There's no getting away from it: the Lisbon-born, London-based Walter Benjamin (not to be confused with any German philosophers of your acquaintance) is unremittingly dour in his works, unless I've missed his sunshine pop phase. 2007's The Dog Follows the Bull EP isn't too bad, as it only gives us a small dose of Señor Benjamin's worldview, but even fourteen minutes of this stuff begins to drag. He's credited with 'Mellotron emulation' (shame more artists can't be that honest), the cellos on Like Jackson Pollock and, weirdly, the piano on Game Over proving his point. Benjamin's second download-only album, 2008's The National Crisis, sounds great for about two tracks, until it becomes apparent that it isn't going to do anything else. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that makes Radiohead sound cheerful. Are there any best tracks? Possibly opener The Person #3, working on the aforementioned basis that you haven't yet tired of his sound by that point. On the clearly sampled Mellotron front, we get vaguely Mellotronish sax on The Person #3, flute on Our Endless Days, single choir notes and strings on Our Own Killing Fields and strings on Life Insurance.
Jay Bennett left Wilco after the problems surrounding the mixing sessions for their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot effort, teaming up with Edward Burch and recording The Palace at 4am (Part I) soon after. It's an intriguing mix of powerpop and the alt.country for which Wilco are known, with hints of '60s orchestral pop, making for a rich, detailed record. The material's good without being outstanding, better tracks including opener Puzzle Heart, the powerpop of Whispers Or Screams, No Church Tonite and lengthy near-ambient closer It Hurts. If the album has a fault, it's that old bugbear: length. Why make a seventy-minute album? Once upon a time, the double-LP was a once-in-a-career option; now it seems to be standard. Too long, sir, too long.
Multi-instrumentalist Bennett plays supposed Mellotron, amongst many other things, with a distant flute part on Talk To Me, murky strings on Shakin' Sugar and a few second of flutes at the end of C.T.M. There's a major flute part on Drinking On Your Dime, a distant one on My Darlin' and more obvious flutes and strings on No Church Tonite, with queasy string parts on Venus Stopped the Train and California (plus flutes) to finish things off nicely, although it would seem it's sampled. As a tragic postscript, Bennett died on May 24th, 2009, aged all of forty-five. Due to the iniquitous American 'system' of health insurance (a major evil of the modern world, not least due to its international influence), he couldn't afford a hip replacement operation and died from an accidental overdose of painkillers. Thank you, free-market economics; chalk up another victim. Bennett apparently had several projects in the pipeline when he died, including a second volume of The Palace at 4am with Burch; we can only wonder how it might have turned out.
Benny Ibarra de Llano (ex-Timbiriche, apparently) is from a musical family, making it no surprise that he and his brother Alex have both become professional musicians. 2005's Así is his sixth release, excluding compilations, a vaguely rootsy Latin pop/rock effort of practically no interest to the non-Latin market whatsoever, as far as I can work out. The tracks with a more American feel tend to be the less endurance-testing, but there's little here to excite anyone outside his doubtless considerable Mexican fanbase. Memo Méndez Guiú is credited with Mellotron, but while the polyphonic flute part on A Veces just about passes muster, the strings on Tal Vez and cellos on the title track are very clearly sampled. The end result of which is... you guessed it: don't bother.
Bent Eye Bolt sit at the Americana end of roots rock, Unknown Artist's best tracks including opener Cruisin' Ocean Drive, Demeanor's slow-burn and Pirate's Blood. No-one's even credited with Mellotron on this one, so the vaguely Mellotronic strings on closer Escape don't even really count as samples.
Marit Bergman (ex-punk outfit Candysuck) makes upbeat pop/rock in the way that the Swedes seem to do so well (wasn't there a major Swedish pop group in the '70s?). Baby Dry Your Eye is her second solo album, a Swedish chart-topper and while it would be easy to dismiss it as 'just another mainstream pop album', it's actually got rather more depth than that, particularly in the lyric department. I'm not saying it's going to appeal to the average Planet Mellotron reader, 'cos it isn't, just that it's better than you might expect. Björn Yttling is credited with Mellotron on Mystery, but given that he's battling against clarinet, flügel horn and solo violin, it's rather hard to work out what he might be playing: background strings? Flutes? There's something going on well down in the mix, but I'll be buggered if I can work out what.
Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart's Americana duo's second album, 2002's Something to Fall Back on, covers all the good country bases, while chiefly avoiding the bad. Highlights include rocky opener Come On In, the (relatively) upbeat Lonely Town, the superb Old Gray Deadhead and Desert Rose, while This Road Don't Go Nowhere should keep banjo fans happy. Who'd have thought it? A country album with no low spots? Ben Moore plays samplotron flutes on closer My My My, despite the iffy tuning and volume fluctuations between notes.
Laura Berman (nothing to do with the famous relationship therapist), is a New York-based singer-songwriter, whose Love Will sits somewhere in between TV background music-friendly stuff and mainsteam country, for its sins. It's not all bad, but her tedious, showoffy vocal calisthenics grate, notably on closer I've Found My Own. Richard Furch's background 'Mellotron' strings on the title track do nothing to improve matters, sadly.
On his debut album, 2003's Waffy Town, Julian Berntzen channels several great songwriters of the '60s, not least Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and Jimmy Webb, fastidiously constructing a concept album featuring characters such as Dr Jeff, Mr. Piggystar and Mrs Dandelliohn. Highlights? The title track, Dr Jeff and beautiful closer Song For The Day, perhaps, although you'd struggle to find any weak spots on the album. Berntzen's credited with Mellotron, but I'm afraid the flutes on opener Little Book and Girl From Town and choirs on A Song For The Ghost We Saw, while good, fall at the final authenticity hurdle. Nine years on, Ellie & Elliot pretty much repeats the feat, combining powerpop tropes with what, for want of a better phrase, I shall term 'circus music', making for a surprisingly original end product. Best tracks? It's pretty much all good, but Snowglobe and the McCartney-esque Across The Street possibly rise to the top of the heap. An uncredited player (Berntzen himself?) plays a Mellotronic flute part on Across The Street, with a speedy run that really gives it away.
Matt Berry? I looked him up. Oh, that Matt Berry! The IT Crowd, the magnificent Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, even The Mighty Boosh. Not the first actor to go into music; quite possibly, like many others, a musician who went into acting. The trouble with reviewing music made by comic actors is, can I take any of it seriously? 2013's Kill the Wolf is a fine album, but does he mean any of it? I'm hoping he's perfectly serious about his musical career (it's a hell of an act to keep up if not), but there's always that nagging doubt. The album sits in a kind of pre-psych '60s/Americana zone, typified by opener Gather Up, all massed folky vocals, Devil Inside Me (a more '60s proposition), the Farfisa-driven Medicine and October Sun, although personal favourite Solstice (all nine minutes of it) is more of a folk/rock/prog crossover thing. And before you ask, yes, Berry has an excellent voice. His credited Mellotron, however, seems unlikely to be genuine, the choirs on Solstice and strings on Knock Knock failing to summon up enough veracity to escape sample quarantine.
Berry's follow-up, Music for Insomniacs, is so different to its predecessor that you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to someone else entirely. An instrumental album that presumably attempts to be what its title says (it's actually rather better than that), it starts off all a bit Tubular Bells, presumably deliberately, carrying on in a similar instrumental-yet-only-tangentially-electronic region. Well, until about nineteen minutes into Part II, that is, when it suddenly lurches into a spot-on Jean Michel Jarre soundalike (apparently a huge influence), better than anything I've heard from the man himself in many years. Samplotron? Yup, mainly choirs, scattered about the album seemingly at random.
Algerian-born Louis Bertignac is a French singer-songwriter, once a member of both Shakin' Street and Téléphone, two of his country's premier late '70s outfits. Including the two albums he made with Bertignac et les Visiteurs, 2005's Longtemps is his sixth solo studio release, a perfectly acceptable vaguely roots-rock effort, although, as with so many similar, I'd imagine you'll get more out of it should you speak the language. It shifts between the expected rock-with-acoustic guitars through the ethnic-ish La Saga Des Gnous to the folk-blues of J'Ai Pas L'Temps and the straight folk of the title track, making for a decent level of stylistic variety on the kind of album that is, all too often, rather one-dimensional. Best track? My personal favourite is the lengthyish Longtemps itself, but only because it has a slight psych feel to it. Johan Ledoux plays background supposed Mellotron flute chords on J'Ai Pas L'Temps, but all I hear is samples.
The Besnard Lakes are the husband/wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, who play a rather gloomy form of indie. On their third album, 2010's The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, they are toweringly unambitious, clearly content to make the most unimaginative music they can, er, imagine, waffling along for three-quarters of an hour, although it feels longer. The nearest the album gets to highpoints are two-part opener Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent, mainly due to their style having not yet become completely tedious and the slide guitar opening to Albatross, although it slumps into their default slough of despond all too soon. Lasek and Goreas both play samplotron, with uncredited flutes on part one of Land Of Living Skies, The Land, although both are credited with the strings on Light Up The Night.
Beulah, associated with Apples in Stereo, certainly have a similarly skewed way of looking at the world, although far less '60s-centric. Psychedelia, but not as we know it, Jim. The Coast is Never Clear is their third album, sounding pretty upbeat for a modern psych record; to be honest, this is the kind of music that needs more than the cursory play I can give it to appreciate it properly. Suffice to say, no duff tracks and several excellent ones. My job is made far easier here by the band's inclusion of full instrumental credits on their website, although all the 'Mellotron' is quite clearly sampled. No fewer than four different people play 'Mellotron' on the album, including three on one track (Hey Brother, if you're interested). Pat Noel plays a string part on Hello Resolven, while Steve LaFollette does something on A Good Man Is Easy To Kill, alongside real strings and adds discreet flutes with more upfront strings on Gene Autry. Noel and Bill Swan stick some strings and cellos on Popular Mechanics For Lovers, then we're back to LaFollette's strings on Gravity's Bringing Us Down before the relative Mellotronfest of Hey Brother, with LaFollette, Swan and Bill Evans playing string and flute parts at various points. After a 'Mellotron'-free gap, the album closes with LaFollette's on Night Is the Day Turned Inside Out.
2003's Yoko, a rather more downbeat affair than its predecessor, was planned as the band's swansong. Once more, nothing immediately stands out and I suspect the album simply isn't as good, although subsequent plays (er, when?) may well prove me wrong. No idea who plays Mellotron this time round, although Pat Noel seems a likely bet. Anyway, pitchbent strings on Landslide Baby and a full-on string part on You're Only King Once, with strings and flutes on Hovering and more strings on Don't Forget To Breathe and Wipe Those Prints And Run.
The superbly-named Bible of the Devil tread the fine line between garage rock and balls-out metal, ending up sounding like early AC/DC crossed with something even dirtier, with a side-helping of Thin Lizzy twin guitar. On their second album, 2003's Tight Empire, vocalist/guitarist Mark Hoffman has his Bon Scott impression down pat, screeching incomprehensible-yet-clearly-filthy lyrics to songs called things like Shit To Pimp, Ball Deep, Mountain High and Sexual Dry Gulch, although my personal favourite veers between Fuckin' A and Born In Jail, although, thinking about it, Iron University's pretty cool, too... The music? Sub-AC/DC, but there's worse things to be. Somebody calling themselves Iowa Blackie allegedly plays Mellotron, but the squawking strings on Kicking Birth sound little like a real one.
Big Big Train (UK) see:
Big Boss Man apparently formed after randomly meeting on a ferry (as you do); given that two members were the boat's house band, it's hardly surprising that a broad 'lounge' streak runs through their music. Their second album, 2005's Winner, opens with a pretty cool soul/funk instrumental, the amusingly-titled Kelvin Stardust, several other tracks mining a similar lounge/Latin vein, although the vocal tracks tend to let it down a little, largely due to organist Nasser Bouzida's frankly rather weak voice. Best tracks? Kelvin Stardust, Everybody Boogaloo and closer Deception, although pretty much any of the instrumentals are worth hearing. Morgan Nicholls and Bouzida supposedly play Mellotron, with a murky harmony cello part on Fall In Fall Out (which cops a riff from Status Quo's early hit Pictures Of Matchstick Men) and a flute line (that runs a full three semitones below the instrument's range)) on Tu As Gaché Mon Talent Ma Chérie from the pair, flute chords and melody on B.O.O.G.A.L.O.O. from Nicholls and vibes on Jackson 16 from Bouzida. The album's best features, though, are Bouzida's Hammond work and the overall vibe, rather than its fairly minor samplotron use. Take a copy to the next '60s mod night at your local dance emporium.
2014's Last Man on Earth carries on the good work, in what I'm guessing is a kind of vague concept work, featuring several vocal tracks (male and female) from guest artistes. The whole is, once again, a record that almost defines the term 'groovy', chock-full of '60s Hammond riffs and references. Best tracks? I liked the extremely brief, Eastern-ish Bombay Mix, while The Bear does something particularly good with their influences, at least to my ears. Mellotron? Bouzida's credit counts for even less than last time round, I'd say. What's it even meant to be? Surely not the female voices on Blow Your Own? The strings on Changing Faces are closer, but no cigar. Cellos on Painted Rainbow? Anyway, a decent album, but no Mellotron.
Undertow is very much a '90s alt.rock album, frankly, at its most listenable on Hollow Shell and So Much Life. Jason Sniderman (who, it seems, has played keys on two Rush albums) is credited with Mellotron on One Way Love Song. Really?
Unsurprisingly, given their name, Big Tent Revival are a Christian rock band, so at least we're not talking generic CCM, although it's still pretty irritating stuff. Musically, it falls into a vague Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen area, were those artists given to singing brain-mush about how much they love their lord (sorry, Lord), etc. And what the hell's going on with the ten minute-plus Thanks, which appears to be the album's credits, spoken by the band. Er, y'wot? CD inserts for the illiterate? Good of them to cater for their core audience I suppose... David Alan's credited with various elderly keyboards, including Mellotron, although I have to say, the strings on Lovely Mausoleum sound Mellotronic, but are played far too fast and outside the Mellotron's range, although the ones on God Made Heaven sound a little more authentic. Strings on several other tracks and flutes on the Christian mantra (ho ho) What Would Jesus Do? (aargh!), but I'm pretty sure it's samples across the board, although I've been wrong before.
Tacoma's Big Wheel Stunt Show seem to have found a hitherto-undiscovered combination of influences on Wonderful Life, coming across as the bastard psychedelic child of the MC5 and Black Sabbath when they started getting clever on our arses and playing fifteen different riffs in one song. Best tracks? The six-minute Bud'der, Jakes Black Rainbow (Of Unicorn Death) and groovy closer Soul And Sound. Patrick Baldwin's credited with Mellotron, by which I think they can only mean the vague, stringlike sound under the Hammond on To Believe In. Great album, but non.
Formed in 1994, Bikeride released two 'proper' albums and a compilation of EP tracks before 2002's Morning Macumba, mostly written in South America; it shows, the album sounding somewhere between US indie and Latin stylings, with the (very) occasional psych touch thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the fatal combination of a lack of especially good songwriting and an irritating lead voice (founder Tony Carbone's) scupper the album's chances of getting a good review from yours truly, although more songs like The Americans In Rome (good tune, witty lyrics) or Small Faces (ho ho) might have helped. Sean How plays supposed Mellotron, with a multitracked flute part on opener Radio Ougadougou, which screams 'samples'.
Sayeed "Bilal" Oliver is apparently a 'neo soul' singer, which, going by his fourth album, 2015's In Another Life, consists of using '70s soul vocal tropes over modern programmed rhythms and samples. You might be able to guess that I'm not going to like this and you'd be right. It's not all painful, mind; Lunatic sounds not unlike Adrian Younge, which figures, given that he plays a wide range of instruments on the album, although, funnily enough, not the 'Mellotron'. Ali Shaheed Muhammad is credited with Mellotron, but it's very obvious sampled, with improbable pitchbends and way-over-eight-second string notes proliferating, particularly on opener Sirens II. Mind you, if the flutes that open Love Child were the only time anything Mellotronic cropped up, I might just be fooled, but then, the flutes always sampled well.
The Zagreb-based Bilk have been around for over a decade, although it took them until 2006 to release their debut album, This Bilk is Radioactive. It utilises techno, rock, reggae and various other styles, mixing programmed synths and beats with rock guitars and real bass and drums into what could either be described as 'an intoxicating stew of influences' or 'a bit of a mess'. It has its moments, not least the interesting Fripp-esque guitar work on Phantom, but the overall effect is a little confused. Maybe this is what they dance to in Croatia? Janko Novoselić plays 'Mellotron', with background choirs on Terminator that sound sampled to my ears.
Billy Talent play metal festivals, yet going by 2009's Billy Talent III, they're as much an 'alternative rock' proposition as a metal one; have the two genres intertwined that much? Probably. The good part is that they're not some screamy mess, the bad part being the overly-emotive vocals (hang on, is this 'emo'?), although at least that means we get some tunes thrown in here and there. Producer Brendan O'Brien supposedly adds Mellotron to a couple of tracks, with a quiet flute part on Saint Veronika and more of the same on White Sparrows, but, despite O'Brien's past Mellotron use, it sounds sampled to me. Confusingly, the band opted to release a limited edition of the album containing a second disc with all the guitars removed, known as the 'Guitar Villain' version, complete with click-track audible at the beginning of each track. Bizarre.
2010's Bugie per Asini is an Italian-language version of the kind of 'transcendental' pop/rock that was so popular at the time, making Bimbo your classic 'locals artist', I'd say. Carlo Bosco is credited with Mellotron on closer Mio Eroe, but I'm not even sure what it's supposed to be doing. The piping, un-Mellotronic flutes? The background strings wash? Next...
Brazil's Binário combine Tropicalia, post-rock, jazz, electro and various other styles into an unusual and sometimes (but far from always) danceable mixture of Latin and European musics. Their eponymous 2008 debut is rather overlong, but works well enough in its field, assuming, of course, their field is yours, too... Producer David Brinkworth is credited with Mellotron, with a flute line on Experimental (Catnip), however... Given that the album was recorded in Brazil, not a country known for its Mellotron surplus and that Brinkworth has already used samples with Harmonic 33, I think it's safe to assume that it's fake.
Ryan Bigham's fourth album is a solid slice of Americana, at its best on bluesy opener Beg For Broken Legs, the epic Western Shore and the doomy, acoustic No Help From God. Justin Stanley's 'Mellotron', however, turns out to be nothing more exciting than a vague stringy thing on a couple of tracks.
Benjamin Biolay's Home was a collaboration with Chiara Mastroianni, a pleasant, gentle, Gallic adult pop album, possibly at its best on the bluesy Mobil Home and Dance Rock'n Roll. Reyn (Ouwehand) adds what sounds like sampled Chamby strings to Un Problème?
Birds & Buildings are a Deluge Grander side-project, featuring their Dan Britton on keys/guitar/vocals and Brett d'Anon on bass and guitar. Their sole album to date, 2008's Bantam to Behemoth, has much in common with the parent band, being in the more (relatively) experimental area of current progressive, as against the neo-neo- (you guessed it: a poor copy of a frequently poor copy) or metal/metal-ish fields, both oversubscribed (particularly the latter) and both stuffed with third-rate drivel. Despite being rather overlong, the album keeps things interesting with its offbeat approach, although Brian Falkowski's sax on several tracks won't be to everyone's taste, ditto the occasional, unnecessary vocal interjections. Best tracks? Probably the opening title track and Caution Congregates And Forms A Storm, although I'm less convinced by the punning title and Canterburyisms of Chakra Khan. Britton adds samplotron strings, choirs and/or flutes to most tracks, some parts sounding more authentic than others.
I may list Jane Birkin as being British, but she's lived in France since the late '60s and is now, to all intents and purposes, a French artist(e). She'll never escape the notoriety of her infamous duet with Serge Gainsbourg, Je T'Aime... Moi Non-Plus, but nearly twenty years after his Gitanes-assisted death, she continues to record, releasing albums like 2008's really rather good Enfants d'Hiver. It's basically a French singer-songwriter effort, with little sign of Birkin's past life over la Manche, falling into the same general category as, say, French first lady Carla Bruni's work, albeit with considerably more gravitas, notably on the English-language Aung San Suu Kyi, where Birkin gets righteously political. Fred (Frédéric) Maggi is credited with Mellotron on Période Bleue, but the otherwise uncredited solo violin line running through the song doesn't sound like any Mellotron I've ever heard (and I've heard a few, I can tell you).
Birth are a new outfit formed by two ex-Astra members, Conor Riley and Brian Ellis, whose Birth EP sounds like, well, a slightly less epic version of Astra, frankly. The Bandcamp download consists of demo versions of three tracks, possibly at their best on opener Descending Us, while Cosmic Wind drops into a fusion groove in its middle section and Long Way Down really rips it out in fully 'heavy prog' mode. Mellotron? As with the first Astra album, samplotron strings and choirs all round. Excellent stuff, gentlemen! An album, please.
David Bisbal's breezy adult Latin pop is unlikely to appeal to many outside his own market, as amply displayed here. Any best tracks? Al Andalus' Moorish influence makes it slightly more palatable than its bedfellows, but not by much. As always, Armando Avila's 'Mellotron' is barely apparent even in sampled form.
The overlong Vehicle starts off as if it might be a lighter-end-of-powerpop record, but by track two, it becomes obvious that it's yer typical singer-songwriter pop effort, tailor-made for background use in American TV dramas. Peter Adams is credited with Mellotron, although the nearest this gets is the cello part on Shake Me. Maybe not.
If you didn't know better, going by the evidence on 2005's Time for Answers, you'd have no idea that Spain's Biscuit weren't America's latest garage/powerpop sensation, so accurate is their homage. The album is all American accents and raw guitar jangle, best heard on opener You're Everywhere, the punky Her Big Man, The Georgia Satellites on heat of She Got Me Bad and the powerpop gem otherwise known as the title track. Santi Garcia is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on You're Everywhere could be just about anything and probably are.
Bitchin Bajas are essentially Cooper Crane from Chicago psych outfit Cave, whose 2013 release, Krausened, although generally referred to as an EP, is actually short LP length, following three full-lengthers. Its electronica sounds like a heavily updated take on the 'Berlin School' template to my ears, indie and trance influences thrown into the pot in an attempt to disguise its origins. Either Crane or Dan Quinlivan play pseudo-Mellotron flutes on the title track, with almost random melody lines popping up here and there. The samples actually barely sound like a Mellotron, but are played in 'the style of', so this just about makes it in here. Bitchitronics heads more towards drone territory, in a contemplative (read: druggy) kind of way, with, once again, a smidgeon of vaguely samplotron flutes.
Heidersmenn is an album of pleasant, Norwegian-language, folky singer-songwriter material, with the occasional jazzy edge, notably on opener Visepsykiatri, but I have no idea why Mikael Lundqvist is credited with Mellotron.
Irina Björklund was born in Sweden and grew up in Finland, also living in France during her childhood, before working in America as an actress; a true citizen of the world, then. Her second album, 2014's La Vie est une Fête, consists of Finnish songs translated into French, played in that very Gallic, light jazz chanson style that evolved after the war. Personal favourite? The mournful Lui, but you'd have to have a rather hard heart to really object to this music. Markus Nordenstreng is credited with Chamberlin, but the flute melody on the title track and flutes on La Voix Des Étoiles sound like samples, as far as I can tell, while the unidentified woodwindish sound on Le Rêve Bleu could be anything.
Despite being from a metal background (notably At the Gates), Anders Björler's first solo album, Antikythera (as in 'mechanism') has more of a prog/post-rock vibe about it, not unlike Porcupine Tree, in fact. Its twelve tracks are a chimera, as it plays as one album-length track, essentially, in a 'listen to in one hit' kind of way. Mellotron? If those wishy-washy choirs are supposed to even be samples I'd be amazed.
I thought Black (a.k.a. Colin Vearncombe) rang a faint bell... He had his fifteen minutes in the late '80s, so all power to him for continuing to write, record and tour over twenty years later. 2009's Water on Stone is a gentle singer-songwriter type of record, all '80s influences thankfully left where they belong (duh: in the '80s), better tracks including haunting opener Tonight We Cross The River, What Makes A Fool and Grievous Angel, the more upbeat tracks working less well, at least to my ears. Given the album's brevity, I'm not sure why the download-only Agnes' Prayer wasn't included; a gentle, Americana-influenced effort, it could do very well indeed with a slightly older audience, were they to actually hear it. Although one Andy Patterson is credited with Mellotron on both the album and the download, I'd be quite surprised to discover that the vague, background strings and/or choir on a couple of tracks had any connection with a real machine.
Sister of the better-known Mary, Frances Black has had a twenty-five year career to date, not to mention becoming politically active in the 2010s. How High the Moon was her sixth album, combining folky ballads with rather less appealing pop/rock, at its best on the heartbreaking Magdalen Laundry, an all-too-non-fictional account of the Catholic church's appalling abuse of 'fallen' women (no such thing as a fallen man, of course) and her cover of All About Eve's Martha's Harbour. Pearse Dunne is credited with Mellotron, although I've no idea why.
Gus Black (originally just Gus) is an LA-based indie singer-songwriter whose work has, to my complete lack of surprise, been used on TV shows of the Grey's Anatomy variety. His two Gus albums from the '90s aren't exactly classics, but 2003's Uncivilized Love really is the drippiest load of old tosh I've heard since, well, the last one. The title track is a passable enough acoustic number, but the bulk of the record wusses along with the best (or worst) of 'em; welcome to the mainstream, boys'n'girls. Is there a standout track? Yes, actually: the surreal, acoustic version of Black Sabbath's Paranoid, last verse taken almost a capella, which really has to be heard to be believed. Black's credited with Mellotron, with a flute melody and a string line on Dry Kisses, flute chords on Debut and strings on Despacio, shifting noticeably below the instrument's range. That'll be 'samples', then.
Unsurprisingly, Black Angels are clearly in thrall to The Velvet Underground, although thankfully not in the usual eighth-hand indie manner; this lot have actually gone back to their source material. 2011's vinyl-only Phosgene Nightmare EP (after 2010's Phosgene Dream album) was released for Record Store Day 2011, an initially good idea that (surprise surprise) has been co-opted by the leeches of the music biz and eBay whores; it's supposedly a collection of b-sides, but I can't actually trace any of its contents to anywhere else. They channel Lou and friends with aplomb: opener Melanie's Melody perfectly captures those few months just before psychedelia hit, Ronettes is Be My Baby reinvented as a funeral dirge as played by the Velvets battling it out with The Byrds, while Entrance Song (Rain Dance Version) is early psych squeezed through Phil Spector's tortured worldview. The Boat Song features cello and high-end string parts that sound a lot like a Mellotron, without sounding fully like one; is this M-Tron/Memotron/whatever? The sounds work well in context, but it doesn't seem that likely that the band actually sourced a real machine for the recording. Go on, prove me wrong.
2013's Indigo Meadow throws the band's following a curveball by shifting a few years forward and aping The Doors instead, not least vocalist Alex Maas' on/off spot-on Jimbo impression. I can't honestly say that the songs did very much for this reviewer; perhaps I prefer my psych a little more, y'know, psychedelic? The album manages a site 'first' by actually crediting Manetron, which, I'm reliably informed, is a Mellotron sample app for the iPhone, although they don't overuse it, the only obvious usage being some murky flutes on Holland and slightly more audible strings on War On Holiday. On 2017's Death Song, Black Angels finally officially own up to their influence (singular), another slightly overlong album of woozy indie/psych. Touches of samplotron, principally on closer Life Song.