album list


The Milk Carton Kids  (US)

All the Things That I Did & All the Things That I Didn't Do  (2018,  51.37)  ***

California's Milk Carton Kids are the duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn't Do being their fifth album, shifting seamlessly between folk and country tropes, at its possible best on the haunting, ten-minute One More For The Road. Wilco's Pat Sansone is credited with Mellotron on two tracks, but, not only was this not recorded at Wilco's Chicago studio, but the cellos (?) on You Break My Heart and vibes on All the Things... honestly don't sound that Mellotronic.

Bill Miller  (US)

Raven in the Snow  (1995,  54.37)  ***

Bill Miller's Native American heritage informs Raven in the Snow, heavily in places, although much of it falls neatly into the Americana bracket. Highlights? Listen To Me, the ethnic flute-driven Red Bird, Yellow Sun and After The Storm, maybe. David Hoffner plays samplotron flutes on Listen To Me.

Michael Miller  (US)

When We Come to  (2003,  44.30)  **½

I've seen Michael Miller compared to the likes of Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, a case of wishful thinking if ever I heard one. When We Come to isn't actually bad, but nor is it that good, the insipid likes of Naked Prayer and Pony Ride dragging the less uninteresting tracks down with them. Someone plays distant samplotron strings on Smile Priscilla and flutes somewhere else.

Rhett Miller  (US)

Rhett Miller  (2009,  42.25)  ***
The Traveler  (2015,  46.23)  ***

Rhett Miller's eponymous 2009 release, while perfectly pleasant, is all a bit unengaging, being more alt.country than The Believer's powerpop and a more downbeat record all round. Despite the presence of Jon Brion, Rip Rowan plays samplotron, with ripping pitchbent strings on Another Girlfriend, plus a more subdued part on closer Sometimes. 2015's The Traveler is another decent album, without being in any way startling. Highlights include opener Wanderlust, with some fiery banjo and fiddle playing, Jules, Fair Enough and Good Night, but nothing here should offend. Jenny Conlee-Drizos allegedly plays Chamberlin, but, amongst all the real strings on the album, it's entirely inaudible.

Rick Miller  (Canada)

Dreamtigers  (2004,  42.42)  **½

Rick Miller is a Canadian musician who, I believe, started off in the new age field, having minor success with 1984's Starsong. Two decades on, his 'mood music' background is all too apparent in his first progressive album, Dreamtigers. It's one of those records where, if you put the virtual needle down at almost any point along its length and play it for a few seconds, you'll think, "None more prog!" Unfortunately, listen for much longer and you'll quickly tire of the repetitious, simplistic chord structures and the all-too-obvious melodies. It's not that it's bad, exactly, more, well, dull. Nor is originality exactly Miller's strong suite; I keep hearing vaguely familiar chord changes or snatches of melody: Kansas here, Steve Hackett there, not to mention the Hackett-referencing Return Of The Acolyte. Although he credits himself with 'Mellotron', the samples on display here are pretty obvious, with strings across the whole album and the occasional flute part, although the choirs sound like something else entirely. Anyway, if you're up for a vaguely Gandalf-like new age/simplistic prog crossover with plenty of sampled Mellotron, Miller's yer man.

Chris Mills  (US)

The Silver Line  (2002,  37.16)  **½

The Silver Line is an album of mournful kind-of Americana, albeit not in an especially interesting way. This appears to be another of those albums which used to have an online reference to Dave Max Crawford's Mellotron use, but doesn't any more, the relevant track, Everything's Gonna Be Cool, featuring real strings.

Leslie Mills  (US)

Different for Girls  (2003,  51.37)  **

I'm not sure why Leslie Mills has the male form of her name, but she does. Married to Aussie ex-pat Chris Pelcer (himself a past Mellotron user), her first album, 2003's Different for Girls mixes'n'matches genres, shifting between the pop/punk of the opening title track (about the best thing here), limp balladry (Violet, Good Life, Wings) and mainstream pop/rock (most of the rest), in a generally displeasing fashion. Dave Barron is supposed to play Mellotron, but the nearest anything here gets to one is the vaguely Mellotronic background strings on the title track, which I'd be willing to wager have little to do with a real machine. I can't imagine why on earth you'd want to find out for yourself, anyway.

David Minasian  (US)

Random Acts of Beauty  (2010,  61.49)  **½

Classically-trained pianist David Minasian is best known for his DVD production work, although he was persuaded to record 2010's Random Acts of Beauty (actually his second solo album) by Camel's Andy Latimer, after working with him on several DVD projects. It sits firmly at the more 'lightweight symphonic' end of the progressive spectrum, having more in common with The Moody Blues or Barclay James Harvest than any of the genre's more musically adept outfits. Key changes or modulations are pretty much an unknown quantity here, every track (average length: slightly over eight minutes) beginning in one key and doggedly sticking to it through thick and thin, while most of opener Masquerade sounds like it's about to break into Justin Hayward's soft rock 'classic', Forever Autumn (from Jeff Wayne's crummy War of the Worlds) which hopefully gives you some idea of the album's sound. And it's far too long.

Minasian credits himself with 'Mellotron', to which I can only say: you have to be joking, pal. OK, you couldn't source a real one, so don't make out you have. To be honest, the string and choir parts here don't even sound like a Mellotron, just generic samples, along with every other keyboard sound used. Despite the number of rave reviews this has picked up online, I'm afraid I have to say, this is only going to keep the most undemanding prog fan happy; like many other acts I could name, it has only the most distant of connections with its '70s forebears. Christ, even Camel (never the most demanding of listens) sound complex in comparison. More the prog end of soft rock than anything truly progressive.

The Minders  (US)

Right as Rain/Up & Away 7"  (1999)  **½

The Minders are an American psych/indie outfit, initially featuring two members of Apples in Stereo, before going on to forge their own identity. Out of a ten-album career (including two compilations of singles), I've heard a grand total of two tracks, so it seems a little unfair to judge them on those. However, what choice do I have? I always feel I should like Elephant Six Collective bands more than I do; the same goes for this lot, sadly. OK-ish US indie with a vague psych bent is all a bit reinventing the wheel, to my ears. Rebecca Cole plays 'Mellotronics' on the flip, Up & Away, which amounts to 'a stringy-sounding thing that might just be Mellotron samples'. You may like this, but I'd find it difficult to recommend.

MindSpiral  (US)

It's Come 2 This  (2006,  62.13)  ***

Going by It's Come 2 This, MindSpiral operate at the gentler end of the EM spectrum, to the point where, in places, you barely notice anything's happenening at all. EM/new age crossover? Very little samplotron, either way, merely flutes on The Screaming Reds.

Darcie Miner  (US)

Loneliness Anonymous  (2009,  42.44)  **½

Although Darcie Miner's been around for a while, 2009's Loneliness Anonymous is her first full-length album, after EPs in '02 and '05. She's probably best described as her generation's Sheryl Crow; the same kind of alt.country-influenced mainstream singer-songwriter style and songs about relationships that aren't really going to appeal to anyone used to anything more sophisticated, be it King Crimson or Richard Thompson. The album's a long way from 'terrible', but also quite a trot from 'excellent', leaving it in a no-man's land of relative mediocrity, with no real standout tracks. Matt Thomas plays samplotron, with a lush string part on the title track and cellos on Trainwreck In Pennsylvania, complete with sample-giveaway overly-even attack.

Ming  (US)

Summer Day  (2007,  43.27)  *

I think Ming Chou is Chinese-born, but grew up in the LA area, deciding, for reasons known only to himself, to become a Christian artist. Summer Day is full of hideous 'transcendent' CCM, faceless adult pop with shit lyrics for the hard of thinking. Seriously, this is enough to trigger violent feelings in the most pacifistic of individuals. Does anything here rescue this from immolation? No, but Holy, Holy, Holy is a pop/punk version of the well-known hymn (!), while Yes You Are kicks out the jams, albeit fairly gently. These aren't to be taken as recommendations, mind... Justin Schier's 'Mellotron'? What, the strings all over opener Bless Yourself? Fuck off.

Mini Mansions  (US)

The Great Pretenders  (2015,  45.02)  **

I've seen Mini Mansions mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Tame Impala and Arctic Monkeys, which might give you some idea of the contents of their second album, 2015's The Great Pretenders. My best shot as describing it is a kind of electro-indie, better tracks including Mirror Mountain and, er, that's about it, while the bulk of the record merely serves to irritate. Obviously sampled Mellotron throughout, of course, with strings on Any Emotions, Vertigo, Honey, I'm Home, Heart Of Stone and Double Visions, plus little bursts of choir here and there. It's all a bit irrelevant, really; I'm not going to recommend this and you're probably not going to bother hearing it.

Minot  (US)

The Ringing Silence Between Your Ears/The Means Relativize the Ends 7"  (2013)  ***

Minot play a kind of instrumental, punky, psychedelic post-rock, for want of a better description, their 2013 single being a decent enough listen. Benjamin Thorne's credited with Mellotron, but I can't get too excited about the cello part on The Means Relativize The Ends.

Minotaur Shock  (UK)

Maritime  (2005,  52.39)  ***

Bristol-based David Edwards' one-man-band project Minotaur Shock specialise in electronica, I suppose. His/their third album, Maritime, consists of a host of sampled instruments juxtaposed with considerable care and harmonic invention, although his use of percussion samples becomes wearing after a while (closer Four Magpies in particular). You've probably really got to be into this style to get very much out of this album, although parts of it could be considered restful, if that's what you're after. Edwards plays 'Mellotron' on a couple of tracks, although I'm quite sure it's sampled, with flutes on Vigo Bay and strings, choirs and background flutes on (deep breath) Somebody Once Told Me It Existed But They Never Found It, although the cellos on Luck Shield sound like generic samples. So; British electronica on 4AD (home to the Cocteau Twins, amongst others), a couple of tracks of sampled Mellotron. Done deal.

Minotaurus  (Germany)

Fly Away  (1978,  41.51)  ***

Fly Away is, in some ways, an above-average German progressive album of its type, if only because most of the competition was so woeful. Let's be honest; German symphonic prog is mostly a bit rubbish, although, of course, there are some major exceptions. This is a perfectly decent record, if somewhat low-budget; at least the band understood dynamics and didn't just slather layers of bland string synth over everything in sight. Dietmar Barzen is credited with Mellotron. It isn't.

Mint Chicks  (New Zealand)

Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!  (2006,  45.58)  ***

The Mint Chicks were a kind of punk/noise/experimental outfit, unsurprisingly signed to Flying Nun, New Zealand's premier alternative label. Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! shifts between several styles, including fairly authentic '77 punk (opener Ockham's Razor, You're Just As Confused As I Am), twisted powerpop (Welcome To Nowhere, Real Friends) and quirky, Split Enz on steroids fare (This Is Your Last Chance To Be Famous, My Love and If My Arm Was A Mic Stand, Would You Hold My Hand?, the latter definitely the album's best track). Kody Nielson's Mellotron credit presumably refers to the sampled flutes on Real Friends.

Kelly Minter  (US)

Wrestling the Angels  (2003,  42.33)  *½

2003's Wrestling the Angels is Kelly Minter's third (and second major-label) release; a sloppier selection of gloopy Christian balladry it would be hard to imagine, frankly. Love Has Come's alt.rock makes a welcome change from the standard sickly-sweet balladry, which isn't to say it's any good, just the least bad thing here. Bizarrely, an Amazon review opines that (I paraphrase), "While most CCM has little substance, this album has stacks". Where, sir, where? Stephen Leiweke plays a brief near-solo samplotron flute part on the final verse on Walk Me Through, the album's other least offensive track.

Minus Maja  (Norway)

Desember  (2001,  45.26)  **

Minus Maja play a particularly tedious form of downbeat indie on Desember, at its least uninteresting on closer Send En Mail #2. Lars Lien allegedly plays Mellotron, but the string part on København is quite clearly sampled.

Holly Miranda  (US)

The Magician's Private Library  (2010,  42.28)  **½
Holly Miranda  (2015,  40.11)  **½

Holly Miranda plays a kind of folky indie electronica, which sounds like several contradictions in terms, but is about the best description I can summon up. 2010's The Magician's Private Library (apparently her uncle's superb description of Dark Side of the Moon) is her third released album (her second on an actual label), although it seems there's an unreleased effort dating from her teens sitting in the BMG vaults. It's harmless enough, but rather drippy, to be honest. Let's face it, I'm not her target audience; wrong sex, wrong age. Shit, wrong generation. It has its moments, but production tricks like the irritating string-ish sound on No One Just Is really don't help. Producer David Andrew (Dave) Sitek, of TV on the Radio, plays 'Mellotron', with distant choirs on Joints and less distant ones on Sweet Dreams, although Slow Burn Treason features a string note that holds for around a minute and is clearly nothing of the sort. I thought the string part on Everytime I Go To Sleep sounded wobbly enough to be genuine, especially at the end of the song, but it turns out to be real, which says something about how good the original Mellotron sounds were. Anyway, light years away from the commercial dross that clogs up the airwaves, but not something I'd want to hear too often. Her third, self-titled album lets the quality drop somewhat, while not being so different, stylewise, from its predecessor. Mellotron on Come On from both Miranda and Sitek again, who also produced the track, with strings (and mandolin?), although a credit on the track for 'sampler' doesn't help. Sorry, but I find it difficult to enthuse about this kind of stuff.

Mission of Burma  (US)

The Obliterati  (2006,  51.41)  ***

Mission of Burma formed in 1979, but only made one studio album before splitting four years later, two members going on to form Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Three of the four original members reformed nearly twenty years after the split, releasing another three albums to date, the second being 2006's The Obliterati. Staying true to their post-punk roots, better tracks include the wittily-titled Donna Sumeria, incorporating the band's mutation (mutilation?) of I Feel Love, the dynamic Man In Decline and closer Nancy Reagan's Head. It's difficult to say for certain, but the weird, solo male voice on Nancy Reagan's Head sounds an awful lot like the notorious Chamberlin sound, although it seems unlikely a real one was used on the recording. You're not going to buy this for its brief Chamby sample use, but anyone who liked the original band should be wary of dismissing their recent work.

Mist & Mast  (US)

Mist & Mast  (2007,  35.18)  **½

Mist & Mast play a terribly unexciting form of rather ramshackle indie on their eponymous album, at its least dull on Eyes Adjust To The Dark. Jason Lakis' 'Mellotron' is clearly sampled, with high-end cellos on Glass Tiles and strings on Core Deep.

Mizukagami  (Japan)

Mizukagami  (2003,  48.06)  ***
Yugake  (2007,  41.17)  ***

Mizukagami, named for a Japanese historical epic, are a current progressive outfit, taking their inspiration from the '70s bands and the first wave of Japanese prog, I'm pleased to say. Their problem is, a few minutes of their music makes you feel that the future of progressive rock is in safe hands, but two or three tracks have you (or at least, me) reaching for the 'skip' button. The music's good, but there's a fatal lack of variety, while Tanaami Futaba's vocals are almost unerringly flat when she hits high and/or sustained notes, apart from the rare occasions when she's sharp. This is no small matter; her vocals are so central to the band's sound that her appalling intonation (who produced this and are they incapable of asking for more takes?) frankly ruins the effect completely. You don't need to have perfect pitch to wince every time (and there are many of them) she doesn't quite reach the note. Small doses of their eponymous 2003 debut are impressive, but nearly fifty minutes is quite brain-deadening. Junya Anan's samplotron work is all over the album, with upfront flutes and background strings on Sakura, choirs on Haru No Sono and strings and/or flutes elsewhere. They followed up with 2007's Yugake; not bad, but its cumulative effect is mildly numbing, to be honest, with the unwelcome addition of the aforementioned vocal problems. It's a real shame, actually, as she has a lovely voice. If only 'twere in pitch... Anan on samplotron again, with flutes on all tracks, plus background strings, well above the instrument's range.

Moddi  (Norway)

Kæm Va Du?  (2013,  31.46)  ***

Perfectly respectable Norwegian-language folk rock, highlights including haunted opener Mannen I Ausa, Grønt Lauv I Snyen and Krokstav-Emne. Hasse Rosbach's Mellotron? Occasional samples.

Modest Mouse  (US)

Strangers to Ourselves  (2015,  57.01)  **

2015's Strangers to Ourselves ends an eight-year recording hiatus for Modest Mouse, although, sad to say, not in a good way. I've struggled to find something nice to say about this album, but from its irritating, chanted vocals to its uninspired songwriting and the tiresome indieness of the instrumentation through to its excess length, it's defeated me. Singer/guitarist Isaac Brock supposedly plays Mellotron, but the background strings on Pups To Dust have little ring of authenticity about them. Their earlier work isn't so bad, but this was a real teeth-gritter. Awful.

Jim Moginie & the Family Dog  (Australia)

Bark Overtures  (2018,  48.35)  ***

Jim Moginie is, of course, keyboard player/guitarist for Midnight Oil, also running a solo career and several side-projects, as the band have slowed down into (late) middle age. Bark Overtures (ho ho) is his first release as Jim Moginie & the Family Dog, a decent, if not-especially-inspired effort in the Americana/mainstream pop/rock vein, older division, probably at its best on opener Blind Devotion and the drifting Samadhi Dog, with an honourable mention for nine-minute closer Arseholes, simply for its title. Although Moginie goes as far as to describe himself as 'Mellotronist' on the sleeve, not only is there not a shred of anything obviously Mellotronic to be heard, but Facebook posts and the like lead me to believe that he's gone over to the dark side and now uses a digital device. For what, however, we have no idea.

Mojobone  (Sweden)

Tales From the Bone  (1999,  28.13)  ***½

Mojobone are a Swedish stoner/trad hard rock outfit, who appear to be a side-project for most (or all) of the musicians concerned. Their debut recording, 1999's mini-album Tales From the Bone, is a prime example of how the Scandinavians in general and Swedes in particular have taken a genre regarded as outdated and given it a swift kick up the arse. Its six tracks all conform to the basic template: mid-paced, '70s-esque heavy rock played with enthusiasm and skill, although none of them really stand out compositionally. The 'Mellotron' is played by one Wibärg, better-known as Per Wiberg of Spiritual Beggars, Opeth et al., with a background string part on Brother that doesn't particularly stand out.

Momoiro Clover Z  (Japan)

5th Dimension  (2013,  67.54)  ***

5th Dimension is a crazy melange of J-pop, metal, (Brian) May-esque guitar harmonies and laptop glitch, plus about a hundred other things all thrown into the melting pot, testing the listener's tolerance for Japanese girly vocals and modern production techniques. Speaking of which, fuck me, talk about brick wall mastering... This is actually quite painful to listen to, even at low volume. I thought the volume wars were over by 2013? Maybe not in Japan. Anyway, good at what it does - I think - but not something I'll be listening to again any time soon. Rui Nagai's massed 'Mellotron' flutes and choirs on Tsuki To Gingami Hikōsen really aren't, the held flute note at the end giving the sample game away.

Mona Lisa  (France)

De l'Ombre à la Lumière  (1998,  56.43)  ***½

To my total lack of surprise, Mona Lisa's 1998 reformation album appears to contain (at best) sampled Mellotron, which may actually only be decent string samples that have a Mellotronlike quality when un-stringlike block chords are played. Somewhat more to my surprise, De l'Ombre à la Lumière is actually passably good, albeit overlong (so what's new?) and with too much filler (ditto). Even more than on their '70s material, they sound like Ange here, although Dominique Le Guennec's theatrical (French-language) vocal style makes for lazy comparisons. The material veers between the 'almost as good as they ever were' opener, Captif De La Nuit, through the 'better-than-you'd-expect' ten-minute Voyage Avec Les Morts, complete with lengthy guitar solo, to some more average fare towards the end of the disc. Fake Mellotron strings on several tracks, which never really convince, though you can see how they could deceive the ear in places. So; nowhere near their classic, 1977's Le Petit Violon de Monsieur Grégoire (****½), but a respectable enough album from a reformed band, given some of the competition. Incidentally, it seems that the band is essentially Le Guennec backed by the members of '90s French act Versailles, so there's little musical connection with the old outfit.

Janelle Monáe  (US)

The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III)  (2010,  68.37)  **½
The Electric Lady  (2013,  67.28)  ***

Janelle Monáe released her first album in 2003, taking, for a new artist, an almost unprecedented seven years to follow up with the hugely ambitious soul/R&B concept album The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III). What's it all about? Fucked if I know, but it actually succeeds in drawing together many disparate styles, throwing not only the two previously-mentioned genres into the pot, but also hip-hop, funk, even Broadway... To be frank, unless you're into what I believe is now known as 'urban', you're probably not going to like this, but I have to give it kudos for its ambition, many of the tracks tied together by brief orchestral interludes in a way that would leave 50 Cent and his ilk shaking their heads in bewilderment. Nate Wonder plays alleged Mellotron, with flutes on Cold War and Neon Valley Street (patently obviouslt sampled here) and literally four choir notes on Make The Bus. The Electric Lady manages to pull the same trick again, only less 'urban' this time round (more 'rural'?), with no obvious samplotron, let alone Mellotron, unless the credit's referring to the polyphonic flutes on Sally Ride?

Freddy Monday  (US)

Everything Anyhow  (2011,  42.57)  **½

Going by Everything Anyhow, Freddy Monday's at the less authentic end of the powerpop spectrum, often straying into cheesy '80s American pop/rock territory, not least on She's A Teazer and Who Am I Gonna Dance With, all parping synths and virtual big hair, while closer Poptop features Monday whistling, of all things. Better moments? Opener Give Me Your Heart, the title track and Trail Of Tears, but it just isn't enough to save this one. Monday's supposed to play Mellotron on Rain All Day and Fracture, to which I can only say: piss off.

Monica's Last Prayer  (UK)

Prayerbook  (2008,  50.29)  **

Monica's Last Prayer describe themselves as 'post-punk', although Prayerbook strikes me as nothing more interesting than a dreary, vaguely gothy form of indie; my relief when they picked up the pace on Youths was palpable. Leader (sole member?) Paul Broome plays samplotron, with background strings on Omen and choirs (giving the sample game away) on the title track.

Mono  (UK)

Formica Blues  (1997,  53.16)  ***

I first heard UK electronica duo Mono around 1998, maybe a year after they'd released Formica Blues; I seem to remember my girlfriend du jour being less than wholly impressed by my interest being (publicly) piqued at the sound of what I thought was a Mellotron. I was so unsure, however, that I had it italicised on the albums list for years, until I tracked down an interview with their musical half, Martin Virgo, on the Sound on Sound site, although I'm sure there was a more definite remark re. the album's Mellotron use. Anyway, Formica Blues has a very mid-'90s sort of sound about it; you know, a bit trip-hoppy, a lot louche, '60s penthouse, fairly French pop blah-di-blah. It works quite well on a sub-Air kind of level, though Siobhan De Maré's breathy pseudo-Gallic vocals irritate after a while and you find yourself wishing you could hear the production subtleties without her emoting over the top for once. Or I do, anyway.

The only mention of Mellotrons I can now find on that Sound on Sound page is: "...which is why there are things on the album like a dulcimer coming out of the left speaker and a Mellotron out of the right", with no mention of the thing in either the production notes or Virgo's favourite gear sidebars, although there's plenty of mention of sundry analogues, including a Juno 106, a MiniMoog, a Rhodes, a Wurly and a Vox Continental. A re-listen tells me that the flutes and strings on Disney Town and flutes on instrumental closer Hello Cleveland! (alongside a great vibes sound apparently created using a tortuous process which seems to have justified itself by the end result) are sampled. Mono were apparently pretty big in the States for five minutes, mainly due to the album's opening track, Life In Mono, being used as the end-credits theme in what appears to be an already largely-forgotten remake of Great Expectations. Whatever.

Mono  (Japan)

You Are There  (2006,  60.00)  ***

Mono are a Japanese post-rock outfit who do that 'build, crescendo, fall' thing as well as any and better than many. I can see how they could grab prog fans with their lengthy atmospherics, although I suspect a chemically-altered state probably helps in their appreciation. There's nothing much to choose between the six pieces on 2006's You Are There, four long, two short; this is an album that really needs to be listened to as a whole and singling out individual tracks is fairly futile; saying that, closer Moonlight stands out slightly from the pack. Actually, the best way to approach this music is to think of it as a soundtrack; amusingly, their website includes a small section aimed at directors looking to use the band's music in their films, which pretty much sums them up, albeit not in a bad way. 'Mellotron' strings (from ?) all over Yearning, fairly obviously sampled, although all other string sounds on the album are presumably generic samples. Overall, then, one of the better post-rock releases I've come across lately; these guys know how to handle dynamics better than almost anyone else I've heard in the field. It's still overlong, but it's post-rock; what did you expect?

Mono Puff  (US)

Unsupervised  (1996,  33.32)  ***
It's Fun to Steal  (1998,  40.14)  ***

Mono Puff are essentially John Flansburgh's They Might Be Giants side-project, whose first album, 1996's Unsupervised, features a weird combination of influences, from the punk/surf crossover of opener Guitar Was The Case (ho ho) through the Spectoresque pop of Don't Break The Heart and punky hard rock of The Devil Went Down To Newport (Totally Rocking), while Hello Hello is a suitably creepy version of the subsequently disgraced Gary Glitter's Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again. Unsurprisingly, we also get several TMBG-alikes, making this every bit as eclectic as you might expect from anything involving Flansburgh's febrile imagination. The (obvious) tape-replay samples kick in straight away, with a brief, single-note Mellotron choir part on Guitar Was The Case, while To Serve Mankind is based around Chamberlin solo male and female voice samples, although the jury's out on the album's occasional brass parts. It's Fun to Steal was their second and last album, ignoring several EP releases, probably best described as loungecore, combining '50s easy listening with 'noo wave', indie and other more contemporary styles. But is it any good?, I hear you cry. Well, it's amusing in places, although I can't imagine wanting to play it too often (as in, probably ever again). Instrumentally, there's some nice analogue synth work (Oberheim, as it happens) and the Clavinet on Mr. Hughes Says is pretty cool, but unless you're big on that '50s/early '60s thing and happen to be a big TMBG fan, you're probably not going to get too much out of this. Flansburgh's credited with Mellotron on Back-Stabbing Liar, which presumably provides the weirdly compressed high-end cello solo section in the middle of the song. Samples again, says I.

Monster Magnet  (US)

God Says No  (2000,  55.54)  ***½
4-Way Diablo  (2007,  57.46)  ***½

Unfortunately, Monster Magnet's God Says No works less well than 1995's Dopes to Infinity; it probably displays a wider range of influences, Gravity Well reminding me of The Groundhogs, while the riff to My Little Friend is an almost straight cop from Whole Lotta Love. Not that it's a bad album, you understand, just that some of the manic energy seems to have dissipated somewhere down the line. Maybe that's what happens when you stop doing the drugs. Depends which drugs, I suppose... Anyway, less overt 'Mellotron' this time around, the string parts sounding eerily similar to some of Sabbath's use, while the most upfront part is the block flute chords on Take It. I haven't heard the intervening Monolithic Baby (shit, only Americans could get away with these titles), but 2007's 4-Way Diablo is another good collection of hard rock as it was; as with so many similar, though, it's at least ten minutes too long for its content, although I'm not sure what you'd drop. Cyclone is particularly good, dual solo and all, while Solid Gold is a veritable psych-fest, although we only get two samplotron tracks (from Dave Wyndorf?), with (as you'd expect) a major string part on their take on The Stones' 2000 Light Years From Home and less of the same on I'm Calling You.

Monsters of Folk  (US)

Monsters of Folk  (2009,  54.37)  **½

Monsters of Folk (as in, "...Of Rock", no doubt) are yer classic 'supergroup'; members of other successful bands getting together for a collaborative side-project, to greater or lesser effect. This one consists of My Morning Jacket's Jim James (calling himself Yim Yames here), M Ward and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, so it's hardly surprising a 'Mellotron' puts in an appearance on a couple of tracks. To be perfectly honest, the album's a bit of a disappointment, consisting largely of country-tinged indie, selling its constituent members short. Better tracks include Slow Down Jo and Magic Marker, but it all just seems a bit... flat, somehow. James/Yames sticks samplotron strings all over opener Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.), although the string interjections on Losin' Yo' Head are almost inaudible, sadly.

Gustavo Montesano  (Argentina)

Homenaje  (1977,  43.41)  ***½

Gustavo Montesano was bassist and chief composer with one of Argentina's best progressive outfits, Crucis; Homenaje was his first of his two solo albums, the other being 1982's El Pasillo, released under his surname alone. Progressive, but with mainstream influences in places, notably the more song-based material, Homenaje is a reasonably good album, though in no way up to his work in Crucis (see: Desde Que Te Pude Ver for details). Saying that, there are some lovely moments, particularly Homenaje Color Naranja, with its mid-period Genesis feel. Like so many other Argentinian albums, while 'Mellotron' is credited (on all but one track in this case), there's no actual audible evidence for this, although both string synth and real strings are to be heard in abundance, particularly the former. OK, there might be a smattering of Mellotron strings buried in the mix on opener Sinfonía Lunática, but probably not. I wouldn't let other albums get away with it, so the same goes for this.

Moon Safari  (Sweden)

A Doorway to Summer  (2005,  59.55)  ***
Blomljud  (2008,  103.46)  **½
Lover's End  (2010,  51.47)  **
Himlabacken Vol. 1  (2013,  46.06)  **½

Moon Safari (clearly named for the Air album) have one major, major problem: within seconds of putting on their debut, A Doorway to Summer (Robert Heinlein sort-of quote, fact fans), it becomes apparent that, rather than listening to lots of music, then filtering out what appeals to them and writing in that style, they only actually seem to listen to one band: Spock's Beard. OK, fair enough, we can't all be super-original, but Spock's already exist and, having seen them live literally the day before listening to this, I can attest to the fact that they're alive and well, not to mention probably not that appreciative of being near-plagiarised. Interestingly, the band have a major Flower Kings connection, through producer Tomas Bodin, but sound little like them.

Moon Safari actually do a very good Spock's Beard, although they actually accentuate their sole influence's unfortunate Broadway-esque side, leading to the exceptionally cheesy a capella massed harmony section in the lengthy We Spin The World; shame: the track had started off so promisingly... It's difficult to know what to say about this: the album's highly competent - their competence isn't in question - but it's so derivative that you find yourself pulling a face every time they rip off another bit of Day for Night or something. You get the feeling that they're so in love with the grandiosity of it all, right down to the vocalist's fake American accent, that they forgot to be, you know, tasteful... Then again, I suppose prog doesn't have the greatest reputation in the world for good taste, does it? It should, but all the non-aficionado remembers is ELP's crassness or Yes' propensity for lengthy solo spots and overblown double concept albums. Of course, Moon Safari (actually Simon Åkesson) use Mellotron samples in exactly the same way Spock's (usually) use the real thing, so we get various flute, string and (especially) choir parts in all the right places, only... exactly as Spock's Beard would've used them. This gets three stars for the band's technical ability and way with a tune: pity it's someone else's way.

2008 brings Blomljud, or possibly [Blomljud], a sprawling two-disc set, including a Flower Kings-style half hour effort in Other Half Of The Sky. The band's style has shifted in the interim, now sounding like, er, a cross between Spock's and The Flower Kings, which isn't an improvement, frankly, their MOR side coming out more strongly on several tracks, not least closer To Sail Beyond The Sunset (a straight Heinlein quote, this time). All in all, this is vastly overlong, making the single full-length disc merchants look a bit, well, restrained. Get an editor, chaps. Åkesson's samplotron use is essentially the same as last time round, although their previous Spock's style can now be seen as a Spock's/Flower Kings one. 2010's Lover's End sounds even more like Elton John gone prog, or an anguished Elegant Simplicity-style breakup album, the vocal harmonies even more 'musical theatre' than before. Worst track? Probably the cheeso New York City Summergirl, complete with New York, New York piano quote at the end, although closer Lover's End Pt. II cuts it close. Ugh. Y'know, if this lot decided to drop the whole 'prog' thing, they could probably make a decent living writing slushy, 'adult contemporary' balladry, certainly going by the vocal melody on The World's Best Dreamers: ultra-cheesy, yet horribly memorable. Celine Dion awaits... Less of Åkesson's samplotron than before; maybe it's a bit too... eclectic for the band's presumably hoped-for future audience.

2013's Himlabacken Vol. 1, despite sounding like The Flower Kings more than ever, shows a band finally finding their feet and (at least a little of) their own style. Sadly, that style is (unsurprisingly) at the lightest end of the prog spectrum, although the spot-on Beach Boys harmonies they utilise extensively sweeten things somewhat, albeit in more ways than one. The nearest the album comes to highlights are Diamonds, where the band return to a relentlessly upbeat Spock's feel once more and closer Sugar Band, where they have a decent stab at a complex, multi-part piece, all in nine minutes. Lowlight? My Little Man is a jazzy, acoustic, heartfelt-yet-utterly-cheesy paean to the author's little boy, possibly actually docking the album half a star for its mere presence. Very little samplotron, with naught but strings on Mega Moon (briefly) and Barfly, the choirs seemingly consigned to the dustbin.