White Fence are Californian Tim Presley's lo-fi indie project, whose third (and fourth) release (excluding live albums and collaborations), 2012's Family Perfume, is a pair of vinyl-only LPs (now on one CD), stuffed to the brim with Presley's unique brand of something that some commentators are calling 'psychedelia'. Personally speaking (shall I say 'me, personally'? Thought not), I'm not at all sure what's 'psychedelic' about any of this; call me an old fart, but what I'm hearing is a bunch of intimate, personal songs (Presley calls them 'diary entries'), wilfully badly-played and recorded, complete with tape-slippage and other technical hitches. I'm not advocating the smooth, West Coast sessioneering approach, but is this attempt to sound 'authentic' a case of trying too hard? I'm all for rawness, if the results justify the means, but this comes across to the unattuned ear as amateurish. Uncool, aren't I?
'Mellotron strings' on a handful of tracks, in the background on opener Swagger Vets And Double Moon, upfront (and very badly played) on Daily Pique, murky on Groundskeeper Rag and more distant on closer King Of The Decade, but I'm really not holding out any hope that they're real. I feel like a proper old geezer now; "Well, it ain't proper music, is it?", but I simply don't get it. This is where old age starts.
White Hills are a New York-based space-rock outfit, although most reviewers label them 'psychedelic'. Yes, I suppose their second (?) album, 2011's H-p1, is, but first and foremost, its churning, repetitive riffery is really only categorisable as space-rock. There's a quite blatant Hawkwind influence throughout, particularly obvious on the lengthy closing title track, while several of the synth-heavy tracks sound like Warrior on the Edge of Time outtakes. Best track? Probably the relatively concise Upon Arrival, although full-blown psychonauts may prefer the ten-minute blitzkrieg of No Other Way or H-p1 itself. One Dave W is credited with Mellotron strings on opener The Condition Of Nothing, but its smoothness, not to mention sounding exactly the same on every repeat, ring warning bells on the sample front, which probably means I'm wrong.
2012's Frying on This Rock is an easier listen than its predecessor, partially due to being a sensible 'single album' length. Musically, it mines the same seam as H-p1, but the trancelike repetition of Robot Stomp and fourteen-minute closer I Write A Thousand Letters (Pulp On Bone) loses this listener's attention, although Pads Of Light is rather more varied. Samplotronically speaking, we get a screechy string part on Robot Stomp, but that appears to be our lot. Are you doing the same drugs as White Hills? And if not, why not?
White Hinterland are clearly the brainchild of Casey Dienel, whose strangely childlike, almost tuneless vocals pervade her first album under that name, 2008's Phylactery Factory. Try to imagine Joanna Newsom reinvented as an ethereal jazz spirit haunting New England (go on, try) and you might be getting close to their sound. I can't say it especially appeals to your esteemed reviewer (in fact, I find her voice highly irritating), but it's been critically lauded and is certainly a work of some intelligence and invention, so what do I know? Dienel plays samplotron, amongst other keys, with occasional flutes on Lindberghs & Metal Birds.
I couldn't honestly tell you into which tiny sub-sub-subdivision of The Beast Called Rock White Octave fit. Emo? Indie? Post-grunge (whatever that might be)? Going by their first (of two) albums, 2000's Style No. 6312, they seem to be quite upset about something and while I've no idea what, they go on about it for nearly forty minutes of shouty nonsense, so it must be getting to them fairly badly. Drummer Robert P. Biggers Jr. is credited with Chamberlin, although the only thing that seems even slightly likely is the long, long sustained string chord that starts in Guts And Black Stuff, continuing into the title track. That'll be samples, then.
Hiding, Mingling sits at the sparsest end of the Americana spectrum, at its best on Second Wind and Station, perhaps. Andy LeMaster (Bright Eyes) supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flutes on Blame aren't fooling anyone.
Jenny Whiteley is the daughter of Canadian blues musician Chris Whiteley, although her preferred oeuvre is largely gentle, country-influenced material. To be honest, Dear, while respectable enough, is all a bit one-paced, while whoever sings harmony on Write Me Away (Jim Byrnes?) is painfully flat; not so much 'rustic' as 'tone deaf'. Best track? Probably opener Indoor Lightning. Producer Steve Dawson and Chris Gestrin are credited with Mellotron, but the vaguely flutish sound used here and there convinces no-one. 2010's Forgive or Forget is a good album within its genre, which, of course, stands or falls on the quality of its songwriting more than most, although my favourite track is the one that deviates furthest from the formula, the vaguely Neil Young-ish Truth And The Eyes Of The Dead. Dawson and Gestrin on 'Mellotron' again, with background flutes on Truth And The Eyes Of The Dead, although given that I can't hear anything else, I'm not sure why it took both of them to produce a fairly minor part. As with all of Dawson's production work, though I'm quite sure it's sampled. Anyway, a superior country album, without the western.
I'm assured The Whitlams are a pretty cheerful bunch most of the time, but it seems Eternal Nightcap is largely about a friend of their who committed suicide the previous year; several of the tracks are about him, including the three 'Charlie' ones (thanks to Adrian for that info). A few tracks up the ante and the pace, including Love Is Everywhere and Up Against The Wall, but most of the album relies on an almost alt.country laid-back feel, not to mention the waltz-time folk of Band On Every Corner, although the rest of it's nearer to the rock/pop mainstream. Samplotron on one track only, Melbourne, band leader Tim Freedman playing 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes, mixed with real strings in places.
Chris Whitley is that rare thing: an artist who actually deserves the label 'alternative'; over the course of his career, he shifted through various styles, landing on a alt.rock/electric blues hybrid by the mid-'90s and Din of Ecstasy. It's a good singer-songwriter effort and while its rock element sounds a little dated fifteen years on, the power of Whitley's songs remains undiminished, particularly Can't Get Off, New Machine and the 'hidden' track at the end, the acoustic slide blues of Days Of Obligation. Andy Rosen is credited with Mellotron on opener Narcotic Prayer, although whatever he contributed is entirely lost in the mix. As a sad postscript, Whitley's lifestyle caught up with him in 2005 and he died of lung cancer in November of that year.
Joy Whitlock considers herself a 'prodigal', going by the biography on her website; preacher's daughter gone bad, before 'God caught up with her' at 21. Well, good for God, I say. Of course, untold numbers of people actually believe that 'He' is omnipotent (even if they can't spell it) and is actually able to pinpoint individuals and haul them up from the depths to which they've sunk. Yeah, whatever. Do none of them ever consider that it might have been THEMSELVES that did the 'hauling up'? Give yourselves some credit, people... The end result, in this case, is a Christian artist who, going by her first full-length album, 2008's God & a Girl, makes upbeat pop/rock CCM, which is at least preferable to the drippy 'oh God I LOVE you!' variety. There's still plenty of that in the lyric department, but at least the music is only 'modern pop/rock' awful, rather than 'typical CCM' awful. Is this an improvement? Slightly, yes, but only slightly. Rick Steff plays Mellotron on Cost Of Being Free, which proves the worth of track-by-track credits, since if I didn't know, I wouldn't know, if you know what I mean. Is there anything in there at all? Anything? Why bother?
I've seen Norwegian trio Wibutee described as 'electro jazz', although their sound on their debut, 2006's Sweet Mental, also features elements of avant- and chamber-prog, amongst other styles. Moments of quiet beauty (SORPI, closer The Ball) rub shoulders with sax-led jazzy pieces (Aalo, Stereo Plains), ensuring that few people will really understand where they're coming from; a pity, as there's a lot to like about the album, depending on your tolerance for jazz. Although Håkon Kornstad and Rune "Sternklang" Brøndbo are credited with Mellotron on two tracks, the speedy flute part on Aalo and strident string line on SORPI lack that ring of authenticity, so into samples this goes. To buy or not to buy? How much do you like jazzy avant-prog? That's probably your benchmark, then.
Aargh! Generic indie alert! Piss-poor rhythms? Check. Scratchy guitar work? Check. Whiny, tuneless vocals? Check. Why? Just why? The Wicked Farleys have a Swirlies connection, making it less surprising that one of their members, Damon Tutunjian, supposedly plays Mellotron. He doesn't.
Wicked Minds formed in the early '90s, apparently shifting into a psychedelic hard rock direction after supporting Monster Magnet, although it took them until 1999 to release Return to Uranus and another four years to produce their first 'proper' album, Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden. You like Uriah Heep? Deep Purple? Atomic Rooster? You'll love Wicked Minds. The album's a full-on heavy psych-fest, chock-full of Paolo "Apollo" Negri (Link Quartet)'s ripping (very obviously real) Hammond work; listen to the intro to Drifting to get, er, my drift - he keeps the Leslie switched off for twenty seconds or so, then switches it on in a way that emulators have never fully captured. The material's good all round, if (unsurprisingly) a little unoriginal, but as with, say, Black Bonzo, that kind of accusation could be construed as seriously missing the point; of course something emulating a thirty-plus year-old style isn't original, it's what the band does with it that matters.
Most of the album's keyboard work is, of course, Hammond, although there's a little samplotron, with brief string parts on The Elephant Stone and Across The Sunrise, although you probably wouldn't miss them if they weren't there. Just to confuse matters, no-one seems to've spotted that the following year's From the Purple Skies is no more than a resequenced reissue of ...Delirium Garden with three extra tracks, the short Forever My Queen (slotted in as track five), a ripping cover of Heep's Gypsy and the massive, jammed-out, eighteen-minute Return To Uranus (stop laughing), reiterated (and presumably re-recorded) from their out of print debut, adding more 'Mellotron' strings. As a result, don't even bother looking for the original release, as the reissue's far better value and that final track is completely essential.
2006 brought Witchflower, another full-length CD of presumably mostly new material, although Burning Tree is doubtless a re-recording of their debut's Garden Of Burning Trees. The songwriting quality has largely been maintained, highlights including the epic Scorpio Odyssey, although somehow it's a fraction less joyous than before, accounting for the dropped half-star. We get another cover, too, with a piano-led take on Purple's Soldier Of Fortune, although vocalist J.C. Cinel, while perfectly competent, is no Coverdale. Negri's expanded his instrument base, adding a Moog and a (Solina?) string machine, although the solo 'Mellotron' strings on Scorpio Odyssey give the 'Tron sample game away, with more of the same on A Child And A Mirror and some terrible choirs on Soldier Of Fortune.
2011's Visioni, Deliri e Illusioni is excellent, is a little overlong, especially the double vinyl version. Top tracks include instrumental organ-fest opener Caronte I, heavy prog epic La Prima Goccia Bagna Il Viso and Io, La Strega, probably the most original thing here, although various Italian prog covers, including an abbreviated version of Museo Rosenbach's Zarathustra and the vinyl-only PFM segue La Carrozza Di Hans/Impressioni Di Settembre are worthy, yet slightly inessential. Samplotron on several tracks, including background flutes and a string line on L'Uomo, obviously sampled strings on Dio Del Silenzio, upfront strings on the Un'Isola/Un'Illusione Da Poco/Clessidra medley and the expected parts on the covers.
All in all, an excellent band, if you're as stuck in the early '70s as
me some. The lack of real Mellotron shouldn't be considered a disadvantage (what, it isn't?), given the definitely real Hammond overdose effect on both these releases. So; don't forget: From the Purple Skies, not Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden, even if it's got a better title.
Mikael Wiehe's Främmande Land is a rather dull, largely acoustic Swedish-language singer-songwriter effort, almost certainly improved if one understands the lyrics. Better tracks? Possibly the title track, which channels a certain dark energy. Pål Svenre plays samplotron strings on closer Det Finns Nåt Vitare.
Wil Mimnaugh's By December is an Americana-end-of-indie effort, veering between lighter and heavier material, at its best on Wedding Dress, Always With Love and the downtuned heavy blues of Honey Pie. Dave MacKinnon's credited with Mellotron, but it's intriguing to know exactly where it's meant to be. The various strings on Rain On? The mandolins at the end of Always With Love? Quite certainly not genuine, anyway.
I'm trying to work out whether or not David Wilcox's Turning Point is meant to be a Christian album: track titles such as Silent Prayer, Glory and Secret Church indicate a possibility, but I suspect Wilcox is coming more from a 'spiritual' direction than an overtly religious one. Either way, both his songs and their arrangements are exceptionally dull. Newton Carter and Ric Hordinski (Over the Rhine) are credited with Mellotron. Hmmm. The flutes and strings on Spin aren't too bad, although a speedy flute run sounds suspect, while the massed strings bridging Right Now and Human Cannonball (plus flutes on the latter) simply don't ring true. I could, of course, be wrong.
Wild Strawberries are the Toronto-based married couple duo of Ken and Roberta Carter Harrison, who've been making albums, with varying commercial success, since the late '80s. The fact that they've played Lilith Fair probably tells you a good bit about how they sound; perfectly pleasant, but a bit wet, in a typically indie manner. 1995's Heroine features nice instrumentation in places (plenty of Wurly piano), although the '808 kit' credited on a few tracks wears one down pretty quickly. Ken (the duo's sole songwriter) plays inaudible samplotron on I Don't Want To Think About It, while Fall has a very audible flute part and Fine a lesser one. Two albums later, Twist is, essentially, more of the same, only longer, so if lightweight indie-pop's your bag, you've come to the right place. Is there a best track? Yup: their rocky cover of Gloria Jones via Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Harrison (K.) supposedly plays Chamberlin on All I Want, but I've no idea what it might be doing. Incidentally, one oddity here is the series of brief, silent tracks, interspersed with bursts of ambient noise, separating the two covers that end the disc from the rest of the album. Why?
The Wild Swans came out of the same Liverpool scene as Echo & the Bunnymen and Julian Cope's Teardrop Explodes; in fact, mainman Paul Simpson is ex- of the latter band. Their '80s incarnation never fulfilled their initial promise, splitting up before recording an album, then reforming after various members found more success with the likes of The Lotus Eaters. Space Flower was their second (and last, at least in this form) album, following '88's Bringing Home the Ashes, best described as Scouse psych, along the lines of The Icicle Works, whose Ian McNabb actually guests on the record. It's one of those albums that will almost certainly grow on me should I ever give it enough plays to give it a chance; an initial listen highlights the title track and I'm A Lighthouse, but there's nothing genuinely bad here and, at forty-odd minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome. Now, this Mellotron business: Simpson is credited with playing one, that I've even seen described as his 'trademark'. Er, huh? While I'm grateful to my hobby for introducing me to this band, I'd never previously heard of him and was only vaguely aware of his band. I know it's credited, but the only thing here that sounds even slightly like one is the strings on Magic Hotel and I wouldn't actually put money on them being genuine.
I've seen Wildbirds' 2007 debut, Golden Daze, described as 'a timeless record', to which I can only say: Sir (or Madam), you are deluding yourself. It's a thoroughly average, early 21st-century indie album, guitars thrashing away to no particular effect, although they stick in the odd exception to the Velvets-esque rule like All Get Away or Someday We Can Fly Away to attempt to relieve the boredom. Matthew Reetz plays a samplotron flute melody on Where Has Goodness Gone.
Nathan Wiley's brand of singer-songwriter pop/rock has its moments on The City Destroyed Me, notably the '40s-influenced Seven Reasons and the rocky Wouldn't You, but the bulk of its material is, sad to say, rather tedious. Wiley and Steve Berlin are credited with Mellotron, with fairly obvious chordal samplotron flutes on opener One Of The Worst Ones and are those supposed to be Mellotronic cellos and strings on Back To Bed?
Tess Wiley's third album, Superfast Rock'n'Roll Played Slow, is even less interesting than her debut, Rainy Day Assembly, which is quite a feat, frankly. Anything listenable? It's probably at its least dull on Crying For You. She's credited with Mellotron; what, the flutes on Raise Your Hand? Are you 'avin' a LAUGH??!
American Pi is a weird mixture of quirky singer-songwriterish stuff and funk metal-lite, at its least irritating on I Dig You and the ambient Anymore. I'm not at all sure why Rob Burger gets a Chamberlin credit; the string notes on closer Overmind?
Lori Willcuts' frequently-misspelled Black Eyed Susans is a fairly mainstream country record, at its possible best on her version of Abide With Me. Tim Lauer's Mellotron credit turns out to be no more than a brief samplotron flute part on Grace Is Waiting.
The William Blakes (ho ho) are a Danish pop group who, despite their relatively traditional lineup, sound more like Take That crossed with, say, The Flaming Lips, of whom they are big enough fans to name their debut album after that outfit's frontman, Wayne Coyne. Their third album, 2010's The Way of the Warrior, is a pretty insipid affair, I have to say, heavy on limpid, chart-friendly material and light on substance. About the best things here are the ambient-ish Forest Spirit and the percussion-heavy The Next World, but that really isn't saying much. Kristian Leth plays samplotron, with nothing obvious on The End Of The World or Pocahontas and naught but an occasional high string line on Three Brothers (Trois Frères), while Bo Rande adds flutes to Come Closer.
Dorothy "Dar" Williams is usually described as 'pop/folk', which is probably as good a description as you're going to get. She's essentially a protégé of Joan Baez, who's also covered several of her songs, which probably gives you a good idea of where she's coming from. 2000's The Green World is her fourth full album of original material and, while very worthy, isn't the kind of record that makes this reviewer's heart quicken. I hate myself for saying that, as Williams strikes me as the kind of person this world could do with more of, but her music's a bit lightweight, in my humble opinion; as so often, the message seems to be more important than the medium, which is generally left to fend for itself. There seems to be some confusion over whom, exactly, plays samplotron on the album: Stewart Lerman's a definite, Steuart Smith's a possible and ex-Hooter Roby Hyman's a rank outsider. No big deal, anyway, as all you get are a brief string part on And A God Descended and possibly a few seconds of flute somewhere else. My Better Self sounds ever so slightly more muscular, although I've no idea whether or not this is deliberate. Dar covers a couple of classics this time round, with good versions of Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and, bizarrely, Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. In direct contrast to The Green World, although only one musician is credited with playing Mellotron (Julie Wolf), it's on several tracks, with strings on I'll Miss You Till I Meet You, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and (quietly, sadly) Comfortably Numb, flutes and strings on Blue Light Of The Flame and flutes on You Rise And Meet The Day and The Hudson, all sampled.
Kathryn Williams' The Quickening combines relatively upbeat material with the kind of haunted folk that goes down well at Planet Mellotron, highlights including Just A Feeling, the mandolin-fuelled Winter Is Sharp and closer Up North. Leo Abrahams (The Smoke Fairies) plays samplotron, with a high, distant string line on Noble Guesses (ho ho) and cello on Little Lesson.
Lucinda Williams' Little Honey repeats the successful 'part rock/part country' formula of her breakthrough, 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, leading to weird juxtapositions like the mournful Plan To Marry sitting cheek-by-jowl with Williams' superb rock'n'roll (OK, more rock'n'roll) take on AC/DC's iconic It's A Long Way To The Top that closes the record. Rob Burger plays samplotron on Little Rock Star, with what I have to assume is an otherwise uncredited vibes part, as nothing else on the track sounds even close.
Lucid Dreaming High sits at the Americana end of the singer-songwriter spectrum, at its least anodyne on
the bluesy Gold Rush and the gentle Happy Little Child. Someone plays distant samplotron flutes and strings on John Lennon and its reprise.
I'd have liked to review Robbie Williams' Sing When You're Winning properly, but I found it impossible to get more than about thirty seconds into each track, due to their general awfulness. I gritted (grat?) my teeth and sat out the whole of The Road To Mandalay, all for a few seconds of producer/songwriter Guy Chambers' samplotron string line. This is shit. Appalling music, remedial singing, terrible songs, almost nonexistent (and sampled) Mellotron. Avoid like the plague. Unbelievably, Williams' hyper-inflated ego has allowed him to think he can take on Sinatra (!!) and record an album of big band standards, Swing When You're Winning (ho ho). He seems to have missed the essential point that Sinatra is one of popular music's great voices, if not the greatest. Oh well, that's egos for you...
Well well well; how times change... 'Robbie' (you know someone's a household name when they become synonymous with their Christian name) seems to've matured greatly in a pretty short period; something to do with getting the monkey off his back, maybe? Anyway, without sacrificing any popularity whatsoever, he's reinvented himself as an 'adult entertainer'; I'm not saying he's suddenly worthy of serious attention, but he's making respectable albums like 2002's Escapology, which, while largely dull, rarely actually offend. Escapology's actually quite confusing, given that there are two noticeably different albums of that title floating around; the standard UK release has no Mellotron, while the 'clean' (seemingly interchangeable with 'American') version does, albeit in sampled form. There are three different tracks on the 2003 version, Get A Little High, One Fine Day and closer How Peculiar (Reprise), although why they make a difference is far from obvious; there are still several tracks with lyrics calculated to offend the Moral Majority, which don't seem any better than the three dropped ones. Strange. Anyway, Claire Worrall plays samplotron, although I'll be buggered if I can tell where.
Re-Licked is late-period Stooges guitarist James Williamson's first solo album, amazingly, a collection of songs written in the 1973-75 period and played live, but never properly recorded. No Iggy, but plenty of guest vocalists, including Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Lisa Kekaula. This is pure rock'n'roll - the best thing to an unreleased Stooges album we're ever going to get, all their musical quirks present and correct. Splendid. One Toby Dammit is credited with Mellotron, but, unless it provides the dubious cello on opener Head On Curve, it's inaudible and quite certainly sampled anyway.
Willowglass are the latest in a run of progressive one-man projects, this time the brainchild of Yorkshire's Andrew Marshall, who plays everything except the drums on his project's eponymous debut. In many ways, this is prog as it was, not is, so there's a refreshing lack of ferocious guitars, hammering drums and screaming vocals (or indeed, any at all). Influences are the gentler end of the usual suspects, not least Genesis and Camel, with plentiful use of good old-fashioned melody, with tasteful, 'slightly distorted' guitar leads and heaps of acoustics. Best track? Hard to say, but A Blinding Light particularly caught my ear, although it cuts Genesis a little too close in places.
Andrew, by his own admission, uses the M-Tron, which is all well and good, but he commits the usual sample-related offence and sticks so much of it on that its deficiencies become overly obvious. The near-solo strings in Remembering, say, are lovely, but they're too high in the mix and too 'clean' to be real. In fact, he uses the M-Tron on most tracks, only avoiding it on the opener, closer and the classical guitar solo, Interlude No. 1, with strings everywhere you look and choirs on most tracks, too, plus the occasional appearance of the flutes. For what it's worth, if you want a real 'giveaway' moment, the string pitchbends in Garden are far too smooth to be real and don't even sound like the Mellotron pitch control. Still, nice to hear the sounds used with taste, even if they could've done with being scaled back slightly. Oh and also for what it's worth, the Hammond is a real L100.
Three years on and Book of Hours appears, another beautiful, very tasteful album, if once again rather lacking in originality. Marshall's decision to use a real drummer makes all the difference on the subtlety front, as listening to albums by prog bands using programmed drums will attest. Yes seem to've crept in as an influence this time round, with moments on opener Argamasilla that made me think of the words Khatru and Siberian, though not necessarily in that order, but generally speaking, this should be guaranteed to keep sympho-heads happy, as long as they're not too bothered about where they might've heard the odd chord sequence before. Loads of M-Tron again, of course, used without restraint, but it's difficult to deny it sounds rather nice, however inauthentic it may be.
Five years, this time, 2013's The Dream Harbour mostly being worth the wait. What's with the clichéd synth-arpeggio-and-weedy-organ-laden intro to opener A House Of Cards Pt.1, though? Things only get worse as the track shifts into a jerky, Marillion-esque part, but matters quickly improve, the bulk of the album being the kind of lush, melodic instrumental symphonic prog we've come to expect from Willowglass. Admittedly, nothing that original, but many beautiful moments. Highlights? Possibly the title track and The Face Of Eurydice, but that opening minute or two is the only real weak spot. Plenty of samplotron, as you'd expect, mostly strings, with occasional flutes and choirs, including a couple of solo spots.
So; three nice (albeit not very original) albums, tasteful, tuneful and relaxing, which is NOT a synonym for 'boring'. Plenty of fake Mellotron, which probably isn't going to change in the near future, as Andrew tells me there's no way he can afford a real one, which is understandable. Go on, make his day and buy copies.
Husband and wife duo Wilshire's New Universe starts well enough with Special and the bit in Turn It Around where it suddenly sounds like The Tea Party for a few seconds, but the better stuff's heavily outweighed by shlock like Go On or closer Tonight, In Your Arms being particularly horrible. Jon Niemann's 'Mellotron' presumably refers to the strings on Remember and Go On. I don't think so.
Dan Wilson led Minneapolis indie outfit Semisonic, for his sins, Love Without Fear being his second solo album. It's the kind of drippy, country-inf(l)ected singer-songwriter effort regularly mined for incidental music on shitty US TV shows; perhaps it already has. I wouldn't know. Allow me to quote a lyric, from Two: "How easily pink turns into blue / One turns into two". Urgh. Brad Gordon's credited with Mellotron, but I can't hear it, even if it were real, which it almost certainly isn't.
Jonathan Wilson's debut, Frankie Ray, was never officially released and is only available on CD-R, apparently. Frankly (ho ho), it's a wildly overlong, rather dreary singer-songwriter effort, something of a throwback to the Laurel Canyon (where Wilson actually lived for a while) era of CSN&Y and their ilk, only, er, not as good. Going by this album, this is a man who needs to learn the art of editing, two tracks here sitting around the ten-minute mark; fine if you have something amazing to say, either musically or (at a real stretch) lyrically, but Wilson doesn't. An album of this type, literally half the length of this one, would be an acceptable enough effort, but this just goes on and on and on... Best tracks? Funnily enough, two of the longest (Sing To You and For Every 10) are also two of the best, probably because they sit on the edge of psychedelic territory. Wilson plays samplotron cellos on For Every 10, Born To Be My Truelove and Dreaming.
Burnt, White & Blue was Matt 'brother of Semisonic's Dan' Wilson's solo debut, an indie/singer-songwriter/alt.rock mash-up, at its least irritating on opener Sun Is Coming and closer Hello Caller. Someone plays a samplotron flute line on Blue Elektra and a brief (and vaguely convincing) strings part on Hello Caller.
Steven Wilson (UK) see:
Wind (nothing to do with any other band of the same name) are a current Norwegian psych trio, whose vinyl-only Sleep EP consists of just two tracks, of which the 'B', Cathedral, is the more intense, Throwing Stones being more acoustic. I detect elements of both original, late-'60s psychedelia and the late '80s/early '90s version, Cathedral bordering on shoegaze in places, making for a suitably lysergic package. Martin Van Houtum's 'Mellotron' is clearly nothing of the sort, as is plainly audible in a couple of solo flute parts on the 'A', where its overly-smooth, overly-sustained tones give the sample game away, ditto the solo strings on the flip, to the point where I'm not even sure why they've even credited it. A decent enough release, then, although I'd like to hear a little more focus (no, not Focus, although that might be nice, too) next time round, although I'm quite sure they'll stick to their guns and do exactly what they want to and rightly so.
I've seen Winterpills described as 'indie', but their sound, at least on 2010 EP Tuxedo of Ashes, is more 'haunted folk', all acoustic guitars, banjos and hushed vocals, although they have a propensity for building tracks to a crescendo in a fairly un-folk kind of way. There isn't actually a bad track here; conversely, none actually leap out at you either, although The Ballad Of The Anxious Decoder might just be its highpoint. Philip Price plays samplotron, with a wispy string part on opener Are You Sleeping (Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lithium)?
Winters are a London-based 'stoner' outfit, whatever you take that to mean, who have clearly found their spiritual home on Lee Dorrian's Rise Above label. Amusingly, their list of 'artists for inspiration' doesn't mention their one overriding influence, Black Sabbath, although appalling NWoBHM also-rans Witchfinder General get a namecheck. Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies sounds like Sabbath fronted by a fey and frequently (deliberately?) off-key indie-kid, which is honestly better than it sounds, largely due to the songwriting, which is several notches above just about everyone else in the field and a handful of killer riffs (notably on Endless Fight), even if they do sound like Mr. Iommi noodling about. Question: if the entire neo-prog 'movement' is based on Tony Banks' keyboard solo in The Cinema Show, is the whole stoner/doom thing based on Iommi's monster verse riff in Iron Man? Discuss.
Drummer Andy Prestidge (now of the reformed mighty Angel Witch) is credited with 'Mellotron', but I've been assured it's just the usual plug-in nonsense; given that these guys know my brother, a real one could've been provided... Budgetry restrictions, I believe. Anyway, Andy gets some flutes and strings in on Life Was So Simple and some surprisingly authentic-sounding strings on the closing title track. So; if you have any interest in old-school hard rock at all, I can recommend this, despite its unusual approach on the vocal front. Makes a change from some twat trying to be hard with his 'cookie monster' grunting, anyway. Several good songs, several great riffs and a bit of sampled Mellotron. Just one improvement needed there, then.
One upon a very long time ago, I owned Wire's startling debut, Pink Flag, although, since I no longer do, I must have tired of it within a year or two. Change Becomes Us is their thirteenth album, in the band's third period of activity in their forty-year history, an album that, on the surface, sounds little like their past, although echoes of its minimalism occasionally leak through. Best track? Perhaps inventive closer Attractive Space. Colin Newman and 'new boy' Matthew Simms are both credited with Mellotron, but the barely-Mellotronic strings and choirs on several tracks make you wonder why they bothered with the credit.
Wisely is either a confirmation of Willie Wisely's increased focus or a symptom of a narrowing worldview; Planet Mellotron prefers the former. It's certainly far more consistent than earlier releases, top tracks including California, Nothing But Wind, Only Losing Me and the lovely Through Any Window, the overall impression being of an album complete in itself, with no obvious dead wood. Rick Boston and Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm play samplotron, with a string line on Cracked World View, flutes on California and a brief string part on Vanilla.
Denison Witmer has aspirations. Denison Witmer's aspiration is to be Nick Drake, at least going by his third album, Of Joy & Sorrow. Unfortunately for Denison, he hasn't quite learned that it's not enough to be heartfelt and lovelorn; in fact, it's impossible to learn to be (as good as) Nick Drake, so it's rather pointless even trying. For a moment at the beginning of the record, I thought it stood a chance of being one of those personal, close-mic'd acoustic albums that can sometimes work, but no, it's just another dreary Drake wannabee without the necessary talent/depression. Blake Wescott adds a pleasant, if inessential 'Mellotron' flute part (that isn't) to opener Forgiven.
What a difference a few years can make! 2006's acoustic Are You a Sleeper? EP, originally included as a second disc with one version of the same year's Are You a Dreamer?, takes the same source material, but, this time, uses it to make something genuinely heartfelt. All six tracks are really quite beautiful, although How To Be Alone and the Beatles-quoting I Hope This One Never Ends possibly have the edge. Carl Granberg plays 'Mellotron', with cello and flute on the title track, cello and strings on How To Be Alone, flute on Little Flowers and cello on Castle And Cathedral, although I'm pretty sure, on a re-listen, that it's fake. Just to confuse the issue, five of the EP's tracks (one in a different version) also found their way onto the second disc of a 2006 reissue of 1997's Safe Away, although the ...Dreamer version's the one you need. Unfortunately, Denison Witmer partially returns to Witmer's earlier approach, the end result being merely dull. Don Peris' 'Mellotron'? You means the flutes on Take More Than You Need?
It seems Jeff Witzeman had some radio success in the early 2000s, before a slump, followed by a slow recovery (which sounds like an economics lecture, but there you go). 2012's There's No There There is a so-so Americana release, at its best on opener Free Range Cowboy Dream, the gloomy Perfect Drug and amusing closer The Teabilly Song, effectively a musical skit on the subject of a certain far-right 'political' movement. Rami Jaffee plays seemingly samplotron strings on Perfect Drug and cello on On Our Knees.
Hailey Wojcik's second album, 2009's Diorama, fully deserves the much-abused term 'quirky', although I'm not sure how she might feel about the intended accolade. Personal, self-deprecating lyrics combine fruitfully with oddball, frequently ukulele-fuelled tunes, better examples including Good Friday, closer Model Aeroplane and Raised In A Zoo, which sounds like its backing track is provided by an early '80s Casio. Maybe it is? Dan Romer (April Smith) supposedly plays Mellotron, but the massed strings on Pumpkinteeth don't sound much like a real machine to my ears. Anyway, an unusual album that might just appeal to those with an ear for something a little different. Either way, Ms Wojcik should be lauded for refusing to spit out another identikit piece of weepy singer-songwriter crud. Hoorah!
Tommy Womack's career kicked off in the mid-'80s with Government Cheese, his first solo album, Positively Na Na, appearing in 1997. A decade later, There, I Said it!, follows a nervous breakdown of a severity that had Womack thinking he'd never write again, making its excellence all the more sweet. More Americana than country, its songs deal with the onset of middle age, family life and similar subjects, although there seems to be a heavy reliance on drug-related lyrics, especially if you include old weed tobacco. Top tracks? Well, nothing here disappoints, but the powerpop of If That's All There Is To See, the pedal steel-driven 25 Years Ago and the lengthy Alpha Male & The Canine Mystery Blood particularly stand out. John Deaderick plays distant samplotron strings on Everything's Coming Up Roses Again.
The Wonder Stuff occupy an odd place in British music history, being pretty much an embodiment of the late '80s/early '90s 'indie' ethos, not to mention being the ultimate 'student' band of their era, loved by undergrads right across the musical spectrum. I have to admit I find their appeal slightly mystifying, their indie pop/rock/folk mix resolutely refusing to grab me. Maybe you had to see them live. While drunk. While being nineteen. Anyway, it seems to be harmless enough, but a very long way from anything you could describe as 'classic'. As a result, I find it impossible to pick any highlights from their fourth album, Construction for the Modern Idiot, though I'm sure their fans would have something to say about that. Anyway, Pete Whittaker guests on various keys, including early samplotron, with some 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes on Cabin Fever and more flutes, in a very background role, on Hush.
As singer-songwriter pop/rock goes, I've heard a lot worse than Late Night Radio, although moments of enlightenment are at something of a premium. You know you're in trouble when your album's best track is a cover, in this case, the incomparable Richard Thompson's incomparable 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, a song I've noticed has become part of the 'folk canon' in recent years. Brandon Bush is credited with Mellotron, but the cello on Unraveled isn't doing it for me.
I suppose Lauren Wood's Love, Death & Customer Service would be described by many as 'soulful pop' or somesuch; I have a better description, but I'm not going to share it with you. It's at its least awful on the closing section of final track Walk Toward The Light and her version of The Zombies' Time Of The Season, but only because it's difficult to entirely trash such a great song. Wood's Mellotron credit probably refers to the strings on The Waiting Room and flutes on Walk Toward The Light, not sounding especially authentic.
David Woodcock's rather splendid debut springs from the same well of London/Essex geezerness as Ian Dury, Squeeze, Blur and Madness, while his voice bears more than a passing resemblance to Ian Hunter's, which is no bad thing. Lyrically, his songs tackle the timeworm topic of life'n'love, complete with superb wordsmithery and jaunty, music hall-influenced tunes, particular highlights being Open Secret, Relatively Single Man and Beggars Can't Be Choosers. Woodcock's credited with Mellotron, but the distant strings on The Adventures Of You And Me's intro and far more upfront ones on Springtime In New York really don't cut it on the authenticity front.
Woodpigeon's tedious indie stylings would be tiresome at thirty-something minutes, so over fifty is fairly torturous, frankly. Annalea Sordi and Kenna Burima play 'Mellotron' on a few tracks, with background flutes (and strings?) on Red Rover, Red Rover, something on Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard and flutes on Sufferin' Suckatash.
Although they're new to me, With Light & With Love is actually Woods' eighth album, a kind of indie Americana record, where nice melodic hooks or a sublime guitar tone can be instantly ruined by a twee vocal or a cheesy chord sequence. Infuriating. Al Carson may well be credited with Mellotron, but there's nothing obvious, so into the dungeon it goes.
Although technically British, Lucy Woodward was brought up in the Netherlands and the US, attending school in the latter, making her effectively American. I suppose she fits into the 'mainstream pop' non-category, as nothing about While You Can particularly stands out at all. Woodward's a decent singer and musician, but this is music designed to appeal to her own societal niche: girls in their twenties who want something girly and undemanding. Ooh! You patronising, sexist pig! It is, however, girly and undemanding, so I rest my case. Although Patrick Warren plays 'keyboards' on several tracks, I can't hear any of his usual Chamberlin, not that it's credited. However, Greg Bieck gets a 'Mellotron' credit on Trust Me (You Don't Wanna See This), although it has to be said that it's completely inaudible.
Four years on and Woodward has shifted her focus to jazz, of all things, although I can't say that Is... Hot & Bothered is a particularly good example of the genre. Anything good about it? Maybe the energetic Too Much To Live For. Itaal Shur is credited with Mellotron, but if we're talking the strings on Submarine Love, You Found Me Out and What Can I Do, then... no. 2010's Hooked! was actually released by legendary jazz imprint Verve, as if to cement Woodward's genre credentials. This is obviously an attempt to make a 'timeless' kind of album, with an overall '50s vibe about it, including the amusing Babies (closing line: "Will someone knock me up now?") and a not-as-good-as-the-original take on I Wan'na Be Like You (the Monkey Song), a.k.a. Baloo's showstopper from Disney's last great feature-length animation, '67's The Jungle Book. In a move of utter pointlessness, Justin Stanley supposedly plays Chamberlin on an album already full of real strings and brass, making it entirely inaudible, especially without individual track credits. (Sampled) Chamby flutes on Babies?
The Wounded Kings, named for a figure in the Grail mythos, are based on Dartmoor, south-west England, an eerie, ideal setting for a doom outfit. After all, when the only inspiration you need stretches away at the bottom of your garden... An Introduction to the Black Arts is a split LP with US doomsters Cough; although they're credited first, The Wounded Kings have (allegedly) used a Mellotron, so this is where it goes. To be honest, I found it difficult to tell the stylistic differences between the two bands' side-long pieces and I'm supposed to know something about the heavier end of things... Actually, I can no longer claim that distinction; modern metal is so far removed from the hard rock of my youth that it might as well be an entirely different genre.
Anyway, The Wounded Kings' Curse Of Chains is a fifteen-minute dirge of sludgy, grindingly slow, Sabbath and their successors-inspired doom, with a reasonable helping of keyboards thrown in, distinguishing them from most of their contemporaries. Think: Sunn O))) with drums but less silly. George Birch is credited with Mellotron, but the reverbed-to-death choirs that echo in and out of the piece don't sound especially authentic to my jaded ears; the studio used by the band boasts of owning plenty of vintage gear, but a Mellotron is not among it... As a result, I'm afraid this can sit here until kingdom come or someone tells me otherwise, whichever may be the sooner.
Anyone who lived through the original punk explosion probably has a certain fondness for 'Wreckless' Eric Goulden, one of the scene's more wilful talents, up against strong competition. Never actually 'punk' per se (like most of the artists lumped into the scene), Goulden was basically a songwriter, although his lo-fi approach would never have caught anyone's attention before the (relatively) egalitarian Punk Years. After an initial burst of (sort of) fame, he became very low-key for a decade or three, eventually teaming up (both musically and personally) with Amy Rigby, a woman clearly after his own heart, the pair producing Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby in 2008. What's it like? It's like a low-fi cross between the just pre-psych '60s and the just post-punk (but not Post-Punk) '70s, songs like Men In Sandals and the excellent The Downside Of Being A Fuck-Up defining the duo's approach. Goulden and Rigby both play samplotron, with what sounds like brass on Another Drive-In Saturday and strings on Round.
There seem to be multiple artists named Aaron Wright, including an Australian DJ and a British guitarist. This one, however, appears to be an American Christian, going by the lyrics on the astoundingly limp Louder Than Words, so let's be grateful that it's only an EP. Jeff Pardo plays background sampled flutes on Sunrise Symphony and Whole Wide World.
Rattle Their Chains is one of those infuriating albums that starts well, then, due to a lack of musical variety, slowly sinks into tedium. A shame, as material like opener Over Yet Blues and Haunted really aren't bad. Wright's credited Mellotron appears on You Got It All, but the flutes fail to convince.
Belgium's The Wrong Object are on New York's MoonJune Records, which may tell you more about then than any description I can muster up, as will the fact that they've been known to play a full set of Zappa covers. On their sixth album, 2008's Stories From the Shed (although most of its predecessors are either live or collaborations, or both), the band run through a selection of jazzy compositions, typified by Saturn and both parts of The Unbelievable Truth, although they also throw in elements of electronica and prog (principally MoonJune's beloved Canterbury Scene). Best track? My favourite is opener Sonic Riot At The Holy Palate, possibly due to its proggier leanings, while some of the less manic material is very listenable. To be fair, the band haven't attempted to claim that they use a Mellotron, the vaguely Mellotronesque string line on Sonic Riot At The Holy Palate proving the point. Be warned: a high tolerance for brass-fuelled jazz will be necessary to get any real enjoyment from this album. Exceedingly competent, but also exceedingly niche.
The Wyzards were formed in 1980 by Steve Babb/DeArqe, David Carter and Bill McKinney, splitting later that decade, although Babb soon brought Carter into his new project, Glass Hammer. After a couple of successful albums, they decided to resurrect their old band, if only to preserve their material for posterity, bringing McKinney back on drums, two of GH helping out for the recording. I believe most of 1997's The Final Catastrophe was written 'back in the day', with a little later tweaking, sounding next to nothing like GH, being more of a Rush/Heep/Purple/early Priest cross than anything, predating what we now call progressive metal by the better part of a decade. But is it any good? Overall, yes, within its limitations; were this a British NWoBHM-era album, it would probably find itself referred to as a 'lost classic'. As it is, it's a welcome revival of an otherwise lost band; why doesn't this happen more often? Money, of course. GH's Fred Schendel plays fairly crummy Mellotron choir samples on Armageddon, Generation X, the 'side-long' All Of The World and the closing title track, although they're buried deeply enough in the mix to make verification difficult. I'm not sure you can still get copies of this, but it's worth hearing for fans of the more progressive end of late '70s/early '80s hard rock.