Torched Laughter is apparently 'an acoustic companion to the 2006 avant-prog album Smoke & Origination', although if you didn't know, you... wouldn't know. Elements of folk and Americana creep into its sound, although I'm not sure the songs are strong enough to respond to their low-key treatment. Christopher (Krupey) adds sampled Mellotron flutes to a few tracks, including a line on opener Jaw Filled Wreckage and a chordal part on Clockwork Contaminate.
Tonight's Going to Be Everything That I Said rediscovers the invisible link between punk and psychedelia, peaking on the raging Dhobi Wallah Blues, A Carnival Affair, the psychedelic Finding Pasture and Tryptizol. Paul Bothén is credited with Mellotron on opener Comin' Back To You, but the rather bogus flutes on the track aren't convincing anyone.
The Church must be one of Australia's, if not music in general's best-kept secrets. Active for nearly thirty years at the time of writing, they've released something like twenty-five albums in that time, still flying the flag for psychedelic pop in one form or another. 2009's Untitled #23 keeps their standards high, featuring material of the quality of Cobalt Blue, with its prog chord changes, Deadman's Hand and dreamy closer Opperetta, although there's nothing here that should've been left on the shelf. Despite an average song-length of around five minutes, nothing outstays its welcome either; good trick if you can do it, chaps. Steve Kilbey plays Mellotron female choir and vibes on Sunken Sun, although the band's website lists him as playing them on Deadman's Hand. Tim Powles adds a nice string part to Pangaea, gentle flutes on On Angel Street and upfront strings on closer Opperetta, with several other instrumental parts on the album sounding Mellotronic, although I think we can assume they're not. However, a re-listen tells me it's all most likely sampled.
Annabelle Chvostek's Resilience is a late-period Lilith Fair-style album, more folk than Americana. John Hermanson's credited with Mellotron, but the distant strings on Firewalker really aren't cutting the mustard.
The New York-based Cibo Matto consisted of Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda; the band name translates loosely from the Italian for 'food madness', reflected in the gastronomically-related titles of most of the tracks on their 1996 debut, Viva! La Woman. Musically, they incorporated hip-hop, various Latin styles and mainstream pop, amongst other things, creating a veritable smorgasbord of sound, with considerable variety on their second and last album, '99's Stereo Type A. NYC resident Sean Lennon was a band member at the time, though it has to be said that his influence isn't that discernable, unless you count what have to be sampled Mellotron strings on Clouds and choir on Mortming (from Yumiko Ohno and 'Zak'), although he used a 'some real, some sampled' approach on his '98 solo album, Into the Sun, also featuring Yuka Honda. So; if you're feeling eclectic, in a hip-hop/Latin kind of way, you may well go for this, but it's really not worth it for some sampled Mellotron.
The female-fronted Ciccada have greatly surprised me by being a new progressive band from somewhere outside Scandinavia who are trying to do something with the genre, if only in a limited way. Actually 2010's A Child in the Mirror's chief influences seem to be medieval music in general and Änglagård in particular; rarely a bad thing, although some of it's a bit blatant, particularly the root-to-flattened-fifth chord changes heard here and there. Overall, though, while lacking originality, this is a very listenable album, although too long by a good fifteen minutes, to be honest. Standout tracks? This is one of those 'should be listened to as a whole' records, rather than something you dip into. Plenty of fake Mellotron, with string, cello and choir parts dotted throughout, although the flute is real. Hurrah! A new prog album that isn't full of pointless riffing guitar and overwrought vocals! While this is very good, I suspect Ciccada can do better; I look forward to their follow-up.
And... here it is! A five year wait, but worth it. I'd be lying if I accused the band of originality, but within the stylistic parameters they set themselves on their first release, this is a triumph, highlights including instrumental opener A Night Ride, the folk-inflected Around The Fire and The Finest Of Miracles, a five-part epic that, er, sounds like five different tracks. Mucho samplotron, with flutes, strings and brass all over A Night Ride, choirs and strings on Eternal and combinations of the above on pretty much everything but the under-a-minute Lemnos. Question: how do you inject any real originality into symphonic progressive rock these days? Answer: fucked if I know. I don't think Ciccada know, either, but they still manage to produce some of the most melodic examples of the genre in these moribund times.
Cinerama began as a Wedding Present side-project, quickly eclipsing them before leader David Gedge split the band and reformed the 'Weddoes'. Confused? Good. Cinerama recorded so many Peel sessions that they've been released in three volumes; I haven't heard the third in the series (the first appears to feature real Mellotron), but John Peel Sessions: Season 2 consists of four live tracks and eight studio, all in the band's faux-early '60s style, clearly in thrall to Serge Gainsbourg and John Barry. I suppose you really have to be into the era's ethos to get anything much out of this material; suffice to say, the lyrics (some of which are really very good) seem to take precedence over the music, which is pretty bland fare, all told. Sally Murrell (Gedge's then-partner and chief Cinerama collaborator) plays keys, including Mellotron flute samples on several tracks, notably Aprés Ski (probably the best thing here, at least lyrically), Lollobrigida (French Version), Sly Curl, their take on The Carpenters' horrible Yesterday Once More and Get Smart. Not exactly what you'd call essential listening, then, although Gedge fans will lap (and almost certainly already have lapped) it up.
Circadian Rhythm (named for the natural twenty-four-hour sleep cycle of lifeforms on our planet) manage to be better than the average CCM band by the simple expedient of, er, sounding like U2. You don't like U2? Believe me, you prefer them to the usual near-MOR pap churned out by most Christian bands. Actually, Circadian Rhythm like U2 so much, they do a pointlessly straight cover of their Gloria on what appears to be their sole album, Over Under Everything, although it ends up being the album's best track, so let's not whinge too much... No, their music isn't the most inspired ever, but (gloopy lyrics aside), it's good by CCM standards, should you be into this strange, lyrically-defined genre. Two supposed tape-replay tracks here, with Mellotron strings on Into You from Otto Price that sound nothing like a Mellotron and allegedly some Chamberlin on Sounds Of A Revolution, though I'll be buggered if I can hear anything (am I allowed to say 'buggered' in a CCM review?). Circadian Rhythm split up in 2002, which is sort of a shame, as their indie rock thing should have given the Christian music community a kick up the arse and maybe diverted it from the usual shite with which it associates itself.
Tulikoira is Circle's fifteenth studio album in around a decade, ignoring the raft of live albums, EPs etc. So who are they, anyway? They describe themselves, with no little humour, as 'NWOFHM', or, in case you hadn't guessed, the New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal, although both they and others have also used the terms Krautrock, Speedkraut, Psych... Basically, Circle do whatever the hell they like, for which both their fans and I love 'em, whether or not I actually like their music.
So do I actually like Tulikoira or not? It's probably fairer to say I respect it rather than actually like it per se, although repeated exposure could well sway me. It's certainly intriguing, mixing genres like there's no tomorrow; opener Rautakäärme starts in a semi-ambient manner, before the speed metal kicks in, overlaid with sampled strings, shifting back to a ghostly monks' chant with occasional powerchords... Get the picture? Probably not, no, not that I can blame you. Tulilintu is marginally more 'normal', with vocals this time, in a declamatory Finnish kind of way, while Beserk is slower, with English-language spoken vocals. The 'side-long' Puutiikeri is the album's centrepiece, though, all twenty-four minutes of it, starting like an Iron Maiden epic, all galloping guitars and more Finnish half-sung lyrics, before heading off into more interesting pastures. OK, not much like an Iron Maiden epic at all, really. This track is where the band earn their 'Krautrock' spurs, at least as far as this album's concerned, with motorik drumming and interlocking guitar parts that Maiden wouldn't dare try, or even contemplate. The album's 'Mellotron', presumably from vocalist Mike Rättö, consists of an octave string part on Puutiikeri, slipping in and out of the mix, although the suspiciously high pitch (a tone above the Mellotron's top note) and unnatural sound condemn this to the sample dungeon. Anyway, that's your lot, as the strings on Rautakäärme and the choirs on Beserk are generic samples.
Circulatory System are yet another neo-psych act straight outta Atlanta's Elephant Six stable (Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control), although the original grouping apparently dissolved in the early 2000s. Will Cullen Hart was E6's chief guiding light in the '90s, but an MS diagnosis has slowed him down in recent years, making Signal Morning his first significant release in the better part of a decade. It's certainly psychedelic and in a particularly skronky way, but is it any good? Influences include Syd's Floyd (of course) and what sounds to my ears like various US protagonists of the era, the end result being varied/confused (delete according to taste). Best tracks? Hard to say, although the druggy Rocks And Stones and surprisingly mainstream (circa 1968) The Breathing Universe stand out. As with every other 'Mellotron' E6 band, sample use is de rigeur, with obvious flutes on This Morning (We Remembered Everything) and distant strings on Gold Will Stay, with other probable parts dotted around, low in the mix. To be honest, if you're after a twee, sub-Piper...-esque album, I really couldn't recommend Signal Morning, but if something a little more out there is more to your taste, feel free. At least it's better than Thee Oh Sees.
Stewart Bell has been helming Citizen Cain since their early, angular '80s incarnation, immortalised on 1996's Ghost Dance retrospective. After the dodgy, Marillionesque Serpents in Camouflage, they've moved through aping Genesis (admittedly surprisingly well, on Somewhere But Yesterday) to a more indivdual vision, typified by Bell's kind-of solo release, 2014's The Antechamber of Being (Part 1). Effectively one long track, it moves through a multitude of progressive styles, utilising EDM synths, prog-metal guitars and Hammill-style piano/vocal interludes, an effect exacerbated by Bell's intesely personal lyrics. A smattering of samplotron strings somewhere around the album's midpoint finally sees the band gain a Planet Mellotron entry.
New York-dwelling Sicilian ex-pat Chiara Civello seems to receive plaudits from jazz-lovers, although going by her third album, 2010's 7752 (kilometres from NYC to Rio, the two cities that inspired it), I have absolutely no idea why. It's a mainstream, Italian/English-language 'adult pop' release, better tracks including Latin-esque efforts such as opener 8 Storie and Dimmi Perche, let down by tedious string-laden balladry like closer Non Avevo Capito Niente. No jazz, however. Civello is credited with Mellotron, but where? Where? There are string parts all over the album, but they all sound real, so fuck alone knows. Anyway, despite its overall professionalism (so what?), this is a pretty dull release, without even the icing of some Mellotron to liven things up.
Eric Clapton's nineteenth or so solo album is pretty much what you'd expect of an old bluesman; a light, jazzy effort, concentrating mainly on covers and featuring a plethora of famous friends. Is it any good? Not especially, no, but then, I never was a fan. In fairness, Clapton's artistry isn't in question, although his motivation just might be. Alongside his clearly audible Clavinet, Justin Stanley's credited with Mellotron, but I'm afraid the background strings on Every Little Thing do little to convince.
Claire "Clarika" Keszei's fourth album, 2005's Joker, is a very acceptable French-language singer-songwriter effort, if a little musically unadventurous, trading avant-garde credibility for good tunes and inoffensive pop/rock arrangements. In keeping with her chosen genre (such as it is), the lyrics assume more importance than the music, making my (and possibly your) limited French something of a handicap, although I doubt whether she's exactly imparting the secrets of the universe to us. Philippe Desbois plays samplotron on L'Avant-Dernier, with a polyphonic flute part that enhances the song nicely.
Alain Clark is a Dutch singer-songwriter who's managed to get that American soul sound down pat, to the point where you'd have absolutely no idea he didn't hail from Chicago's South Side or similar. 2007's Live it Out is his second album, full of impassioned soul sides like Go There and closer All You Gotta Change, which, frankly, aren't really going to appeal to the average Planet Mellotron reader. Good at what it does, assuming you like what it does. Two credited 'Mellotron' tracks, with Reyn Ouwehand's major flute part on Head Over Heels and Clark's flutes and strings on I Need You, while one or the other puts uncredited flutes (and strings?) onto the title track. Samples, methinks.
After belonging to some no-hoper L.A. bands in the '80s, Gilby Clarke joined Guns N'Roses (always loved their half-arsed approach to punctuation. Not.) in 1991, replacing original rhythm player Izzy Stradlin (whad'ya mean, "Isn't that his real name?"). After being ousted a couple of years later, in one of Axl's perpetual power games, Clarke has gone on to lead a Hollywood b-list rock star life, releasing competent solo albums and forming short-lived outfits with other nearly men, not to mention bagging major parts in low-rent US TV 'reality' shows. Hey, it's a living, right?
Actually, I'm being rather unfair, as his records seem to have some substance to them, with none of Guns' horrible sub-Aerosmithisms, I'm please to be able to report. Pawnshop Guitars is his solo debut, featuring a slightly intriguing mixture of styles, with the (very) slightly Zep-esque Johanna's Chopper contrasting sharply with the swamp-blues of Skin And Bones, although the bulk of the album fits fairly and squarely into the 'bluesy hard rock' category. Let's face it, it could be a lot worse... Clarke's vocals are decent enough, if slightly characterless, which probably sums up this album's chief failing; everything on it is 'OK', 'alright', 'not bad'. I feel as if I'm damning it with faint praise, but there really isn't anything here that leaps out at you and yells, "Listen to me!" A couple of covers create a pattern for his next several albums, with passable stabs at The Stones' Dead Flowers and The Clash's Jail Guitar Doors, neither of which adds an awful lot to the originals. I get the impression Clarke was still in G N'R when this album was recorded, as various members guest, including the mighty Waxl (cough) and long-term keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who plays 'Strawberry Fields'-esque samplotron flutes on Black to reasonable effect.
His follow-up, The Hangover, is essentially more of the same, several slower and/or bluesier tracks breaking up the pseudo-'70s hard rock template. None of his material's that inspiring, but the driving rhythm of Zip Gun and the acoustic Blue Grass Mosquito are about the best of the home-grown bunch. Two back-to-back covers again, with a fairly good Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles, of course) followed by a pointless carbon-copy of Bowie's Hang On To Yourself, which only shows up Clarke's material as being as ordinary as it is. Clarke himself plays more of those 'Strawberry Fields' flutes, fittingly I suppose, on Happiness Is A Warm Gun, although it would've worked nicely on at least two or three other tracks. Spoilsport. '98's Rubber repeats the formula once more, although it has its moments. Janis Joplin's Mercedes Benz starts as an attempt at swamp blues, with self-deprecating lyrics, while Saturday Disaster features one of the album's best riffs, but even his original material's all a bit second-hand, I'm afraid to say. Teddy Andreadis plays samplotron on the album's two opening tracks, with yer typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes (again!) on Kilroy Was Here and less of the same, buried in the mix, on The Haunting.
2001's Swag (2002 in the States) isn't a world away from its predecessors, but somehow manages to be better; I suspect that after doing it for so long, Clarke's songwriting skills have improved to the point where he could actually have a major hit on his hands with the right promotion. Whether he'll ever get that is another matter entirely, of course, but he deserves it a damn' sight more than many of the other journeymen guitarists doing the rounds. Why the iffy covers, though, Gil? More Bowie this time round, with an ever-so-slightly too-slow take on Diamond Dogs, which still manages to be the album's best track, even with the superior writing. Clarke's supposed to play Mellotron on Judgement Day, but I'll be stuffed if I can hear it.
Discovering that Texan Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol in 2002 came as no surprise after hearing her seventh album, 2015's Piece By Piece. Think: mainstream pop. Then think: even more mainstream. I mean, it's not even as if it's tempered by a touch of country, or soul, or... anything. This is so bland that the moment in Run Run Run when the guitar kicks in sounds like momentary genius, even when it isn't. Clarkson clearly has a great voice (even if she does sound permanently breathless), so why so many shitty vocal effects? Here's a woman for whom Autotune is utterly redundant, so why use it anyway? Fucking producers. Greg Kurstin is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with a low-in-the-mix arpeggiated string part opening Invincible, a similarly unassuming part on Take You High, rather screechy strings on Dance With Me and a chordal string part on deluxe edition bonus In The Blue. Samples, says I.
Kill Devil Hills is a rather maudlin Americana-end-of-singer-songwriter record, probably at its best on Before The Beating Starts, So Much Confetti and the driving After The Flood. Steve Payne and Kevin Quain are both credited with Mellotron. What, the flute solo on Another Sky? Surely not?
Musically active since the '80s, guitarist Barry Cleveland stretches the definition of guitar 'playing' to its extremes, although much of his work on 2010's Hologramatron is surprisingly straightforward. His best-known collaborator on the album is ninja bassist Michael Manring, while obvious influences include King Crimson (almost all eras), Peter Gabriel, jazz and various world musics. Highlights? Vicious protest piece Lake Of Fire, vocalist Amy X Neuberg giving it her all and Discipline-era Crimsonesque You'll Just Have To See It To Believe, although ('bonus' remixes aside) there isn't an expendable track here. Cleveland adds Mellotron string samples to opener Lake Of Fire and Suicide Train, though barely on the latter; it's hardly what you'd call central to the band's sound, anyway. All in all, an imaginative and relatively original release, as you'd expect from New York's forward-looking MoonJune label. Worth hearing.
Cliffhanger were one of a plethora of neo-prog outfits to emerge in the Netherlands over the late '80s (associated, as were many others, with the awful S.I. label), although their first official album release came as late as 1995. I have to admit that I haven't actually played anything by them in quite some time, so it was only recently, when keys man Dick Heijboer wrote to me, that I realised the band used sampled Mellotron at all, precipitating a listening spree.
Although their debut studio album (ignoring 1993's EP-length demo) was a year off, the band elected to release a lengthy live tape, er, Cliffhanger Live, in 1994. In retrospect, this might have been a mistake; not only could it have affected sales of their debut proper (actually, thinking about it, probably not, knowing the prog audience of the time), but much of its material is fairly poor, possibly prejudicing otherwise sympathetic listeners against them from the off. The best stuff here was re-recorded for the following year's Cold Steel, but AOR-ish stuff like Good Things (Last Forever) and Escape are rather unnecessary, frankly. Mellotron sample use in 1994 almost certainly means eMu's rather crummy Vintage Keys module, although it was the only way many bands could access the sounds at all back then. Anyway, Heijboer adds various combinations of choirs, strings and occasional flutes to Kill Your Darlings, Escape, Hope & Despair, Colossus and the overly lengthy Hopeless.
Cold Steel reaffirms my original belief that the band had more to offer than the average neo-prog horror, despite guitarist Rinie Huigen's terrible vocals. Gijs Koopman's Ricky bass and Dick Heijboer's keyboard work are more intricate than you might expect, although the band's propensity for defaulting to bland, unoriginal chord sequences does them no favours. They do, indeed, use Mellotron samples: Heijboer adds them here and there, with choirs all over Six Minutes Closer To Death, strings on Colossus and both on 'side-long' closer Bad Dreams (Cruel Visions), although many of his sounds are generic. 1995's Burning Alive! (originally another cassette-only release) is, effectively, a live preview of the forthcoming Not to Be or Not to Be!, right down to utilising a variation on its sleeve art. The weakest track here is the one otherwise-unavailable effort, Gratwanderung, the three new pieces all being good, within their limitations, although probably better heard in their studio versions. Samplotron strings and choirs (variously) on all but Gratwanderung.
The following year's strangely-titled Not to Be or Not to Be!'s chief fault is its length: over seventy minutes makes for an exhausting listen, especially when the album could've been improved by slicing, ooh, at least fifteen minutes from that figure. How? By removing all the extraneous neo-proggisms, that's how. This, kiddies, is what happens when a post-'80s wannabe prog outfit listens to Marillion; however hard they try, that benighted outfit's pernicious influence always slips through. Saying that, the very lengthy Ragnarök is actually pretty damn' good, if a little overlong, while instrumental closer Moon is excellent, with no reservations. Loads of samplotron (how had I forgotten they'd used it?), with strings and choirs on Sewers, choirs on The Artist and Moon and choirs, strings and flutes on Ragnarök.
For some reason, 1997's live Mirror Live appeared some months before their next studio album, Mirror Site (is a pattern forming here?). The original release was a seventy-minute edit of a two-hour set, now available in full on 2011's posthumous Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001; to be honest, I'm not sure that two hours of this stuff is justifiable, other than to the most fanatical. In fairness, that's at whom the set is aimed, but the more casual listener may just lose the will to live after a while. Unfortunately, there's something about hearing so much of this style in one sitting that actually diminishes the better material on board, turning the whole into a bucket of neo-prog slop that makes this listener, at least, wish to listen to something else and fast.
1998's Mirror Site (see what Cliffhanger did there? They went all contemporary on us, late '90s style) infuriates as much as it excites, moments of genuine excellence, not least the point on Mirror Site II when things get properly weird, interspersed with acres of neo-prog-by-numbers, not least the Genesis-playing-The-Fountain-Of-Salmacis-via-Marillion of closer The Undiscovered Country. Er, The Final Frontier? The Undiscovered Country? Is there some kind of Star Trek fandom thing going on here? Not as bad as the horrible Chandelier's Ferengi Lover, I suppose... (I actually (accidentally) witnessed that band playing this rubbish many years back, complete with the singer wearing... a Ferengi mask, which is nothing to do with Cliffhanger). Less samplotron this time round, more notable parts including the strings and choirs all over The Final Frontier and the solo strings part that opens The Undiscovered Country.
The live Hope & Despair from later the same year is something of a disappointment; clearly intended as an official release for several previously-widely-unavailable songs, including material from their first demo in '93, much of the unheard stuff is dodgy neo-by-numbers and serves only to diminish their better material. It's not all bad, but far too much of it isn't good, either. Samplotron here and there, although, as Heijboer's limited to two instruments at any given time, several studio parts seem to be missing. After a three-year gap, Cliffhanger released what turned out to be their last studio album, Circle. Having split and reformed in the intervening years, the band clearly took something of a left turn stylistically, making a more straightforward record, not so much 'more neo-prog' than a case of 'more mainstream rock', particularly noticeable on opener Limits and Moving In Circles, although The Birthday Party, amongst others, just about rescues their prog credentials. Again, not that much samplotron, notable use including the very un-Mellotronic string melody on Autumn and the choirs all over Gigolo and One-Track Mind.
As previously mentioned, 2011's Dug Out Alive! 1993-2001 DVD exists as a repository for the band's complete live recordings, although I'm not sure how many of their studio albums are still available. I haven't finished trawling through it yet, so expect a few more reviews next time round.
Nels Cline (Wilco's guitarist since 2004) came out of the '80s jazz scene, also playing in various alt.rock acts over the years. Destroy All Nels Cline, his third solo release, is a lengthy, Crimson-esque album of avant-rock that veers between more or less rhythmic approaches, possibly at its best on Chi Cacoan and the gentler (note: not gentle) Progression. Samplotron? Chordal flutes on After Armenia that don't even sound particularly Mellotronic.
Make it Land is a supremely bland album of what I suppose I'll have to call 'adult contemporary'; vaguely folky pop songs for people who wear beige, at its least dreadful on Go On Your Way. Drummer John Wolf allegedly doubles on Mellotron, but, as you might expect, the cello and flute parts on Breaking Sweetly and strings on No Cause Left are sampled.
I haven't heard her earlier work, but Jen Cloher's third album, In Blood Memory, sits somewhere in between old-school singer-songwriter territory and indie, with a dose of post-rock thrown in for good measure. To be honest, many of its seven tracks come across as overlong, probably more to do with their extensive lyrics than out of musical necessity. Any highlights? Possibly Name In Lights, though more for the lyrics than the music. Peter Lubulwa's background Mellotron strings on opener Mount Beauty really aren't.
Cloud Eleven is powerpop hero Rick Gallego's nom de plume, under which he's released five albums, the latest being 2015's Record Collection. Gallego covers a lot of genre ground in forty minutes, from the opening title track's classic Beatles/Badfinger-esque powerpop, through the propulsive High As The Rising Sun, the Bacharachesque duo of Too Soon Was Yesterday and What If I Found You, to first cousin to Within You Without You, Indian Guru. Personal favourite? Probably A Sadness In Sorry, complete with its almost certainly unconscious borrowing of a melody from The Motors' incomparable Airport. Amusingly (well, it amused me), the opening title track reminds me, albeit only in spirit, of Put Me On, the lead-off track on Styx's Crystal Ball, in its 'plea from a slab of sentient vinyl to be played every once in a while'. As for Gallego's 'Mellotron' credit, the flute melody in The Mystic's Mistake is too fast and too smooth, ditto the parts in As You Are and A Sadness In Sorry, while the high strings on Too Soon Was Yesterday just don't have that 'authentic' ring about them. Nonetheless, a fine album from an unfairly obscure talent.
David Clynick's soundtrack for the Perfect Dark Zero Xbox game is pretty much exactly what you'd expect of a game soundtrack: mostly an electronic/metal hybrid, with hip-hop elements thrown in for good (?) measure. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would choose to listen to this mash-up for pleasure; isn't it irritating enough while playing the game? Several tracks feature samples that may or may not have been recorded from a Mellotron sometime in their ancestral past, although the only track on which it's actually credited, closer Pearl Necklace (actually by MorrisonPoe), it's completely inaudible. Unsurprisingly, although I applaud this album's professionalism, I really can't recommend its actual contents, fake Mellotron or no fake Mellotron.
C'mon Tigre are an anonymous duo from Bologna, whose eponymous 2014 debut combines a whole host of genres into a relatively original whole, not least various types of jazz, soul, funk, experimental... One of the most notable things about the album is its unusual use of brass, many tracks featuring mournful flugelhorn and/or euphonium parts, heavily (and refreshingly) out of kilter with the soul/jazz mainstream. Best tracks? Maybe sparse opener Rabat, the Hammond-heavy December and Life As A Preened Tuxedo Jacket, complete with some raucous guitar work. Ahmad Oumar is credited with 'drum machine and Mellotron' on six tracks, but, while the beatbox is fairly obvious, there's absolutely no sign of anything Mellotronic. Since it seems unlikely that he'd bother dragging a real machine in, only for it not to be used, samples (even inaudible ones) seem the obvious option. A surprisingly original release, then, though not one that's likely to get that many of you excited, I'd imagine.
Curio defines that wetter-than-wet indie sound, like Coldplay on mogadons. OK, more mogadons. Drive is the only thing here with a tempo higher than 'letheragic', which shouldn't be taken as a recommendation. Joshua Rifkin's 'Mellotron' is no more than some suitably weak-as-water strings on Breathe (Curio).
Tom Cochrane is better known as Canadian stars Red Rider's mainman; going solo in the early '90s, he's now reunited with two of the band's other founding members. His fifth solo album (including one pre-Red Rider release), 1999's X-Ray Sierra (presumably the phonetic alphabet code for XS/excess), is a rootsy AOR effort of the kind that sounds best coming from your car radio as you drive across the prairie, although it all falls a bit flat on a rainy afternoon in Britain (OK, it didn't rain today, but you know what I mean). Best track? Probably closer Northern Frontier, although it would've been improved by the removal of the almost random percussion slathered all over it. Cochrane is credited with Mellotron, but going by the strings on opener I Wonder, er, I wonder, frankly. In fact, I wonder to the point where I've dumped this into 'samples'. One for fans of radio rock, then, but the rest of us really should avoid.
French duo Cocoon play a melancholy kind of English-language folk/pop; even the more upbeat songs on their debut album, 2007's My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash (miserablists? Us?) have an, er, downbeat side to them, despite the cutesy sleeve. It's a perfectly respectable album of its type, but you'll probably have to be into that Gallic thing to gain an awful lot from it. Despite a Mellotron credit, the strings on Cliffhanger and (especially) flutes on Chupee are quite clearly sampled, if not merely synth approximations of the sounds. Very poor, at least on that front. So; listenable enough, but a rather large excitement gap, though to be fair, that's really not where Cocoon are coming from.
Code of Ethics apparently started as a more techno-based proposition than we hear on '96's Soulbait, best described as pop/rock with an electronica edge (spot the Star Trek computer sample in the punky Brightside). They're apparently Christians, but les overtly than many, although that could say a lot about how little I listen to lyrics, I suppose. It's all pretty tedious stuff, to be honest, chuntering along to no particular purpose, switching between bright'n'breezy pop (Good Things) and darker material (most of the rest), seemingly designed to appeal solely to mildly disaffected (Christian) Young People, most of whom have probably grown out of it by now. Well, let's hope, anyway. 'Mellotron' from Tedd T (no, really) on Echo, with a 'yeah, whatever' cello part that could, frankly, have been played on almost anything that sounds slightly like a cello. All in all, then, a waste of time and plastic, unless you were a certain age in the mid-'90s, in which case this may well still be your favourite album, proof that you need to listen to more music. Oh, and the sleeve's shit, too.
Guitarist Marco Corona moved from LA to Monterrey in Mexico during the '90s, recruiting a group of classically-trained musicians to record Códice's lone album, 1999's double-disc Alba y Ocaso. A fair proportion of the set falls into the typical 'symphonic' category, highlights including Página Del Pasado, beautiful instrumental interlude El Relato Del Bardo, Vorágine and Corriente Abajo, amongst others. Unfortunately, the album also features elements of sub-Spock's Beard-ish 'modern prog' and full-on '80s neo-, the worst example being El Eco De Tu Voz. Other stylistic quirks include the sequencer-driven synth work on Labyrinths - A Log Of Dreams, more modern EM than prog, Into The Machine is clearly heavily influenced by ELP, while parts (but only parts) of A New Millennium have an almost Focus vibe about them. Either Corona or Mario Mendoza plays the occasional sampled Mellotron, with distinct string parts on Página Del Pasado and Corriente Abajo and, possibly, less obvious ones elsewhere. It's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend an album this long, as its near-two hour length fails to hold the average listener's attention; 'symph fatigue', possibly. It has excellent moments, not least its several brief interludes, but so much music (and not all of it good) in one hit is far too much of a passably good thing.
I've seen Adam 'son of Leonard' and ex-Mommyhead Cohen's debut, eponymous album described as 'adult contemporary'. Now, if the thought of that makes your blood run cold, you're absolutely right; I'm afraid to say that this is one of the dreariest set of songs it's been my misfortune to hear in a while, no matter who his dad is. Admittedly, there are some decent lyrics hidden away here and there, but the appallingly 'contemporary' production sheen (now, of course, sounding horrendously out of date) is physically painful to listen to, with absolutely none of his dad's OTT melancholy, not to mention sense of humour. Samplotron on two tracks from Steve Lindsey, with regular strings on opener Tell Me Everything and phased ones on Cry Ophelia, but we're not exactly talking essential listening here.
Len's Last Laugh? 2016's You Want it Darker is Leonard Cohen's last album, his parts recorded at home, then e-mailed to his musicians. Cohen barely sings throughout the album's length (then again, did he ever?), intoning most of his highly personal lyrics in his usual style. Leonard Cohen really did do the best Leonard Cohen ever, didn't he? Difficult to pinpoint 'best tracks'; the album works best as a whole, although its bookends (the title track and String Reprise/Treaty) are possibly the greatest moments on this posthumous release. The album's last line? "I wish there was a treaty/between your love and mine". Back to the prosaic Land Of Mellotron, Zac Rae plays it on two tracks, although the evidence that he's gone over to the dark(er) side (samples, duh) is growing hourly. Anyway, we get background strings on Leaving The Table and near-inaudible flutes on Traveling Light, but, if even if they're real, they're an irrelevance in the context of a great artist's final work.