So what does an ex-Spice Girl do with herself when her route to fame and fortune splits asunder? Crapola solo career, of course. Melanie "C" Chisholm, a.k.a. Sporty Spice, is one of the two Spice Girls who could actually sing; I can attest to this, as I worked as an extra on their dreadful film and was (un)fortunate enough to witness their between-takes attempts at five-part harmony onstage at the Albert Hall. It was only the two Mels would could hold a tune at all; a cat's chorus had nothing on the rest of them, believe me... Anyway, Ms. Chisholm has been mooted as the ex-Spice most likely to make it, which is pretty scary (ho ho).
Her first solo album, the indie-friendly Northern Star (she's a Liverpudlian) did fairly well, but the anodyne Reason has apparently blown any credibility its predecessor may've engendered. What's so bad about it? It's bland, her vocals are terrible (did I say she could sing?), the material's rubbish... Need I say more? Mellotron credited on On The Horizon, played by Rick Nowells, who added (sampled) Chamberlin to a couple of tracks on Dido's horrible No Angel, but I'll be fucked if I can hear it. Yeah, there's a string part, but it sounds far more like real ones than any form of tape-replay and certainly does nothing to enhance the already gruesome song to which it's attached.
Has anything improved in Mel C-land by 2007? Going by that year's This Time, containing the blandest, least interesting mainstream pop you can imagine, the answer has to be 'no'. Saying that, so-called 'R&B' is worse; Mel's faintly rootsy, quite 'trad' pop sounding almost good in comparison, but only in comparison. Is there a best track? Maybe Out Of Time, with some raucous guitar work, while her cover of The Strangeloves' I Want Candy is at least recognisable. Out Of Time also has credited Mellotron from Phil Thornalley, but I have to say, once again, whatever it's supposed to be doing is entirely inaudible and, as on its predecessor, quite certainly sampled anyway.
Despite considering themselves a cross between powerpop and metal, CRX (including ex-Stroke Nick Valensi) are more electro-punk on their debut, 2016's New Skin, at least to my ears. Better material includes opener Ways To Fake It and Slow Down, but, despite the album's brevity, it all becomes pretty tiresome, pretty quickly. Richie Follin, presumably, adds Mellotron-esque strings to Broken Bones, fairly obviously sampled. While the album isn't a complete disaster, I can't imagine why anyone much out of their teens would wish to hear it.
Cadillac Sky, unsurprisingly, peddle a variety of Americana than leans heavily towards the bluegrass end of things, rich with fiddles, banjos and mandolins. 2010's Letters in the Deep is their third album, recorded live in the studio, veering between the bluegrass/rock of opener Trapped Under The Ice through the punk bluegrass of Bathsheeba and the more straightforward bulk of the record, highlights including Trash Bag and Lee Of The Stone: West. David Mayfield, Matthew Menefee and Ross Holmes are all credited with Mellotron, which is rather surprising given that it's barely used, as far as I can tell. We get a pitchbent something opening 3rd Degree, repeating throughout, sounding more like pitchbent samples, frankly and more obvious distant choirs on Trash Bag. Samples all round, methinks.
Caedmon's Call are at the folkier end of the CCM spectrum, although Cliff Young's vocals come straight from the 'indie/alternative' school, particularly the irritating near-hiccup with which he ends many lines. They're notable in Christian circles for Derek Webb's on/off membership, although he has a successful solo career of his own. 1999's 40 Acres was their third album and I'd imagine it's pretty typical of their sound; a rather lifeless male and/or female-fronted Christian thing, with those horrible vocals that so many modern practitioners (and not just Christian ones) insist on using; you know, the 'fake-emotive' type than can turn a reasonable man homicidal. Keys man Randy Holsapple supposedly plays Mellotron on Petrified Heart, with a nice flute part on one of the album's better songs, if you ignore the vocals and lyrics (not easy, I'll admit), although the high notes sound distinctly unreal. That'll be because they're sampled.
Robyn "Cage" Kemp is a new American singer-songwriter, her 2014 EP Tales of a Thief, being her first release under her nom de plume. And it's... twee, mainstream pop of the 'music for sensitive people' variety; harmless, but somewhat on the unexciting side, to say the least. Is there a 'best track'? Closer Theatre Noir, complete with Cage's 'silent movie'-style upright piano taps into her country's carney tradition in reasonably pleasing fashion, although it's not enough to rescue the EP from overall mediocrity. Zac Rae (Fiona Apple, Macy Gray), plays supposed Mellotron, with a chordal string part towards the end of Theatre Noir; hardly the most overt use ever, but at least it's there. Saying that, Sara Lov has posted a picture on Facebook of Mr. Rae cheerfully holding an M4000D Mini sample player, labelled 'Zac Rae on mellotron', so I'm not at all sure we can trust his recent 'Mellotron' credits.
Cage the Elephant are a current American indie outfit, sporting a relatively eclectic range of influences, which apparently shift from album to album. Their third release, 2013's Melophobia, seems to be their attempt to 'find their own sound', the end result being an unappealing mish-mash of various strands of the alt.rock non-genre, less bad efforts including opener Spiderhead, the punky It's Just Forever and the energetic Black Widow, but that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation. Someone adds a samplotron string line (and cellos?) to Telescope and murky choirs, strings and cellos to closer Cigarette Daydreams, which do little to improve matters, if truth be told. Current US indie? No thanks.
Calabrese, consisting of three (genuine) brothers, have been around since the early 2000s, 2015's Lust for Sacrilege being their sixth full-lengther. After odd-man-out semi-ambient opener The Dark Is Who I Am, the band revert to type on Down In Misery's downtuned, punky metal, the only other holdout being closer Drift Into Dust, the two exceptions to the rule clearly deliberately bookending the album. The nine tracks in between the bookends are similar enough to be near-indistinguishable to non-fans (yet I like The Ramones...), but the two more experimental efforts gain this an extra half star. Bob Hoag is credited with Mellotron, but if we're supposed to be hearing one on The Dark Is Who I Am, er, we're not. Background choirs and a four-chord solo on what might be a strings/flute mix.
Kathryn Calder's 2010 release, Are You My Mother? (named in honour of a well-known children's book) was written while Calder was caring for her terminally ill mother, the end result being, while not exactly a bundle of laughs, less mournful than you might expect. It crosses the indie/singer-songwriter divide, the more rhythmic tracks losing out as a result of the indie influence, better songs including the string-laden Down The River and So Easily, although I can't help feeling that she might've made a better album had she not used members of the pre-existing band she joined not too long before, The New Pornographers. Although the album was recorded largely at her home, Calder is credited with Mellotron, but given that it's completely inaudible, it's impossible to say whether it's real or sampled, so we'll opt for the latter. So; a few decent tracks, several rather dull ones and no obvious Mellotron.
What (thankfully) appears to be Caleb Heineman's sole release, Fear of Success, is a cheesy pop/rock effort, thin on genuine emotion, as against the standard-model faked version. To illustrate my point, She Likes The Attention could apparently be heard over the closing credits of a long-forgotten film from the same year. Opener Welcome To The Jungle (no, not that one) is the least bad thing here, if only just. Andy Snitzer and Harvey Jones are both credited with Mellotron, by which they must mean the barely-Mellotronic strings on Sally Doesn't Call Me Anymore and possibly elsewhere. Fail on every front.
Calexico, formed by two ex-alumni of Giant Sand, play a kind of Tex-Mex Americana, which, on their seventh non-soundtrack release, 2012's Algiers, translates to 'rather mournful Americana with a bit of mariachi thrown in'. Is it any good? In places, definitely, although this reviewer found that it began to outstay its welcome towards the end, despite not being over-long. Best tracks? The (relatively) energetic Splitter, the stately Para and the gentle Better And Better, perhaps, although I'd imagine aficionados would disagree. Craig Schumacher is credited with Wurlitzer organ, percussion and Mellotron on four tracks, although the latter only obviously appears on three and, what's more, appears to be sampled. We get cello, string and brass lines on opener Epic, with strings on Para and Maybe On Monday, but it's Para that really gives the game away, with an overly-sustained note towards the end that then pitchbends in a decidedly inauthentic way. Do you bother? Only if their take on Americana sounds like it might be up your street. The jury's still out here, to be honest.
Calhoun are an indie/Americana quintet from Fort Worth, Texas, whose fourth album, 2011's Heavy Sugar (the title coming from the lyric to Horsefeathers), might be more listenable had the band listened to and learned from artists further away from the indie mainstream. Rhythmically, this is a disaster, at its least bad on its quieter tracks, notably Lioness and Snow Day, although Tim Locke's vocals irritate throughout, just to help matters along. Nolan Thies plays samplotron, with strings on Heart Of Junk, although all other string sounds seem to be generic samples. No, I did not like this. No, I do not recommend it. If you want Americana, there are hundreds of better artists out there.
Two albums down the line from Cali's Menteur, 2008's L'Espoir isn't wildly different, yer man tackling a similar combination of styles, even adding kind-of Celtic hard rock to the mix on Résistance. One notable feature of the album is the involvement of The Waterboys' Mike Scott, who adds his suitably Mike Scott-esque tones to Pas La Guerre and the bonus track on some editions, List Of Lies, both adorned with Waterboys-esque brass. Julien Lebart plays 'Mellotron' flutes on Giuseppe Et Maria and Je Me Sens Belle (sample giveaway on a solo section), but again, the strings are real.
Rather than shoehorn themselves into the already-overcrowded Giallo format, Calibro 35 play a retro form of Italian cinema music, at the funk end of the genre. Their fourth album, Traditori di Tutti, kicks off in a proggish vein, but quickly reverts to their usual style, highlights including Prologue (the proggy one), the propulsive Giulia Mon Amour and the doomy Traitors, although Enrico Gabrielli's 'Mellotron' strings are very obvious sampled.
Awkwardly-named female trio Calico the Band's Rancho California is a perfectly respectable Americana effort, although I'm afraid I'm not hearing anything that hasn't been done before, many, many times. Brandon Schott is credited with Chamberlin, but, although he's used one before, not only can I hear nothing on this album, but I doubt whether it's genuine anyway. Tell me I'm wrong, Mr. Schott.
California Wives play a breezy form of indie that, at least on Art History, works surprisingly well during the more energetic numbers, before the repetition becomes tiresome. However, Tim Wheeler's 'Mellotron' strings on opener Blood Red Youth and choirs on Purple really, really aren't.
Leah Callahan's debut, the EP-length Even Sleepers, has something of a Weimar Germany vibe about its nine short songs, possibly at its best on opener Valentine, Vampire Heart and odd little a capella closer Strip Mall. Joel Simches plays obviously bogus 'Mellotron' flutes on Where You Are.
Calling All Stars' Blue Eyed Soul kicks off brilliantly, like a modernised version of the mighty Diamond Head's Am I Evil (you'll know Metallica's version), all pounding, epic, Holst-esque rhythms. Sadly, it's downhill all the way from there, the bulk of the remainder being a kind of metal/punk-tinged alt.rock of no especial interest. J. Cason Neill's Mellotron? Inaudible.
Calliope were one of a handful of halfway decent prog bands to come out of Italy in the '90s, fighting their way through a sea of turgid neo-prog tosh in an attempt to regain their country's '70s glory. As you can see from their main review, they owned an M400 and used it extensively on their first two albums, before major line-up changes and a rather average third record that may or may not have featured a real machine.
As if their previous line-up changes weren't confusing enough, their final album, the live Generazioni, changes almost everyone again (back to male vocals), the only survivor from Il Madrigale del Vento being second keyboard player Enrico Perrucci, leaving precisely no original members in under a decade. Consisting mainly of first album material, opener La Prova (from Città di Frontiera) is as 'Mellotron'-free as its studio version, with Pensieri Affascinani, Margherita A Rodi and Non Ci Credo Più featuring most of their studio counterparts' Mellotron sections (new song Luci Ed Ombre also has some), at least on strings, although it has to be asked: is it real? I'm rather doubtful, to be honest, so until I find out otherwise, I think this has to stay here. There is actually a short burst of Mellotronlike choir to be heard on the album, at the end of Non Ci Credo Più, but while it doesn't sound that authentic, at least it's a Mellotron sound...
Calogero (Maurici) is a French singer-songwriter who initially found fame with Les Charts, a band he formed in his mid-teens. 2004's Calog3ro (or, according to some sources, 3) is, unsurprisingly, his third solo effort, an unappealing concoction of pop and rock, elements from hip-ho and other dance-related styles thrown into the mix for bad measure. Best tracks? Non. As far as the album's samplotron content goes, some warbly flutes on Qui Parlait and Un Jour Parfait and flutes and strings on Les Hommes Endormis are your lot, doing not one jot to make this album any the more worth hearing.
Camouflage are a German synthpop act who incorporate elements of mainstream rock into their thang. Meanwhile, from 1991, is a rather overlong and irritating indie/electronica album with hints of a decade earlier's synthpop, notably on Heaven (I Want You). Several tracks begin well (Accordion, Spellbound) but spoil it when the vocals start, or the rest of the band enter; maybe if the album was half its eventual length and they'd mixed the vocals out? Maybe. Mellotron (the song) doesn't appear to be about Mellotrons, unsurprisingly, although it does contain a fair dollop of not-especially-gritty samplotron choirs (from Heiko Maile). Early 'user's own' Mellotron samples? Hard to say, but they crop up on Mother and possibly Spellbound, too. Their seventh 'proper' album, 2006's Relocated, mixes their two styles well enough to make them difficult to categorise; suffice to say, if you like their previous work, chances are you'll like this. Although Heiko Maile is credited with 'Mellotron', it's almost certainly samples again. The chief use here is the choirs at the end of Stream, although there's a couple of places where the string sounds are more Mellotronic than anything else.
Given that David Campbell is the lovechild of Aussie blue-collar star Jimmy Barnes, his chosen milieu is slightly surprising: swing. Well, swing, showtunes, 'adult pop', you name it; if it's smooth, Campbell will give it a stab, it seems. 1997's Taking the Wheel features his interpretations of standards, mostly from the swing era, with a few newer numbers chucked in for good measure, not least a particularly slushy version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Y'know, I absolutely cannot fault Campbell's voice on a technical level; it sounds about as little like his dad's whisky-soaked rasp as you can imagine, but he's probably reaping the benefits of a non-rock'n'roll lifestyle there. Maybe Barnes could've sung standards if he hadn't started smoking at three months. Paints an amusing picture, doesn't it? Mike Gubb plays samplotron, amongst other keys, with a restrained flute part on It Will Always Be You.
Going by the evidence presented here, Jessica Campbell writes and sings the slushiest singer-songwriter guff possible, typified by the horrible Stay. Cason Cooley plays somewhat un-Mellotronic 'Mellotron' strings on opener Like Fire.
Simon Campbell has worked his way through various styles in his thirty-plus-year career, currently playing a rather British form of Americana, if that isn't an oxymoron. 2014's min-album, The Knife, is his second release in this area, a decent enough record, probably at its best on the slower numbers, notably the title track, with David Kilgallon's mournful harmonium accompaniment and Do You Want Me, co-written and jointly sung by his chief collaborator, one Suzy Starlite. Starlite also plays credited Mellotron on Do You Want Me, with a flute line that doesn't sound especially authentic, to be honest. While probably not the best Americana record you'll hear all year, this is also a long way from the worst, although I wouldn't bother for that 'Mellotron' credit.
Camphor are essentially Max Avery Lichtenstein (Hopewell, Timesbold)'s solo project, releasing an EP, Silver & Gold, in 2001, taking another seven years to get round to an album. Drawn to Dust is, as you might expect from its title, slow and quiet without being laid-back in any meaningful way, although it does branch out here and there, with the more aggressive The Sweetest Tooth and Castaway and the country of Confidences Shattered, top tracks including opener Daybreak, Bones and Sundown. Lichtenstein plays supposotron on several tracks, with distant strings on Button Up (plus vibes), Tired Light and Beauty In Ruins and flutes on Bones, although given his connections with the sample-using Mercury Rev crew, it's quite certainly fake.
Philadelphians Canadian Invasion's first full-lengther, Songs for the Atco Ghost, is probably best described as being at the indie end of powerpop, meaning, in practice, that its songs promise much, but often fail to deliver. Better tracks include Ephedrine, Hotel By The Airport and closer Buffalo, but, despite not being an overlong record, this could've done with a bit of an edit. Stewart Myers and Daniel Clarke are credited with Mellotron and, indeed, it's all over the album, with high strings on opener Under The Sodium Lights and Gemini Drinking Island, an upfront flute line on The Other Side Of The Dirt and murky choirs on Red Line To Shady Grove, amongst other use, but, sad to say, it's sampled.
Although sometimes described as 'chamber pop', going by Chicagoans Canasta's second album, 2010's The Fakeout, the Tease & the Breather, 'tedious sub-post-rock/pop' might be closer to the mark. Irritatingly, the band occasionally summon up the imagination to attempt something interesting, but seemingly lack the skill to do anything with it. Kyle Mann and Ian Wilson are credited with Mellotron, but the rather-too-clean strings on Shortcuts sound enough like samples to place this here. Post-rock/indie, anyone? Thought not.
The Candy Snatchers, named for the 1973 exploitation flick, were a rough-arsed Virginian punk outfit; think: The Ramones without the finesse. No, really. 1996's The Candy Snatchers is a brutal album of short, sharp punk blasts, proving, once again, that punk was only ever really over-amped rock'n'roll. Best tracks? They're all the best. They're also all the worst. This is punk fuckin' rock, mate and don't you forget it. Guitarist Matthew Odietus is credited with Mellotron, but fuck alone knows where, as, unsurprisingly, it's completely inaudible. What was that? "'Try the ballad"? What fuckin' ballad? Tragically, Odietus died in 2008, splitting the band, although it seems reunion shows are on the cards. Mellotron not expected.
Candypants seem to have discovered a form of holy grail, that being good indie. Of course, the gap between pop/rock, overt powerpop and creative indie is so small that they frequently overlap, but Candypants really does straddle the not-so-great divide with aplomb. Highlights? I Want A Pony, Lisa Jenio's vocals at their mock-petulant best, Cherry Picker, Cluster Bomb Boy and Sweet Judy Blume Eyes (ho ho). Danny McGough's credited with Mellotron on three tracks, with really terrible string samples on Attila The Honey, string stabs on Cherry Picker and outrageously-extended string notes on Fake It. Non.
Jeff Cannata's career began as drummer with Jasper Wrath, although he's now better known as a vocalist and guitarist. 2009's covers set My Back Pages Volume 1 is his fourth solo album in a twenty-year period, a fairly typical 'all my influences' effort, most tracks being fairly faithful recreations of the originals. They're largely what you'd expect of someone who came up through the progressive scene: Crimson, Tull (twice), The Beatles, The Byrds (also twice)... Being American, Cannata tackles several US outfits, not least Spirit, Jefferson Airplane and The Amboy Dukes. Somehow or other, I've managed never to hear the last-named's excellent Journey To The Center Of The Mind before; how could that buffoon Ted Nugent claim that he 'didn't know it was a drug song'? Twat. The nearest the album gets to low points are his take on Pink Floyd's limp On The Turning Away (from 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason): a strange choice, given that a) it's the only cover here from outside the era and b) there are far more appropriate tracks from their repertoire, plus closing 'bonus' Life, a cheesy self-written AOR number referencing all Cannata's faves.
Two 'Mellotron' tracks, credited to Cannata himself, with the expected fakeotron strings on Space Oddity and Court Of The Crimson King; good samples, I'll give you, but samples all the same. Is there any point to this album? We certainly get some unexpected versions, not least Tull's Mother Goose and the Airplane's Embryonic Journey (George Manukas on acoustic), so it'd be fair to say that it's a reasonable primer into what a young American musician was listening to at the time, without all the licensing hassles you'd get trying to compile the originals.
(Francisco) Javi(er) Cánovas (Pordomingo) is a rare Spanish entrant in the modern EM stakes, his trademark sparse sound separating him from the pack of 'Berlin School' clones. I believe 2005's Impasse is his debut, a typically lengthy electronic effort, if better than many, the sequencing on Zenith being more complex and original than the usual. The sampled Mellotron choirs come in on opener Sun Radiation around the same time as the sequencer's first appearance, with more of the same on North Of Circle and some particularly nasty low string notes on Zenith, on the offchance that you thought he might be using a real one.
The following year's Light Echoes relies more heavily on Cánovas' sequencer patterns, actually losing some of its limited originality in the process. Once again, a perfectly 'good' release (well, how difficult can it be?), but nothing that will appeal to any but hardened aficionados. The first Mellotron sound this time is the flutes, a Tangs-like melody splattered all over the opening title track, with more of the same on Two Toned Rock On Mars, leaving closer Interpherometry to the strings and choirs. 2007's Red Metal is a very different proposition indeed: twelve (relatively) short tracks, some beginning to approach the dance spectrum, although most are similar to the above two albums, only vastly shorter. Next to no Mellotron samples, with naught but a flute line on Voices In The Space, surprisingly.
Corneel Canters Quartet's Analogarhythm EP gives us a kind of bluesy, jazzy instrumental progressive rock; surefire single material, I'm sure you'll agree. It's actually pretty decent stuff, although the nine-minute title track goes on a bit. Sören Tesch's 'Mellotron' is no more than samplotron strings on lead track Abbygayles Cow.
Cantina Sociale's sole album, Balene, is an interesting mix of contemporary and 'classic' prog, with some modern influences from completely outside the genre. There's the odd sampled beat here and there and some current synth sounds, although used in a good way on the whole. Apparently, it's a concept album, but my Italian's no better than it ever was, so unless someone out there would like to enlighten me... I admit it may well grow on me with repeated plays (like, when I retire...), but I don't currently feel I can give it a higher star rating, although it's far more inventive than most current Italian acts. Good old Beppe Crovella turns up on the most-likely-it's-a-samplotron. It's used quite unconventionally in places, which makes a refreshing change; the flutes on Macina are far higher in the mix than they have any right to be, while some of the 'choppy' choir work is way off the map for 'standard' use, although the strings at the beginning of Una Vela give the sample game away.
Laura Cantrell is a Nashville-based singer who avoids all the terrible country clichés that we know and hate, making music more akin to American folk with a country edge, which is more palatable than the Nashville orthodoxy by a factor of infinite to one. Saying that, those of you totally allergic to anything even remotely country aren't going to like her third album, 2005's Humming By the Flowered Vine, although once upon a time, folks, that was me... Best tracks? Probably Letters and slightly rockier six-minute closer Old Downtown, although more upbeat efforts like California Rose and the honky-tonk Wishful Thinking help to knock the album's rating down a notch. Just say no, Laura. A little samplotron from Rob Burger, with a nice string part on Letters, but, as with so many albums, nothing you can't do without.
You can add Canyon Country to the pantheon of 'low-key, low-fi' outfits, although they're more a solo project than a real, flesh'n'blood band, it seems. On There's a Forest in the Fire, Nick Huntington's vision takes him through post-rock territory and out the other side to a kind of parched, sparse, Americana-influenced music, light on conventional melody and structure and heavy on atmosphere. Huntington plays samplotron, with gentle choirs on opener Rusted and closer Battle Axe. This is an album to get shoegaze fans salivating, though I can't guarantee it'll do much for the rest of you.
Joey Cape and Tony Sly are frontmen for what passes for American punk bands these days, respectively Lagwagon and No Use for a Name. No, I haven't heard of them, either. 2004's Acoustic, is, as you might expect, a document of the pair playing some of their repertoire acoustically, although it's more a split release than a collaboration, the first six tracks by Sly, the remainder by Cape. Do they work in this format? Acoustically, Sly's material sounds like just about any awful current US singer-songwriter you care to name, cheesy melodies (and is that a hint of Autotune I hear?) floating over inconsequential chord sequences, although Cape's have a little more substance, thankfully, the best example possibly being Wind In Your Sails. Todd Capps allegedly plays Mellotron on Cape's tracks, but the flutes on Tragic Vision are most unconvincing. Unfortunately, the solo flute's relatively simple waveform makes it probably the easiest Mellotron sound to sample effectively, thus the hardest to spot. Either way, this is a pretty unexciting effort, although at least Cape's songs didn't have me lunging for the 'next' button.
Vinicio Capossela is an offbeat Italian singer-songwriter, so influenced by Tom Waits that he often uses his regular guitarist, Marc Ribot. 2011's two-disc Marinai, Profeti e Balene is something like his tenth studio album in a twenty-odd year career, nineteen tracks of Waits-influenced Weimar-esque folk, great in isolation, less so en masse, with no obvious highlights, especially for the non-Italian audience. Capossela is credited with Mellotron, rumoured to be on Polpo D'Amor, but not only is it entirely inaudible there, but also everywhere else, despite a preponderance of various orchestral sounds. Well, had this been half its length, it may've earned three stars, but so much music, unless it's absolutely top-notch, gets to be a real grind. Less is the new more. Or something.
Cardiacs should need no introduction to anyone interested in unusual, challenging music; often labelled 'prog', they could just as easily fit into several other genres, or equally, fall between the various cracks, effectively creating their own genre (in a manner not dissimilar to Magma's Zeuhl). 1989's On Land & in the Sea (named for a line from 1985 EP lead-off track Big Ship) was their second full-length studio album to appear on vinyl and while (arguably) not quite hitting the peaks of the previous year's A Little Man & a House & the Whole World Window, it runs it an exceedingly close second, classics such as The Leader Of The Starry Skys [sic.], Arnald [also sic.], Fast Robert and deathless closer The Everso Closely Guarded Line [also also sic.] staying in the band's set for the next two decades.
Having used a real Mellotron on their previous album, crafty samples had been made (pretty early in '88, but there you go), finding their way onto a handful of tracks here, with background choirs on I Hold My Love In My Arms, Buds And Spawn and The Everso Closely Guarded Line, although I could swear there was a major string swell somewhere on the record, too. Anyway, assuming you can actually get hold of this (Cardiacs CD availability has always been a bit of a nebulous thing), it ranks alongside A Little Man... and the Big Ship EP as an utterly essential release.
Cardinal play a not-totally-offensive form of indie, which isn't to say that it has many saving graces, either, although the instrumental Surviving Paris isn't bad, while they get brownie points for referencing legendary Aussie pre-punks Radio Birdman on their track of the same name. Sadly (yet somehow inevitably), Luis Leal's credited 'Mellotron' on I Am A Roman Gypsy is clearly sampled.
When I Was Made sits at the banjo-driven, country (not Americana) end of the singer-songwriter spectrum, at its least dull on I Need You. Evan Brubaker's credited with Mellotron. Why?
Brandi Carlile treads lightly through the common ground between pop, folk and country, at least on her third album, 2009's Give Up the Ghost. Irritatingly, the album veers between the kind of alt.country you might wish to hear again (opener Looking Out, Dying Day) and the kind of pop/rock/AOR you probably won't (Dreams, Before It Breaks), other better tracks including the jaunty Caroline (a lesbian love song) and gentle closer Oh Dear. Jesse Carmichael plays samplotron, although he makes us wait for it, with a pleasant flute part on Oh Dear.
Never let it be said that I don't listen to a variety of music for your reading pleasure. Carlou D (ex-Senegalese hip-hop collective Positive Black Soul) has released (to my knowledge), two albums outside his home country, the second of which, 2015's A New Day, concerns us here. It starts well with the insistent Begge Sa Rew and Soldier, but quickly begins to sound somewhat samey, at least to ears unattuned to African styles. It finishes with two ballads, the slightly cheesy Mbeggeel and the rather better I Believe (Carlou is also a decent guitarist), which at least add some variety to the proceedings. Jesper Nordenström (the album was partly recorded in Sweden) is credited with Mellotron, but the polyphonic flute part in Wax doesn't ring true to my ears. So; westernised Afropop, done well, but unlikely to be of any more interest to you than it is to me.
On some tracks from Petter Carlsen's second album, 2011's Clocks Don't Count, his soft tenor voice could actually be mistaken for a female contralto, particularly on opener Table For One and Home, temporarily confusing me. His 'transcendent pop' (think: a far more straightforward Sigur Rós without the good bits) is unlikely to appeal to anyone looking for any real depth in their music, although it could be an awful lot worse, I suppose. If there's a 'best track', it might be the slightly more musically inventive Cornerstone, but we're not exactly talking Shostakovich here. Vincent Cavanagh plays samplotron on Built To Last, with a string part opening the track, then running through its quieter second half.
Now is one of the most downbeat releases I've heard for a while, against pretty stiff competition, sounding as if it was written by a terminal depressive. Thankfully, at only twenty minutes, it keeps its misery brief and manageable, probably at its best on My Old Room. But why is Zack Schneider credited not just with Mellotron, but Chamberlin, too? What, the vaguely orchestral strings dotted about?
Ballet student Vanessa Carlton switched to music, signing with A&M soon after recording her first demo. Now tell me this: how is it that a complete nobody (as she was at the time) can get signed with so little real effort? Could looks and an ear for a commercial tune have anything to do with it? Thought so. Anyway, after a hugely successful debut, her next two albums relatively flopped, leading to her releasing no. 4, Rabbits on the Run (a line from Wings' Band On The Run) on Razor & Tie. To be honest, Carlton's rather insipid singer-songwriter style does little for this reviewer, although I'm sure her fanbase will love it. Best track? Dark closer In The End stands out, although only in the context of such a wet record. Steve Osborne adds a background Mellotron flute line to the second verse of opener (and single) Carousel. Real? Well, the album was mostly recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, although a quick check reveals that there isn't a house Mellotron, while the strings were recorded at Ray Davies' Konk facility in London, who own an EMI M400, which, of course, means nothing. I'd say samples.
Going by their eponymous 2012 debut, Pennsylvanian instrumental quartet Carpe Nota play a kind of vaguely fusion-inflected 'modern prog', consisting of a heavy dose of faux-'70s Spock's Beard-isms, some near-Dream Theater heaviness and more than a little good ol' '70s hard rock; 'heavy prog', as against 'prog metal', if you like. Top tracks? Kind-of irrelevant, as the album's more about its overall impact than any specific highlights, although Obsidian's a personal favourite. Keys man Dan Pluta lists his setup, proving what your ears will already tell you, that the 'Mellotron' strings (phased, in some cases) on Thoracic Park, It Can't Be So, Bio-Freez and ten-minute closer For All Time are sampled. All in all, then, Carpe Nota is a fine album that should, if the stars are aligned, appeal to both 'trad' and 'modern' prog fans, without alienating either. Good work, chaps - I look forward to the follow-up.