Magnusson of The Moor's M400. The samples are all over the album, largely strings, making it a pity it's not real, as their use is pretty good. For their second effort, And Then There is Silence, they borrowed Magnusson's machine and actually recorded it this time, so I'll report back when I get to hear a copy (nb: see review here). You never know, maybe they've got themselves a better singer. And an apostrophe.
Valis (or VALIS, from Philip K. Dick's Vast Active Living Intelligence System, originally a Screaming Trees side-project), are a heavy psych outfit, whose Minds Through Space & Time is rather splendid, like a modern take on something a bunch of longhairs from a small British town might have made, circa 1970. Highlights? None-more-psych opener Universe Inside My Mind, the rather silly Space Station and the Sabs-quoting Evil Possessor. Producer Steve Fisk is a long-term fakeotron user, so no surprise that his strings on Evil Possessor are bogus.
I'm having trouble locating any English-language information on Valparaiso; suffice to say that, going by their 2015 collaboration with Phoebe "Killdeer" Tolmer, Winter Sessions, they play a kind of low-fi slowcore, or, in simple terms, mournful indie. I can't say I warm to this stuff too well, although the vaguely spaghetti-western-esque instrumental Low Tides isn't too bad.
Oiseaux-Tempête's Frédéric D. Oberland is credited with Mellotron on Wild Birds and Flowers Falling Down, but, as with his work with that outfit and Aun, exactly why he chooses to claim he plays one is bemusing. I mean, there isn't even anything on either track that might be mistaken for tape-replay work. As I said: bemusing.
Vampire Weekend's vaguely Afro-New York-indie (they call it 'Upper West Side Soweto') is inexplicably popular, their eponymous 2008 debut selling several hundred thousand copies in its first few months of release. Vampire Weekend sounds like The Bhundu Boys trying to be The Strokes, which, amazingly, is even less appealing than it sounds. Best tracks? Walcott has a chorus that doesn't immediately irritate, A-Punk is at least vaguely distinctive and the mad, frenetic string arrangement on M79 could almost be described as original, all of which are damning with faint praise, I would say. Keyboard player Rostam Batmanglij plays Chamberlin samples, as he's admitted in interviews. Their two obvious moments are really quite similar, moving two-note flute intervals on Mansard Roof and A-Punk, although the string chords on I Stand Corrected sound real.
They followed up in 2010 with Contra, every bit as bad as its predecessor; there's something particularly bogus about hearing upper middle-class white boys pretending to be African. 'Cultural appropriation', I think it's called. The title appears to be some kind of convoluted reference to The Clash's Sandinista, the Contras being the Sandinista's particularly unpleasant right-wing opponents, while, although not explicitly stated, I suspect Diplomat's Son is a reference to Joe Strummer, who was never quite as working-class as he'd have liked. Or, indeed, at all. More Clash referencing on I Think UR A Contra, which namechecks their finest moment (go on, argue with me), the Complete Control single, while Holiday starts with a quote from Fairport Convention's version of traditional death ballad Matty Groves, for some reason. The Chamby samples turn up again, notably in the form of the harmony trumpet part on Run and the strings on Diplomat's Son and I Think UR A Contra, for what it's worth.
Very pleasant Americana-end-of-singer-songwriter stuff, at its best on Runs In The Family and Holding On To You. Reyn Ouwehand and Jeroen de Jong slap samplotron flutes and strings all over everything, with some cheeky 'make it look real' artificial string wobbles on Runs In The Family.
Jeroen van der Boom broke through commercially in his mid-thirties, rather late in the day by the industry's usual standards, although given his middle-aged music, maybe he's got it right. 2008's Jij Bent Zo is his second album, though the first under his own name; it starts passably enough, in a pop/rock vein, but quickly slumps into a slough of musical despond consisting largely of cheesy ballads of a kind with which the world is already infested, thank you very much. There are no best tracks. Stefan Geusebroek plays samplotron flutes on three tracks, Mijn Hoofd Verstaat Mijn Hart, Één Wereld and closer De Tijd.
Mark Van Hoen worked as Locust throughout the '90s, releasing occasional albums under his own name, the fourth of which (after a several-year gap) being 2010's Where is the Truth (question mark clearly optional). It's a decent enough album of mostly instrumental electronica, although Your Voice, a vocal number with an irritatingly dance-informed rhythm, could've been left elsewhere without damaging the record's overall prospects. Van Hoen plays samplotron, amongst other keyboards, with strings on the title track (although the actual credit is for Yourself) and closer Soyuz A, while the solo voice on the latter sounds more like a Chamberlin than a Mellotron, though not very much like either.
I've seen Mark Charles Heidinger's Vandaveer project described as 'alt.folk', but his fourth album, 2009's Divide & Conquer, sounds more like a soft rock/indie crossover to my jaded ears. Admittedly, there is something of a folk influence on the record, but only really in its acoustic whimsy, as against anything particularly 'trad'. Better tracks include Resurrection Mary and Long Lost Cause, but I'm having a lot of trouble summoning up any real enthusiasm for this at all, I'm afraid. What's more, I very strongly suspect Justin Craig's 'Mellotron', which presumably provides the warbling flutes on Resurrection Mary, isn't.
2011's Dig Down Deep isn't any better, frankly, insipid material like the countryish The Great Gray and Pick Up The Pace doing the album no favours. Best track? Probably Concerning Past Future Conquest, but only because it's less boring than the rest of the album. Craig on non-'Tron again, the background flutes on Pick Up The Pace sounding little like a real machine. Vandaveer is/are for people who think they like 'folk music', but unbeknownst to them, are confusing it with 'slightly wet singer-songwriter'.
Metal Church's Kurdt Vanderhoof formed his own band in the late '90s, moving completely away from the parent band's power metal into '70s hard rock territory and, would you believe it, they do it rather well? OK, they sound almost exactly like classic Uriah Heep with a lesser singer and more (supposed) Mellotron, but compared to sounding like a third-rate saddo metal band, there's no contest really, is there? Their eponymous 1997 debut is so close to Heep in places that it could almost pass as a long-lost outtakes album, particularly on Take To The Sky, but I'm not actually complaining... Vanderhoof plays samplotron himself, with distant choirs and upfront strings on Angel Now and Tons Of Time, lesser ones on Beg and strings and cellos on 50 Cent Symphony. A Blur in Time carries on the good work while improving on both the style and production fronts, top tracks including Surface Of Another Planet and Sonic Blur. Loads of Vanderhooftron this time round, with strings on 30 Thousand Ft., Electric Love Song, Nowhere Train and Un-Changed, with a really full-on solo part opening If There's A Song... More strings and choir on 3 A.M. and choirs on Surface Of Another Planet, alongside what sounds like an analogue polysynth (Oberheim?), making for a surprisingly samplotron-heavy release in an unexpected area. Mind you, Vanderhoof's gone on to form the exceptionally retro Presto Ballet, so should we really be surprised?
Beginning as Anders Parker's solo project, Varnaline had become a trio by the time they released Sweet Life in 1998. Bemusingly, I've seen them described as Americana/alt.country, as their sound is quite clearly positioned slightly towards the noisier end of the US indie spectrum, incorporating occasional hints of Neil Young-ish guitar work. Sadly, it's all a bit dreary, to the point where I don't even feel I can recommend any tracks, which is a bit tragic, really. Maybe the closing nine-minute title track? Maybe not. Parker plays samplotron, with occasional strings on opener Gulf Of Mexico.
Vault of Blossomed Ropes play a kind of post-post-post rock, maybe, more drone-based than anything. One for the experimentalists amongst you. Stelios Romaliadis plays fairly obvious samplotron strings on opener Ordo Ab Chao.
Laura Veirs' sixth album, Saltbreakers, is probably best described as being at the pop end of the folk-rock spectrum, although several of its tracks betray no commercial influence at all, notably closers Black Butterfly and Wrecking. I would have given it a higher star rating had more of the material been in this vein, although I realise getting radio play in a crowded market isn't the easiest of things, and a few poppier tracks doubtless grease the wheels in the right places. There's nothing genuinely bad here, but a few more tracks of the quality of Pink Light and Ocean Night Song might have been welcome. Alleged Chamberlin on a couple of tracks from either Veirs' regular keys man, Steve Moore or Karl Blau, with faint strings on opener Pink Light and a very overt flute part on Drink Deep. Warp & Weft is a very sweet, if sometimes slightly unengaging singer-songwriter album, at its best on America, the gentle Shape Shifter and the Neil Young-Channelling That Alice. Karl Blau and Rob Burger, despite the latter's multiple Mellotron and Chamberlin credits on this site, appear to be using samples here, with rather un-Mellotronic 'Mellotron' strings on America and flutes on Sadako Folding Cranes.
Although it's not immediately apparent from the titles, Jaci Velasquez is a Christian singer-songwriter, whose fifth major-label English-language album (she also has Spanish releases), Beauty Has Grace, is a pretty slushy affair, though not as bad as some I could name. Nonetheless, it doesn't come close to containing anything to which I'd wish to hear again, although cheery pop/rock opener I'm Not Looking Down takes the prize for the least bad track. Andreas Olsson is credited with Mellotron on With All My Soul, but while it's inaudible there, background strings sounding unlike those on the rest of the album and fairly like a Mellotron can be heard, briefly on closer This Love, most likely sampled.
On 1998's Fourfold Remedy, Velocette (named for the lesser-known yet iconic British motorbike) sound like an irritating cross between that female-fronted Stereolab/Saint Etienne kind of pseudo-'60s lounge thing and generic '90s indie, although their tendency is to shift styles between songs, rather than blend them. I can't work out which approach is worse, actually. In fact, the only reason this gets the extra half star is the guitar workout and Riders On The Storm-style Rhodes on Someone's Waiting. Jax Coombes (female, in case you were wondering) allegedly plays Mellotron (credited on opener Reborn), though entirely inaudibly, as far as I can work out. Plenty of real strings about, but no obvious 'Tron. I really must advise you against buying this album, unless weak-as-water naff pseudo-lounge indie happens to be your particular cup of gruel/bag of sick. It isn't mine.
Norwegians Velvet Belly (presumably named in honour of the This Mortal Coil song) are difficult to categorise: female-fronted goth pop? Post-rock/pop? Pop, certainly. Their fifth album, 1997's Lucia, despite being a sensible length, is still too long for its own good, much of its content sounding like filler; it's no surprise that it took the band six years to follow it up before splitting, vocalist Anne Marie Almedal going on to a solo career. To be honest, I can't even pick out any individual tracks for either praise or approbation; they all just merge into a wash of over-effected dullness, the only standout in any way being the reissue's almost unrecognisable version of Kate Bush's The Man With The Child In His Eyes. Vidar Ersfjord plays samplotron, with flutes all over Fast & Far Away and background strings on Drift. Their final release, 2003's Velvet Belly, doesn't differ markedly from its predecessor stylistically, although the material's marginally better all round. Highlights? I wouldn't go that far, although the particularly atmospheric Flow isn't too bad. Ersfjord adds distant samplotron to two tracks, with background flutes on Between The Words and Flow.
Exuberant Latin jazz from the Spanish Caribbean. Andres Mejias' 'Mellotron'? Must be that cheap-sounding string synth.
Mario Venuti, who has worked with Carmen Consoli, amongst others, is an Italian singer/songwriter type who's been recording since the early '90s. His fourth album, 2003's Grandimprese, is, to be honest, a thoroughly average pop/rock effort, with too many modern production tricks to make it particularly listenable a mere few years later. The eastern-flavoured Il Dono's about the best thing here, but that's slightly clutching at straws. Roberto Battini plays samplotron flutes on Il Dono, with a perfectly nice part that enhances the rather ordinary, mid-paced effort reasonably nicely.
Billy Vera and Evie Sands both have careers stretching back over fifty years; Vera was mentored by Chip Taylor, recording a co-written song with gospel artist Judy Clay in the late '60s. Queen of Diamonds/Jack of Hearts is an album of Chip Taylor songs, low-key country, if not quite 'alt.', highlights including opener Night Bird, 100 Ships and the title track. Taylor's keyboard player, Gøran Grini, is credited with Mellotron on a couple of tracks, but, as with his recent work with Taylor, it's quite clearly sampled.
Although Verbal Delirium began as a kind of psych/prog outfit, by the recording of their debut, 2010's So Close and Yet So Far Away (Musea), they had taken on elements of alt.rock, more apparent, if anything, on their follow-up, 2013's self-released From the Small Hours of Weakness. In fairness, they use many symphonic and jazzy elements in their composition, although straightforward material such as Disintegration does them no favours. Best track? Given that I'm not at all sure where they're coming from, it's probably not for me to say, but twelve-minute, two-part closer Aeons is probably the album's defining piece.
Vocalist/keyboard player Jargon is credited with Mellotron, although the high string line at the end of Desire, the lush string parts on Dance Of The Dead and Disintegration and choirs on Sudden Winter and Aeons are fairly obviously anything but. Alt.rock/post-rock/psych/prog, anyone? Intriguing in places, irritating in others, at least Verbal Delirium can say they've created something original.
The Verbs are, essentially, the married duo of Meegan Voss and session drummer extraordinaire Steve Jordan, whose third release, 2015's Cover Story, is (guess what) a selection of Voss' favourite songs. In an online interview, she's rather apologetic for not being more obscure, saying, "...I ended up picking hits". So why are so few of the songs familiar to me? I thought I knew my rock/pop history a little better than this... Everyone Knows Black Is Black and the Dave Clark Five's Glad All Over, but Easy Now? (Eric Clapton, apparently). You Showed Me? (The Turtles). OK, so I should've spotted Todd Rundgren's I Saw The Light, but I'd hardly call the bulk of these 'hits'. Everything's relative, I suppose. Opener Till The End Of The Day is an effective re-write of All Day And All Of The Night, so it should come as no surprise to discover that it's a lesser-known Kinks track, while Baby Blue is a Badfinger song; I really must investigate their catalogue properly. So; do The Verbs do them justice? Well, they do them in a garage kind of way, albeit with impeccable playing, as Jordan brings his session buddies on board, although the end result thankfully lacks the sterility that might suggest. Jordan also plays stabbed samplotron strings on Glad All Over, although I doubt you'd miss them were they not there. Not a bad effort, then, although I'm not sure how far many of these have come from their original versions.
Vermilion Sands (from the Ballard novel) were one of many one-off Japanese progressive bands of the late '80s, whose sole release, 1989's Water Blue, is a perfectly pleasant, yet rather unengaging album, combining an on/off neo-prog feel with a huge helping of Renaissance, Yoko Royama's vocals bearing strong comparison with those of Annie Haslam. Nothing especially stands out, although the synth/wordless vocal/flute version of the 'trad.arr' My Lagan Love that opens the record bears replaying.
There's nothing even remotely Mellotronic on the original album, but the Musea reissue's first bonus track, The Love In The Cage, despite the generic strings throughout most of its length, has a distinctly Mellotronish string part near the end. The track was originally recorded for Musea's 1993 various artists effort 7 Days of a Life, although I believe the track was recorded in '89. Is it real? I suspect not; like Social Tension, I think we're looking at early sample use here and while I'm fully prepared to be proven wrong, they're also audible on the live version of the same track, which pretty much proves it. Anyway, pleasant enough, but the Japanese scene threw up many more interesting albums than this.
Versus X are a German prog outfit who I've seen lumped in with the prog metal crowd, although they're actually far more diverse than that. The influence is there, mainly in Arne Schäfer's guitar sound and his propensity for powerchords, while the music is less adventurous than it could've been and certainly less than the band believe it to be, but it still knocks the socks off the average Euro-prog metal crew. 1996's Disturbance is a decent enough effort, although the neo-prog influence that creeps in here and there isn't so welcome. Three lengthy tracks make for some fans' idea of prog heaven, no doubt, although they rather exceed their talent boundary on occasion, while MiniMoog tuning might have made the end of The Mirror Of Division more listenable. Very little samplotron, the only obvious use being the strings and choirs on The Mirror Of Division, other similar parts sounding more like generic samples.
Their next album, 2000's The Turbulent Zone, isn't dissimilar to its predecessor; the only track that doesn't way exceed the ten-minute mark is Between The Phases Of The Night, with Cutting The Veil topping twenty, giving the band plenty of room to stretch out compositionally, although I maintain that a few more key changes and 'interesting' chords would liven proceedings up a little. There's a fair bit of 'Mellotron' to be heard, particularly on The Hostile Sea, but the eight-second limit is exceeded on a regular basis and a perusal of the band's site reveals that keyboard man Ekkehard Nahm owns a Vintage Synth module, along with various other digital facsimiles and, to be fair, a MiniMoog and a set of Taurus pedals. No criticism intended, incidentally; not everyone can own a raft of bulky vintage gear and Nahm at least owns a couple of items, although it's nice when bands make the effort for recording. However, I know from experience how other band members can be less than wholly enthusiastic about the expense and hassle of 'going authentic'...
2002's Live at the Spirit captures their set at the legendary Spirit of 66 in Verviers, Belgium, giving us three familiar pieces and one otherwise-unreleased, To Go Free, essentially in the same vein as the rest of their material at the time. Would you like to hear these pieces played live? Buy this album. A little samplotron, with choirs and strings on Strange Attractor and more (overloud) strings on The Mirror Of Division, but that's your lot. After a lengthy gap, 2008's Primordial Ocean mostly sticks to the familiar Versus X 'a handful of very long tracks' formula, the one dissenter being From A Distance, a brief piano solo. Unfortunately, the band's neo- tendencies have also survived the hiatus, ridiculous, wordy lyrics and all, putting this essentially in the same basket as their earlier work. 'Mellotronically' speaking, the album opens with some pretty awful string samples, with more strings and choir throughout.
The Turbulent Zone is probably Versus X's best album, but I'd have difficulty really recommending any of their work to anyone not already a fan of that neo-/metal-influenced prog that first appeared in the '90s.
Spaniards Rafa Legisima and Diana García-Pelayo met in (although presumably not actually on) Miami Beach in 1997, formed Vertigo Go, were signed the following year and released their eponymous debut in '99. Unsurprisingly, it's a thoroughly mainstream Latin pop effort, full of cheesy choruses, appalling, outdated slap bass and lightweight everything, although to slate it for being exactly what it is seems pointless, although that's never stopped me before. Why, though, did they cover Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin's legendary Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus? The word 'hubris' springs to mind.
Second track in, La Guerra De Los Sexos, opens with Javier Losada taking a stab at the iconic Strawberry Fields Mellotron flute part, for some unknown reason, plus strings later in the track, rather giving the game away on the sample front while he's at it. So; Vertigo Go is a perfectly respectable Latin pop album, all assuming you give the genre any credence whatsoever, which I don't, not helped by fairly obvious fakeotron.
Chicagoans Veruca Salt (named for Roald Dahl's Charlie & the Chocolate Factory character, of course) formed in the early '90s, 1997's Eight Arms to Hold You (apparently The Beatles' original title for Help!) being their second full album, a year after the superbly titled Blow it Out Your Ass it's Veruca Salt EP. It's a pretty typical 'alt.rock' effort of the period, the writing split roughly 50/50 between the band's two founders and frontwomen, Louise Post and Nina Gordon. Best tracks? You're asking the wrong man; I don't get this stuff, although it seems to do what it does perfectly well. An interview with producer Bob Rock quotes him saying something about 'bringing the Mellotron out' during recording, but a band interview puts the record straight: it seems Rock owns (or owned) two machines, but they were in such a woeful state that they sampled them and used the end results, which is at least better than using generic, off-the-shelf samples. The samples are hardly used, anyway, with only a faint string part on The Morning Sad, distant choirs on Sound Of The Bell and more upfront strings on closer Earthcrosser.
2006's IV appeared after a six-year gap, long after Gordon's departure, although, musically, it seems to be business as usual. Unfortunately, what (apparently) seemed fresh and exciting in the '90s now sounds tired and dated, the band's 'punk' credibility worn thin by repetition. Stephen Fitzpatrick is credited with 'Mellotron', although I've no idea where, as the cellos are real and there's nothing else audible. So; you probably already know whether or not you like Veruca Salt, but in case you haven't previously encountered them, expect plenty of energy, little finesse and no actual Mellotron.
From Astrakhan in Southern Russia, Vespero play a psych/prog/space rock mash-up with the occasional Middle-Eastern influence, managing to sound like no one other outfit in the process. 2010's By the Waters of Tomorrow is their third official album, a little overlong, although material of this kind should probably be left to develop at its own pace, which is precisely what the band have done. These guys know how to jam without slipping over the boredom threshold, which is more than I can say for an awful lot of artists working in this area. Valentin Rulev's violin on three tracks adds considerably to the album's air of slight exotica, although you wouldn't really call the album ground-breaking in any meaningful way. Alexei Klabukov is credited with Mellotron, but since, to my knowledge, there are precisely zero machines in Mother Russia, it comes as no surprise to hear obvious samples all over the album, to wit, strings on most tracks plus brass on Punto Fijo.
The sureally-named Subkraut: U-Boats Willkommen Hier (you can probably translate this yourself) is more of the same, although less samplotron than before. For some reason, Droga is more like less of the same; the same elements, but used less effectively, for I know not what reason. More samplotron, though. I haven't heard their Floyd covers 7" on the mighty Fruits de Mer label, but I'd imagine we're looking at more of the same, only in a more familiar musical environment.
Herbert Vianna's career kicked off as frontman of Os Paralamas do Sucesso, 2000's O Som do Sim being his third and (to date) last solo album, released just months before the appalling light aircraft accident that crippled Vianna and killed his wife. It's a Portuguese- and English-language pop/rock effort, occasionally slipping into something akin to the Latin mainstream, notably on Hoje Canções, while História De Uma Bala features some messing about with turntables and closer Une Chanson Triste plays with dub stylings. Better moments include opener O Muro and the slide guitar solo on the rootsy Mr. Scarecrow, but, sadly, too much of the album coasts along in a decidedly average kind of way. Carlo Bartolini plays sampled Chamberlin flutes on História De Uma Bala.
German psychonauts Vibravoid have been around for about a decade, releasing albums every couple of years or so, plus several vinyl-only singles, as you might expect. 2008's The Politics of Ecstasy is their third full-lengther, ignoring EPs and a side-each vinyl collaboration with Sula Bassana and lays out their stall with aplomb. Backwards recordings? Sitars? Drones? All present and correct and why not? They cover the Strawberry Alarm Clock's legendary Incense And Peppermints, they insert a 22-minute drone-fest, Your Mind Is At Ease, they unashamedly play psychedelia in the grand tradition. And the problem is? Christian Koch plays a sampled Mellotron flute solo on Doris Delay, although that would appear to be your lot.
The following year's Distortions is a rather different album, living up to its title by starting off with three raw, garage rock tracks, notably raucous opener Christmas On Earth, although they revert to type on the dreamy Save My Soul and the nineteen-minute Mother Sky, not dissimilar to The Politics of Ecstasy's epic Your Mind Is At Ease. Much more 'Mellotron' this time round, credited to 'Vibravoid': all members? Anyway, we get string, flute and choir parts on Save My Soul (hey guys, they didn't introduce the choirs until 1972...), a lengthy flute solo on Mother Sky and major string, flute and choir parts on Save My Soul (Reprise).
Unfortunately, the title of 2011's Minddrugs is all too apt; this is the point at which Vibravoid appear to have jumped the shark. OK, I'd be lying if I said it was all bad; Seefeel is decent enough druggy garage punk and the twelve-minute What You Want jams along pleasantly enough, but too much of this album disappears up its own fundament for its, or anyone else's good. Its centrepiece is the twenty two-minute version of the just post-Syd Floyd's Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, possibly the best thing here, despite its relatively extreme length; maybe they should've done what the Floyd are rumoured to have wanted to do with Echoes, record a forty-odd minute version and make it the entire album? As far as the 'Mellotron' goes, the vague flute sounds on Set The Controls... don't even sound like one.
Although Dundee's The View seem to get themselves compared to the likes of Slade (good) and The Libertines (a lot less good), their fourth album, Cheeky for a Reason, strikes me as being at the punk end of powerpop throughout much of its length, highlights including blistering opener How Long, as good as anything of its type you'll hear, Sour Little Sweetie and wistful closer Tacky Tattoo. Vocalist Kyle Falconer's 'Mellotron'? The vague string/flutely things here and there, I suppose.
Viima are a Finnish outfit who released a track on a compilation as Lost Spectacles before deciding on a name-change, self-releasing their debut album, Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta, in 2006. Best described as female-fronted folky progressive, it's a perfectly pleasant effort, if slightly unengaging, the acoustic sections a good deal more interesting than the electric ones, particularly the rather faceless guitar solos. Keyboard player Kimmo Lähteenmäki adds various samplotron parts, to reasonable effect, although too often they're used as 'padding', filling out gaps that didn't need filling.
Viima followed up with the superior Kahden Kuun Sirpit (reviewed here) in 2009, real Mellotron present and correct. Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta is rather less interesting, but by no means a failure.
'Kurt Vile' (ho ho), real name unknown, is an American singer-songwriter with a Dylanish edge, whose fourth album, 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, combines his core style with something of an alt.rock edge, not to mention occasional mock-Spectoresque touches. To be honest, a few tracks go on a bit - the album might have been better had it not topped forty minutes - but the overall effect is decent enough, within its limitations. For some unknown reason it takes both Vile and Adam Granduciel to play the samplotron on Society Is My Friend, with flute and string parts scattered throughout the song.
Villagers' fourth album, 2016's Where Have You Been All My Life?, reworks some of their earlier material in a live-in-the-studio context, leader Conor O'Brien making a 'two takes tops' policy to keep things immediate. Of course, without being au fait with their catalogue, I've no way of knowing what they've done to the material; we can only hope these versions aren't meant to be improvements. Sorry, but songs this wet should really drip off the edge of the table and down the nearest drain. Better moments include the bit in The Waves where it suddenly picks up, although, sadly, it subsequently drops off again, and closer Wichita Lineman, chiefly due to their inability to ruin a great song, but they're few and far between.
Mali Llywelyn is credited with Mellotron. Really? Where? All I can hear is a shimmering polysynth sound that crops up, rather needlessly, I'd say, on several tracks. Once again, why credit Mellotron when you've clearly used nothing of the sort? Bizarre.
Along with Waterclime, Vintersorg are one of several projects run by Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund, this one landing somewhere between folk and metal, often combining folk melodies with metal instrumentation and drastically different styles of singing, from the accepted 'folk style' through massed chants to death grunts. Does it work? In places, but the culture clash is often too extreme to really gel, although the album's quieter moments work well enough on their own level.
'Mr. V' (Hedlund) plays 'Mellotron' on several tracks, with varying combinations of string and choir parts, all fairly obviously faked. Do you bother with this? Folk metal now seems to be a major sub-genre in its own right, although when Sabbat's Martin Walkyier formed Skyclad at the dawn of the '90s he was seen as either a pioneer or a nutter, which shows how things can change, I suppose. In other words, buy according to taste.
Violet Burning have been around for two decades, although I can't say I've ever encountered them before. Imagine a vaguely Christian band who sound like U2. Er, U2? OK, another one. That'll be Violet Burning, then. 2006's Drop-Dead is their ninth album, an irritatingly bland and sub-U2-ish mess of sort-of alt.rock that goes absolutely nowhere. Is that an adequate description?
Michael Pritzl supposedly plays Mellotron, with uncredited strings on More plus credited ones on Swan Sea, the latter of which give the sample game away badly. Do you really need me to reiterate how I feel about this album? Thought not.
This record has got to be one of the oddest entries on this site (against some competition, I have to say). The story goes something like this: rather battered vinyl copies, featuring a copyright date of 1971, started appearing in second-hand shops in the States in late 2010, bemusing psych/prog experts, who'd never heard of it. Violet Sedan Chair? Seven Suns? What? The truth slowly crept out. JJ Abrams, creator of cult TV show Fringe, had name-checked the album, after which copies started turning up. Yup, it's bogus, apparently containing clues to mysteries from the show in the lyrics. Or not.
Like other faux-historical artefacts (notably XTC's alter-egos The Dukes of Stratosphear), Seven Suns gets close musically, but is let down by a too-modern production and the (accidental?) inclusion of elements of more current styles (shoegaze etc.). However, it's fun trying to spot the influences, which tend, in this tiny sub-sub-sub-genre, to change from track to track. Here, we get (and these opinions are partly copied from online references, before anyone complains) The Who, The Byrds (on Keep Climbing), various lesser-known US psych merchants and lashings of early Floyd. And is the title a sneaky reference to that nonsense in the Book of Revelations? The lyrics are fully (and fairly accurately) reprehensible: "She needs rhythm, but she don't need rhyme" (She's Doing Fine). Ouch!
Mellotron: real? I think not, so it gets quarantined unless I hear otherwise (highly unlikely, given the genesis of the whole project). The unknown player (real or fake name) adds background strings to opener Seven Suns (Rising), although I suspect the flutey sound that crops up in a couple of places is a Farfisa patch rather than Mellotronic. Anyway, this is turning up on download blogs now; it's the only way the vast majority of us are going to get to hear it. Amusing and actually not at all bad. Oh, and thanks to Ken Leonard for pointing me at this one.
Despite their apparent claims to be from Antarctica, The Virgineers hail from the Chicago area by all accounts and, in their self-titled debut, have produced one of the best '60s psych albums released since... well, the '60s, I suppose. A duo, they're augmented here by a few friends, although I've no idea how they might do this stuff live. Material-wise, the dreamy, lysergic feel of Floating or The Morning Moon contrast with the space glam-boogie of Be My Guru or the sitar frenzy of opener Love Circus, making for a pleasing pot-pourri of psychedelic styles. Of course, as with the Dukes of Stratosphear, several tracks here sound more like homages than original compositions, the caveat being that the Dukes were a deliberate spoof... How Far Does Space Go? has a Syd's Floyd vibe about it and is that an early Quo reference on Floating's chorus? Anyway, one of the aforementioned friends is Ray Muirwood, who sticks samplotron onto a few tracks, with string parts on Sun (stretching above the instrument's range), Floating and Diesel Train. All in all, then, a great little album, if slightly derivative. The writing's excellent and the overall feel takes one straight back to the era of joss sticks, funny cigarettes and too much paisley (can you have too much paisley? Discuss), knocking yer typical indie-schmindie rubbish into the proverbial cocked hat, whatever that is. Buy.
Viva Voce ('by word of mouth') are the Portland, Oregon-based duo of Kevin and Anita Robinson, who released their second album, Lovers, Lead the Way!, in 2003, five years after their debut. It's essentially a typical indie release, turgid in the extreme for over an hour. I know they probably had five years'-worth of material, but is it fair to subject us to it all in one go? Loads of obvious samplotron, with strings, flutes and choirs on at least half the tracks, not that it improves matters any. The basic version of the following year's The Heat Can Melt Your Brain is at least a sensible length, although the duo clearly couldn't resist almost doubling its length for the reissue a few years later. Musically it's the same old guff, their limited ideas strictly rationed: one per song, like it or not. Actually, several of these efforts seem to've missed the 'ideas' stage completely. Why is so much indie stuff so bloody awful? Are they really that talentless? Or is it deliberate? 'Playing down to the audience's expectations'? Bloody rubbish. Less samplotron this time round, like it matters.
Sadly, it seems that Volaré split within a year of their sole album release, The Uncertainty Principle. I've seen reviews comparing them to the incomparable Happy the Man and the Canterbury scene, but to my ears they sounded more like a slightly easier-on-the-ears version of Present, or maybe Thinking Plague, with a side helping of King Crimson, although none of those really describes them. They've also been reviewed on jazz sites, but they're not jazz either... Basically, we're talking complex instrumental music that doesn't entirely forsake melody in its race to be 'weirder than thou'. Best tracks? I'll need to listen to it some more to really nail it, but the gentle One Minute Of Thought... stands out on a first listen. Keys man Patrick Strawser plays samplotron on a few tracks, with fractured string and choir parts, rarely using it for more than a few seconds at a time, although that fits in with their overall style.
Volt (or VoLt) are the British EM duo of Michael Shipway and Steve Smith, whose third (?) album, 2005's Through the Rings, slots solidly into the 'synths and sequencers' bracket, doing everything you expect of an EM release, while failing to actually say anything new, until final track Soaring Beneath The Surface, which surprises with its creative use of white noise. But what's with the track titles? I think we have to assume that, contrary to appearances, the duo have an undercurrent of very British humour, given that one of their earlier albums is titled Far Canal (a title originally used back in 1970 by Jody Grind). Far canal? Farkan' 'ell? Oh, forget it. Anyway, Journey To The Rim, Dark Entrance and Through The Rings all have a sniggeringly schoolboyish feel to them, although, of course, I could be wildly wrong in every case. But I doubt it. The duo eschew their Mellotron samples on opener Journey To The Rim, although those are clearly sampled strings on Dark Entrance, choirs, flutes and strings on Through The Rings and choirs on Soaring Beneath The Surface. Given the genre's general lack of variety, I can tell you that Through the Rings is a solid EM release, but (at least to my ears) you won't be buying it to hear anything very new.
Although based in Miami, Volúmen Cero (who released their debut album in 1996 as Orgasmic Bliss) are comprised of expat South American musicians seemingly in thrall to The Cure and other post-punks, although 2002's Luces seems to have more of a metal influence, making it slightly more palatable. Rubén Parra is credited with Mellotron, with flutes and strings on Escapar and Comunicado and obviously sampled strings on Dime. 2004's Estelar takes a distinct turn for the worse, into dullsville indie territory, its least bad tracks including the jangly Luces and closer Universe. Parra on samplotron again, with skronky strings on Si Tu Deseas and cellos and strings on Universe. I Can See the Brite Spot is no better, with minimal samplotron from Marthin Chan and Josh Sonntag, although why it takes two people to play the flutes on Astronauta is beyond me. Well, Latin rock used to mean Santana; now it means Volúmen Cero. Not a trade-off for the better, frankly.
Charity Von is a current Christian artist whose eponymous 2004 debut starts well, in a fairly rocky vein, then quickly descends into a pit of slush with tracks like I'll Be (The Pleasure's Mine) or You Make It Fine, by which time the lyrics have shifted into Full-On Christian Mode. I don't know which style Von prefers (assuming either), but a handful of better tracks do not a decent album make. Blair Masters (Human, Erin O'Donnell) plays samplotron flutes on the rather vocally overblown I'll Be (The Pleasure's Mine).
Anna von Hausswolff is a new Swedish singer operating at the Kate Bush end of the spectrum, if you'll excuse the cliché. 2010's Singing From the Grave is her debut, full of her gothic piano work and other muted instrumentation, doing a fair job of soundtracking an imaginary film based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Better tracks include Lost At Sea and the intense, nine-minute The Book, although Pills, with its more 'rock' instrumentation, doesn't work so well in context. Anna plays the Mellotron on closer I Am Leaving herself, although the only audible evidence is a few string chords that don't really sound that Mellotronic. Anyway, one for those of you who prefer to wear black and might be considering a future career as a vampire. Perfectly good at what it does, but a bit overblown and slightly wearing if it's not your bag.
The Voodoo Glow Skulls play that peculiarly American crossover, ska/punk, and to my ears, they seem to make a perfectly good job of it. I don't know who first decided to speed the snare up to thrash levels, but it's quite an effective trick. I have to say, most tracks on their fourth album, 1997's Baile de los Locos ('dance of the madmen') are indistinguishable from each other, although the odd exception leaks through, not least the almost Cardiacs at their most ska-tastic soundalikes Here We Are Again and Elephantitis. Jim Goodwin is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be fucked if I can hear it under the manic brass section. I'm sure it's in there somewhere, but you know how it is... Anyway, a good example of a strange (and strangely popular) genre, just not somewhere you'll go to hear any Mellotron.
Reviews of ex-Waxwing Rocky Votolato's ninth solo release, 2015's Hospital Handshakes, spout phrases like 'heavily influenced by the sounds of punk and hardcore', 'intense honesty and emotional transparency' and 'positive explosion of energy', which led me to believe I'd be hearing something like an updated Hüsker Dü, maybe. But no. Try 'a deeply undistinguished indie effort', the nearest it gets to 'good' being parts of the energetic Rumi, while gentle closer The Finish Line isn't too bad (he says, grudgingly). The rest of the record succeeds in saying precisely nothing new musically, although I suppose I'm meant to listen to the lyrics. Sorry, don't care. I listen to music for, y'know, the music. Chris Walla's credited with Mellotron. Doing what, precisely? Are those meant to be flutes on Sawdust & Shavings? Seriously, no Mellotron here. No especially interesting music, either.