Audra & Alayna
Audrey & the Dreamers
God & Other Stories (1993, 44.18) ***/T½
|Big Dumb Song
The Lost Weekend Starts Here
|St Paul's Mambo
On Saturday Night
No Food is Blue
Ha Ha Ha
Big Dumb Song Again
Peter Astor is a veteran of fêted '80s British indie outfits The Loft and The Weather Prophets, going solo upon the dissolution of the latter at the end of the decade, 1993's God & Other Stories being his fourth album in four years, before he took a lengthy break from music. It's a very respectable singer-songwriter effort, full of well-constructed songs like Another Sunday or Ha Ha Ha and few (if any) '80s production hangovers, which is a bonus.
The album was recorded at Brian O'Shaughnessy's studio in Walthamstow, East London, who's used Radio Massacre International's Mellotron on occasion. Owner Duncan Goddard actually plays it this time round, with faint strings on On Saturday Night and much more upfront ones on Another Sunday and closer Big Dumb Song Again, to generally good effect. Overall, this is the kind of album which should appeal to fans of, say, Lloyd Cole or even Elvis Costello, so, with two decent Mellotron tracks, is just about worth picking up for the Mellotron fan, too. Most acceptable.
The Black Chord (2012, 47.07) ****½/TTTTCocoon
The Black Chord
Barefoot in the Head
Regular readers of this site surely need no introduction to Astra; psychedelic hard rock/proggers from San Diego, their Mellotronically sampletastic debut The Weirding got many of us exceedingly hot under the collar, even if it, shall we say, lacked originality in places. Three years on, The Black Chord is, if anything, even better, avoiding its predecessor's inclinations towards faint plagiarism, sounding exactly like Astra, but more original. All six tracks are superb, but mention must be made of the title track, which is, frankly, fucking massive, while elemental closer Barefoot In The Head, named in honour of Brian Aldiss' most experimental (not to mention druggy) novel. There may be no one riff here quite as memorable as that one from The Weirding itself, but the overall impression is of a band who've found their feet and know exactly where they're going.
Richard Vaughan and Conor Riley both play real Mellotron this time round, heavily encouraged by producer Ian Lehrfeld to use Brian 'Moog Cookbook' Kehew's lairy purple M400, although I hear that the band's Memotron still made it onto a few tracks. It's almost irrelevant to detail their use; suffice to say, they use brass, strings and choirs across all six tracks, notable Mellotronic moments including the filthy solo brass melody that opens the title track and the huge, discordant string chord in Barefoot In The Head.
Do you need any more encouragement to go out and buy this? You know, BUY, as against 'find a free download'? A superb album, already up there as a contender for album of the year at Planet Mellotron. Buy. Now. Incidentally (and amusingly), the CD booklet, which devotes a page to each of the five band members, includes several pics from their first UK gig, from 2010, my hired-in M400 clearly evident in one shot.
See: Samples etc. | Silver Sunshine | Birth
Stand on it (1996, 40.28) ***/½
|Face to Face
Much Too Proud
Slide Into a Dream
Crazy Foot Mucus
Nail Me Down
Stand on it
Movements and Pain
Don't Let Them See Your Face
Not That it Means So Much
Going by their third full album, 1996's Stand on it, Astroburger sit at the acceptable end of indie, incorporating tropes from powerpop and punk; not actually very indie at all, but I can't think what else to call their stylistic mish-mash. Highlights include the pop/punk of Nail Me Down, the title track and Don't Let Them See Your Face, but nothing here should appal the discerning listener.
Someone calling themselves Rodolpho plays a quavery Mellotron flute line on Sybil, albeit not for very long. Real? I think so, but know you what slippery devils these samples can be, even early ones... The band released an album as recently as 2013, but I don't know if they ever used a Mellotron again.
Out in the Streets (1986, 11.18) ***½/TTFarewell
Kōfuku no Owari Ni
Out in the Streets
Crystal Days (1987, 33.53) ***/T½
Ain't No Crime
Ikarosu no Tsubasa
|Illusion of the Empty Room
Remember Tomorrow (N.G)
In Your Dreams
Asylum's 1986 EP, Out in the Streets, sounds like an '80s Japanese take on the proggier end of the metal scene, almost accidentally inventing prog-metal a few years early, although track three is punkier. Best track? Probably Out In The Streets itself. Ybo²'s Masashi Kitamura plays Mellotron, with a brief string part on opener Farewell, skronky flutes and strings on Finale and cellos (and strings?) on the title track.
1987's Crystal Days gives us an odd cross between punk and metal, with the occasional burst of something proggier. The album's eclecticism is also its downfall, as the impression given is of two different albums co-existing on the same piece of vinyl, often within the same song. Better tracks include Ikarosu No Tsubasa, Illusion Of The Empty Room and closer Enbukyoku, but it's all a little hit-and-miss, to be honest. Kitamura, this time billed as 'Joseph "K"', plays Mellotron on two tracks, with distant strings and flutes on the title track and upfront strings on Enbukyoku, although only the latter's really worth hearing for its Mellotron use. I haven't heard the expanded CD version of the album, but I doubt whether there are any more Kitamura contributions.
Caribe Atómico (1998, 44.33) ***/T
El Desinflar de Tu Cariño
Humo y Alquitrán
Aterciopelados (Velvety Ones) are apparently Colombia's top Latin rock act and, going by their fourth album, 1998's Caribe Atómico (literally, 'Atomic Caribbean'), they successfully fuse message politics, Colombian folk musics, more general Latin influences and Western pop/rock to create a heady whole that packs 'em in back home. As their countrywoman Shakira has proven, South American music can travel, although it seems to fight an uphill battle away from Latin areas. I'll leave track-by-track breakdowns of the album to those who understand this music better; suffice to say, it's very little like Santana, although the rhythmic base is similar and is more likely to appeal to Spanish speakers and those who prefer dancing to chin-stroking.
Andres Levin produced the NYC-recorded album, adding various obscure keyboards as he saw fit, including an Ondioline and a Mellotron, although you'll have to strain pretty hard to hear the latter until the closing minutes of the album, where there's a full-on and definitely genuine flute part on Días, with what sound likes a single string note thrown in, as if Levin was messing about with the track selector. Anyway, yer rock/prog/Western music generally fan is probably not going to get much out of this, but it seems to be good at what it does. Oh and if you want European credibility, Roxy Music guitarist and all-round Colombian Phil Manzanera produced their previous record, La Pipa de la Paz.
Athenaeum (2001, 40.37) **½/T
Frozen in Time
All My Life
Waiting for You
If Baby's Gone
Athenaeum's eponymous third (and second major-label) album sits at the indie end of powerpop, sadly, much of its content lacking the killer melodic punch that sets the leaders out from the followers. Better tracks include opener Suddenly, Sweeter Love and Waiting For You, but drivel like All My Life and Frozen In Time drag the album down.
Bassist Alex McKinney plays Fidelitorium Studios' Chamberlin on two tracks, with occasional pseudo-orchestral strings on Sweeter Love and chordal ones on closer If Baby's Gone, neither to any great effect. Athenaeum made another two albums before splitting, seemingly for good.
Atlantique (1994, 65.52) **½/TT
Mes Lacets Dafaits
Sois Pas Gris
Billie, Joe et Moi
Les Cheveux Emmêlés
Les Eaux de Mars
Je Veux Rester au Lit
À Contre Temps
Contre Vents et Marées
Je Veux Rester au Lit (Al Stone remix)
Atlantique Khanh had a brief singing career in the mid-'90s, the heavily overlong Atlantique being her second and last album, a set of soulful, jazzy, French-language material, probably at its best on the funky Interlude 1, the (relatively) raw Souris Moi and Contre Vents Et Marées, which, amusingly, starts with a sample of Ozzy Osbourne's iconic harmonica opening from Sabbath's The Wizard.
Four credited Mellotron tracks from three players: Mervin Afrika (or Africa) plays an octave flute part on opener Pourquoi Faire, Brendan Lynch adds flutes and strings to Sois Pas Gris, while Mick Talbot plays chordal strings and flute melodies on Gris Matin and Les Eaux De Mars. Someone plays uncredited flutes on Souris Moi and Interlude 2, too, the former possibly by Afrika and the latter by Lynch, none of which makes this worth the effort on either musical or Mellotronic grounds.
Atlantis Philharmonic (1974, 36.04) ****/TTTAtlantis
II: Grand Master (2008, recorded 1975, 38.59) ***½/T
Song of Three
Amduscias the Great
King Music Man
Photographs and Memories
Atlantis Philharmonic were an American progressive duo comprising percussionist Royce Gibson and Joe DiFazio on everything else; amazingly, I'm told they managed to do it live, DiFazio playing keyboards, bass pedals and guitar simultaneously (thanks, David). Their sole contemporary release, Atlantis Philharmonic, is a mixture of magnificently pompous, overblown pieces like Atlantis and Atlas and gentler songs along the lines of Woodsman, although even the quieter sections carry an undertone of menace. DiFazio was obviously a good all-rounder, as his keyboard playing sounds classically-trained, while his guitar and vocal work are perfectly respectable, too.
Three Mellotron tracks; Atlantis and My Friend have some reasonable string parts, but the real highlight is the lengthy, orchestrated strings part in Woodsman; this one track is almost the decider on its own; an absolute killer. You may find the album a bit on the heavy side, but if you don't mind a bit of 'oomph' in your prog, go for it. Incidentally, despite rumours, there's no Mellotron on the (rather ropey) live tracks added to KaediSongs' reissue, merely some echoed 'aaahs' on Atlas from the band members.
The band recorded a second album, destined only to be released some thirty-odd years later, in 2008, as II: Grand Master. Its first few tracks aren't too inspiring - think: budget Styx, or the pomp direction Fireballet were headed in at the time - but we still get a few prog epics, notably Grand Master itself, Burning Bridges and closer Photographs And Memories, while nothing here actively offends. Still, a definite step down from their debut. DiFazio on Mellotron again, with cello and string parts on Amduscias The Great, although the strings on Burning Bridges sound more like string synth.
Blå Vardag (1979, 38.34/57.12) ****/TTTElisabiten
Den Vita Tranans Väg
Björnstorp [from the Mosaik LP]
Atlas were one of the many lower-division progressive bands from the '70s, particularly the tail-end of the decade. Blå Vardag (Blue Tuesday) was recorded in '78 and released in '79, just as the scene was coming to a close, at least for a while. Fully instrumental, Atlas had a jazzy feel in places, mixed with more traditional symphonic progressive rock. Much Fender Rhodes and MiniMoog from the two keyboard players, Erik Björn Nielsen and Björn Ekborn, with a little Mellotron thrown in for good measure on three of the album's five tracks, the most Mellotron-heavy track being the album closer, Den Vita Tranans Väg.
While by no means a Mellotron Classic, this is an excellent album, well worth any prog fan's time. The CD reissue includes three bonus tracks, one of which is the only Mellotron track from the post-Atlas Mosaik album from 1982. There's also some very nice Mellotron on CD closer Sebastian, rescued from a radio recording.
|download (2018, recorded 1993) ***/T
Atlas Shrugged (named for, though hopefully not in honour of the loathsome Ayn Rand's novel), nothing to do with any other band of the same name, were an early '90s powerpop outfit featuring the talents of Corin Ashley, who's uploaded an unreleased track, Ciderhouse Rules, to his Bandcamp page. It's a decent enough track, if hardly groundbreaking; given that you can hear it for nothing (it's also on YouTube), powerpop fans might as well give it a listen.
Mike Denneen plays (presumably) Q Division Studio's Chamberlin MusicMaster 600, with mandolins and flutes (and other stuff?) across the track. Again, nothing startling, but nice to hear.
See: Corin Ashley
Lady of Shalott (2002, recorded 1977, 121.31) ****/T½
|Lady of Shalott
Cuckoo (Love's Labour's Lost)
Love is Waiting for a Lover
Cuckoo - alternate version
Lady of Shalott (live)
|Catharsis (by Isotopy)
Nightmare (by Me El-Ma)
Toridtagitar (by Me El-Ma)
The Children Dance (by Me El-Ma)
Is this deluge of utterly obscure progressive bands ever going to stop? Hopefully not, going by the standards set by this double-disc set. Atmosphera were Israel's first symphonic prog outfit, including future members of Zingale, who are just about the only other one anyone's ever heard of and would'ja believe... they're excellent? There's a heavy Yes influence in what they were doing, with both Efraim Barak's vocals and Moti Fonseca's guitar style mirroring those of their Yes counterparts, which is in no way to decry the band's achievements; the material is well-written and recorded and it's a real shame it wasn't released at the time. The CD booklet gives the band's full history, explaining how yet another promising outfit fell by the wayside; at least tapes a) were made and b) survived...
The title track and Cuckoo are both sixteen-minute epics, moving through all the requisite changes that the style demands and although Tomorrow and Love Is Waiting For A Lover are cleaned up rehearsal tapes, I've heard an awful lot worse, although I'm not convinced the songwriting's quite up to the standard of the first two tracks. Now, the oddity here and the reason the album's on this site at all is the alternate version of Cuckoo. As far as I can work out, it utilises elements of the other version, but with the intro and outro piano sections taken from a demo and much overdubbing of keyboards, including the Mark II and M400 Mellotrons also used by Rockfour from original keyboardist Yuval Rivlin. Much upfront Mellotron, with strings and flutes probably from the Mark II and M400 choirs, all complementing the piece very nicely, as do the ARP 2600, Hammond and Rhodes, amongst other vintage gear.
The second disc comprises various live and radio session tracks, a VCD video-only track and some post-Atmosphera things, including three from drummer Me El-Ma. To be quite honest, your life wouldn't be incomplete if you never heard most of this stuff, but I can perfectly well understand the urge to make everything available, although I suspect many of you will find the El-Ma stuff quite hard going. 'Weird shit' is, I believe, the appropriate expression. I haven't yet managed to play the video material, though I expect it's worth seeing, but I'm not entirely sure the listening public wouldn't be better served by a one-CD version, too, though that would almost certainly be too expensive a proposition to make it worthwhile. Anyway, disc one is excellent, with one Mellotron epic, albeit with recent overdubs.
L'Araignée-Mal (1975, 44.03) ****/½Le Photographe Exorciste
Cazotte No. 1
Le Voleur d'Extase
Imaginez le Temps
Les Robots Debiles
Le Cimetiere de Plastique
I've owned copies of Atoll's first and third releases, Musiciens/Magiciens (***½) and Tertio (***½) for a while, finding them both 'good but not great', so I was completely blown away by L'Araignée-Mal, with its prog/fusion crossover feel, complete with great material. The only piece that sounds more jazz than prog is Cazotte No. 1, reprised with a live version on Musea's CD reissue, the rest of the material inserting some jazziness into the excellent symphonic prog, replete with violin.
Keyboard man Michel Taillet only seems to play clavinet and a gorgeous-sounding Eminent string synth (essentially a Solina/ARP String Ensemble), with Bruno Gehin guesting on most of the keys, particularly Rhodes and some superb MiniMoog work. Gehin's also credited with Mellotron, but apart from a single string note on Le Photographe Exorciste that may or may not be, the only thing I can hear is (I think) a few flute chords on the first part of the excellent side-long title track, so I really wouldn't go here for Mellotron. However... if you like your prog symphonic and a little jazzy, buy this immediately, while it's still in print. Superb.
Electromotive (2000, 43.32) ***/½
|I am in Remote Control
In Your Power
Fashion Money Lovesong
In No Hurry
Life of the Party
I Don't Wanna Go Out, I Don't Wanna Stay Home
Who Killed Rock and Roll
The Atomic Numbers were a kind of new wave/powerpop hybrid, 2000's Electromotive (their sole album?) at its best when furthest from the occasional hint of indie-ness that crops up here and there. Highlights? Maybe In Your Power, the propulsive Superexcitable and the punky Secret Identity, but, overall, this is much better than expected.
Guitarist Zach Shipps plays a brief, genuine-sounding Mellotron string part on Creature Comforts, but you're unlikely to go out of your way to hear it for that reason, frankly. Not bad, then, punky end of alt.rock.
Embryonic Suicide (2006, 47.22) ***/TEmbryonic Suicide
Hurdy Gurdy Man
Down on Earth
Breakfast on the Ocean (part I)
Atomic Workers were a collaboration between members of Italian psychsters That's All Folks! and Gary Ramon and Laurence O'Toole from Sundial, so it won't come as much of a surprise to hear that the end result of their labours, 2006's Embryonic Suicide (recorded 2003-4) is a mind-melting slab of heavy psych, almost punk in places. It's at its best on their woozy take on Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man, LP closer Far Away and nine-minute CD bonus track Breakfast On The Ocean (Part I), but nothing here should obviously have been left off.
Ramon plays (presumably his own) Mellotron, with background strings on Plastic Man, but it's hardly something you'll go that far out of your way to hear. The album itself will keep heavy psych fans happy, but don't bother for the Mellotron.
In Thrall (1993, 48.13) ***½/TT½
|No Tears Tonight
Angels in the Trees
Living in Another Time
Fall So Far
Murray Attaway was frontman with well-respected gentlemen Guadalcanal Diary, possibly the best 'Athens, Georgia scene' band, certainly superior to what R.E.M. became. After their (first) split, Attaway signed with Geffen and recorded the really rather good In Thrall, carrying on his former band's adventures with jangly guitars and meaningful songs. I really hate to keep quoting favoured artists as influences, in true Record Collector style, but parts of this album don't half sound like Richard Thompson at his most upbeat, especially in the guitar department, which is no bad thing. I suspect it'll take a few more plays for its charms to make themselves fully apparent (quite when I'll find the time to do this, I've no idea), but there doesn't seem to be a bad track on the album, which is pretty good going by anyone's standards.
The album is absolutely stuffed with Chamberlin, with the odd bit of Mellotron creeping in, all in the days before both instruments were routinely sampled. Saying that, with contributors of the stature of Jon Brion and Patrick Warren, samples aren't really in the offing, I'm glad to say. Attaway himself and Tony Berg also play various tape-replay instruments, while Brion gets some of his beloved Optigan in, too. Anyway, a weird Chamby flute pattern on No Tears Tonight, what I presume to be Mellotron cellos and Chamby brass on Under Jets, Mellotron flutes on Allegory, along with Chamberlin something. Chamby 'Strawberry Fields'-style somethings (not flutes) on Living In Another Time and Chamby solo male voices on My Book makes for a pretty good Mellotron/Chamby effort, although most of the parts are typically brief; whad'ya think this is? Prog?
Audra & Alayna (1998, 39.05) **½/T
Save Me Baby
Back to You
I Can See You
The Very Thing
Don't Change a Thing
Texan twins Audra and Alayna Maxwell relocated to Nashville in the late '90s, releasing just the one album, '98's Audra & Alayna, a breezy pop/rock confection that could've been huge, but wasn't. Luck of the draw, I suppose. Unsurprisingly, their voices blend well, at their best on the vaguely bluesy Save Me Baby and the balladic Ponder This, but, over ten tracks, the effect is mildly numbing, like being wrapped in candyfloss (cotton candy, Americans).
Phil Madeira plays Mellotron, with a flute line on Back To You and chordal flutes on You Lose, neither to any great effect, if truth be told. This nearly garnered three stars, but, as I said above, the cumulative effect of the girls' sticky-sweet voices becomes a little too much after a handful of tracks.
|7" (1968) ***/T
I Second That Emotion
Audrey Hall worked with Dandy Livingstone from the late '60s, making a solo comeback in the '80s. To my knowledge, I Second That Emotion (produced by Livingstone) is the only release credited to Audrey & the Dreamers, a respectable early reggae take on the Smokey Robinson hit of the previous year, enhanced by Hall's incredible purity of tone, clearly to stand her in good stead in her later career.
Someone plays occasional high Mellotron string notes on the 'A', presumably from a studio MkII (I'd guess this was recorded in London). Livingstone-related muso T.J. Brown? I'd imagine, half a century on, the details are lost in the mists of time.
Befour [Brian Auger & the Trinity] (1970, 34.56) ***½/TI Wanna Take You Higher
No Time to Live
Just You Just Me
Closer to it! [Brian Auger's Oblivion Express] (1973, 36.30/59.48) ***/T
|Whenever You're Ready
Happiness is Just Around the Bend
Light on the Path
Compared to What
Inner City Blues
Voices of Other Times
Whenever You're Ready
|Happiness is Just Around the Bend
Inner City Blues
Voices of Other Times]
After his groundbreaking work with Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger first made albums with the Driscoll-less Trinity, then shifted over to his own Oblivion Express, to explore the boundaries of jazz and rock more closely; whether or not you consider this a good thing will be tightly bound up with how you feel about jazz. 1970's Befour consists largely of Augered-up covers, with loads of ripping (if predictably jazzy) Hammond work, classical adaptation Adagio Per Archi E Organo (added to later versions) being particularly impressive. Mellotron strings (in the left channel only for some reason) on another classical piece, Pavane, but not enough to make a purchase worthwhile, methinks.
Three years on, Auger was on his fourth Oblivion Express LP, Closer to it and I really have to say here, if you ain't into jazz, you ain't gonna get it. I didn't... It's all impeccably played and arranged, but this is a jazz-rock record without much of the rock, to be honest. I mean, compared to, say, Airto Moreira's work, this is so... white. I find it difficult to pick out any highlights from something that's just so tame; suffice to say, this is jazz (Have I already said that?). Mellotron on one track, with an unexciting string part in the background on Inner City Blues, with the same on the extra version of the track on the CD. Whitey-boy jazz, then, albeit exceptionally well-played. You either love this stuff or you don't; it's pretty much innovation-free, like so much jazz from the last three or four decades. There's very little excitement to be had listening to Closer to it (in my humble opinion), although Befour is rather better.
See: Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity
August Greene (2018, 50.10) ***/T
August Greene is a 'supergroup' consisting of rapper Common and a pair of producers, whose eponymous 2018 debut sidesteps many hip-hop clichés, utilising real musicians, not least drummer Karriem Riggins' work on most tracks. It's at its possible best on Black Kennedy, Piano Interlude (which includes the old philosophical conundrum involving the tree falling, unseen, in the forest, reiterated from opener Meditation) and No Apologies, although twelve-minute closer Swisha Suite is a bit of a grind for non-genre fans.
Patrick Warren plays what I presume are Chamberlin flutes on Fly Away, with a complex part that lifts the track noticeably, although why bassist Burniss Travis is credited with Mellotron on Meditation will have to remain a mystery.
Girls Sing (2007, 61.05) ***/T
Auktyon/Аукцьіон (duh, Auction) are a St. Petersburg-based band, whose origins date back to the dying days of the old guard in Russia, actually forming as early as 1983. 2007's Girls Sing (Девушки Поют) is something like their twelfth album, sung in Russian, as are all their releases, with a heavy Russian folk-influenced sound mixed in with the New York avant-garde crowd (John Medeski, Marc Ribot) with whom they worked on the recording. It's actually really difficult to describe this music; suffice to say, if you're after something a bit different and already appreciate the Medeski sound, you may well get something from it.
For once, Medeski plays Chamberlin, rather than Mellotron, with skronky pitchbent flutes on Zhdat (Ждать) and the tiniest smattering of the same on Dolgi (Допги). As is so often the case with the instrument, it could be on other tracks, but with several real woodwinds also present, it seems unlikely. So; a strange album, but a not entirely unpleasing one either, with one decent Chamby track.
See: John Medeski | Marc Ribot