Motis were originally Emmanuel Tissot's a one-man band, before expanding to a trio in 2004. Unlike so many other Continental prog outfits of the last couple of decades, we're not looking at tired, rehashed neo-prog drivel here, but inventive progressive rock that references both the genre's forbears, including the ubiquitous Ange and the more worthwhile Gallic acts of recent years, not least Halloween and Minimum Vital. Another obvious comparison are unsung French medieval folk-rock heroes Malicorne, whose catalogue's general unavailability is an ongoing travesty. According to their website, Motis released two studio and three live albums under their own steam before hooking up with Musea for 2004's Prince des Hauteurs, loosely comparable to the first Willowglass album, although, unlike them, Motis were no longer a solo project by this point. Its content strays interestingly and welcomingly from prog orthodoxy in places, not least Le Rire Et L'Épée's chanson moments and the 'none more Celtic' bagpipes on closer Cornemuse. Sampled Mellotron throughout, with choirs on Chanson à Boire and Sorcellerie, strings on the title track, Le Rire Et L'Épée and Les Damnés and more of the same elsewhere.
L'Homme-Loup features a slightly more 'rock' sound in places, possibly due to better integration of the new members. It's hard to say if this is a 'better' work than its predecessor; despite having much in common with it, it doesn't bear direct comparison. Again, some welcome 'non-standard' parts, not least the raucous, jazzy trumpet solo on Madrigal. 'Mellotron' on most tracks again, with choirs on Isengrin, strings and choirs on P'tit Louis, then, unusually, rather murky mixed brass on L'Ermite, more strings, flutes (notably on the title track) and choirs throughout. If anything, Ripaille ups the ante yet further, stuffed with material of the quality of Robin Hood, the title track and Le Gens Du Dehors. Samplotron everywhere you look, with strings all over opener Comtois Rends-Toi! Nenni Ma Foi! and Le Voyage De Brendan, choirs on Robin Hood, a flute melody on Pleine Lune and brass on Dagobert, amongst other use.
Motorpsycho (Norway) see:
It seems Moullinex (didn't they make kitchen gadgets?) is a 'he', not a 'they', so I can refer to 'his' second album, 2015's Elsewhere. How to describe? One part synthpop, one part disco, one part indie, perhaps. Tempted? Thought not. Actually, he does it pretty well, to be fair, better tracks including Elsewhere itself and the sequencer-driven Lies Pt. II, although, for those not into his shtick, it all begins to drag after a few tracks. Luis Clara Gomes is credited with Mellotron, but in Portugal? Today? Anyway, flutes on Trip Advisor and Take A Chance, most likely sampled, although that would seem to be it. Not bad at what it does, then, but nothing you need to worry about too much.
Richard Moult is apparently a poet and artist as well as musician; unsurprisingly, upon hearing his work, he has a Current 93/neofolk connection. I believe 2011's Celestial King for a Year is his second full-length album, consisting of three lengthy tracks of droning strings and ethereal vocals, the 'side-long' Part III being the most dissonant of the three. Moult is credited with Mellotron, but I'd be surprised if the distant, reverbed-to-death choirs on Part III were played on a real machine. Then again... To be honest, it's difficult to know what else to say about this; it's full of string drones, it's ethereal... I've said all that already, haven't I? Anyway, one for the Coil fan in your life.
Mountain Witch is an EP of instrumental doom, bookended by two tracks of ambience, effectively. There's little to choose between the three 'main' tracks; think: Sabbath on downers minus Ozzy, while Prologue (Intro) and End (Outro) do their jobs efficiently. Rene Roggmann's 'Mellotron' consists of various choir, cello and flute samples on the two bookend pieces.
The stupendously-named Mouth (has no-one actually used that name before?) are a heavy psych outfit of the 'we love to jam' variety. I think Vortex is their second proper (as against demo) album, a filthy, distorted, rather wonderful mess of driving psych/blues, although the opening title track lacks something in the way of originality, coming across as a kind of Uriah Heep homage, complete with pseudo-July Morning riff and pseudo-Mick Box soloing. Yes, that clunky. Samplotron from Chris Koller, with background choirs on Vortex itself, strings on Mountain and Soon After, other elements buried in the mix.
As far as I can ascertain, 2014's Fickle Island is Angela Moyra's debut album, a slight, albeit breezy singer-songwriter effort, presumably designed to appeal to the producers of various currently popular American TV shows. She tempers her insipid songwriting and delivery with elements of ragtime (specifically) and jazz (generally), but several tracks 'featuring' her ukulele are several tracks too many. Committed sample-user Reyn Ouwehand's polyphonic flute parts on Emma's Island, Fickle and Draw A Picture have nothing to do with a genuine Mellotron, unsurprisingly. Too slick, frankly. A bit like the album.
It seems that Jason Mraz only released self-financed live recordings prior to his major label debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come. Well, I hope they're better than this; bland, 'modern', 'alternative'... Boring covers it, I think. I'm told the lyrics are the most important thing about Mraz' music; I bloody hope so, as the music's dull as ditchwater. He covers a variety of styles, frequently singing those 'half melodies' that seem to be so popular at the moment; you know, a tune that isn't really a tune at all (see: Oasis), his voice irritating after a few numbers, too. Possibly the most infuriating thing about Waiting for My Rocket to Come is that a few song intros promise something interesting (notably The Boy's Gone), then fail to deliver. Surprisingly, about the best thing here is a rather drippy ballad, Absolutely Zero, which isn't a recommendation. Samplotron on one track, with rather tremulous cellos on Who Needs Shelter, from Michael Andrews. Sadly, Mraz' only other samplotron album isn't the one moment of genuine wit in his career, viz titling his second album Mr. A-Z, but his fifth, Yes! (surely No!?) It's every bit as insipid as his first, which is quite an achievement, in its own way. Is there a 'best track'? Perhaps closer Shine, with its (very) slightly trippy feel, sitar and all, which isn't to say that it's actually any good. Mellotron? Mike Mogis, who has some presence on this site, is credited, but I'd love to know where it's supposed to be. I mean, there's literally nothing that even sounds slightly like one, so I shall assume samples, used inaudibly. Jason Mraz: making music for people with no imagination or personality since 2002.
Muff Potter (named for a character in Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer) sit somewhere in between alt.rock and punk, a little like a German Hüsker Dü, maybe. Heute Wird Gewonnen, Bitte was their fourth album, mostly cracking along at breakneck speed, although it occasionally drops below 900 k.p.h., notably on Die Etwas Öde Ballade Der Tristessa M. and Die Hymne. Sebastian Hack's 'Mellotron' amounts to no more than distant samplotron strings on Das Ernte 23 Dankfest and Am 5. Oktober, Wie Jedes Jahr.
The Sweetheart Break-in is an album of sparse, piano-and-vocal pieces, Megan Mullally's rather torchy voice suiting her chosen material perfectly. Unfortunately, the end result is as dull as ditchwater unless you're really into this stuff, I suspect. I really don't know why Greg Kuehn is credited with Mellotron.
Robert Müller plays a kind of lightweight, jazzy style on Deep Blue Underneath, more adult contemporary than singer-songwriter, probably at its best on Ten. Aside from the album's stylistic failings, it's a good fifteen minutes over-length, many of its eleven tracks far too long for their content. Someone (Müller?) supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flute solo and background choirs on Pale Yellow and strings on Rembrandt Carnival are very obviously sampled.
Here's another of Nick Hewitt's fantastically vitriolic CCM reviews. Bring it on, Nick!
Before I get stuck into the meat of the review, I should explain the format of this collection, which is tinged with a bit of sadness. On the 10th of September 1997, Rich Mullins went into an abandoned church, armed with his guitar and a battery operated cassette recorder and played 9 songs for a project titled '10 Songs for Jesus'. Nine days later, he died in a car crash. Two months later, the ragamuffin band re-recorded these 9 songs, added a tenth and put them on a CD, which they called the Jesus record. (Note - the capitalization, or rather the lack of it, was their idea, not mine!) They also 'cleaned up' Mr. Mullins' original cassette recording and added it as a separate CD, calling it the Jesus Demos. I don't think Mr. Mullins was a member of a ragamuffin band, but I suspect he was close friends of theirs, at least.
It has to be said that the Jesus record is the epitome of the Christian philosophy, when it comes to music, that "...it is the message that is important". Well, if that's the case, why bother with the music? On the basis of this distortion of the range of frequencies audible to the human ear, the music is utterly irrelevant. The lyrical content of this lot can easily be deduced, so that's half the review done (thank God - pun intended!) The actual music is the most uninspired, bland, innocuous dreck ranging from light country through MOR to the syruppiest glop you have ever heard. It is difficult to imagine precisely whom these people are trying to appeal to, as absolutely no thought or effort is required by the listener at all. If you have something to say, then print it on re-cycled soft toilet paper and give it away. In my opinion, Rich Mullins' original renditions (the Jesus demos) should have been left alone, as the ragamuffin band contributed nothing of any musical value at all. This CD provides the best possible reason to avoid CCM. For Mellotronic reasons (or the lack of them, as it later transpired) I listened to other Rich Mullins AND ragamuffin band product and they have done a helluva lot better than this, both before and after the Jesus record. Mr. Mullins' contribution can, in effect, be ignored, because 1) it was intended to include his contribution as demos and 2) being dead, he didn't have much say over the quality control.
Oh yes, the Mellotron. Sorry - I was recovering from the gastric distress that this CD has induced. Mellotron appears on one track only, Nothing Is Beyond You, which is provided by guest musician Tim Lauer. It's difficult to spot as it's swamped to some degree by real strings, but it is definitely there. A quick burst of flutes followed by a bit of Mellotron strings followed by another shot of flutes [all sampled. Ed.]. Nothing up-front, which is not really unexpected. For the purposes of promotion, some record companies add a little something with the record/CD, like a poster. This should have come with at least 4 ounces of Semtex. Avoid.
Shawn Mullins is an American singer-songwriter, active from the early '90s onwards. Going by his performance on 2000's Beneath the Velvet Sun, his half-spoken vocal style reminds one of a more tuneful Dylan, although a major-label production does him no favours, with irritating loops (what, no jigs or reels?) smothering what should be a natural sound. The best track (to my ears, anyway) is the folky Yellow Dog Song, all acoustic guitar and mandolin, not a sample in sight, the other more acoustic-based material having too much 'production' to work well. Doubt if Sony agree, mind you; contemporary productions sell records! Just ask Dido. At first glance, the track-by-track credits make this look like a veritable cornucopia of tape-replay, Mellotron or Chamberlin on six tracks, variously from Mullins himself, Anthony J. Resta and Kim Bullard, although the reality is somewhat different. There's completely inaudible Mellotron on Everywhere I Go, while the Chamberlin on Amy's Eyes is similarly discorporeal, unless it's the source of that weird sustained string sound that crops up every now and again. The only other relevant track that has anything even slightly audible is the distant Chamby strings (as against the real ones on several tracks) on Santa Fe, all sampled, anyway.
Ethnomusicologist Nick Mulvey was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Music Prize with the Portico Quartet, although he left the band for a solo career in 2011. 2014's First Mind is, er, the first fruit of said career, a solid singer-songwriter effort, refreshing in its relative lack of twee, insipid material (see: almost everyone else in the genre), although its highlights tend to be more on the lyrical front than the musical (honourable exception: closer The World To Me). Those being? A namecheck for London's Shacklewell Lane in Meet Me There, Nitrous, maybe Ailsa Craig. Mulvey gets a Mellotron credit on Fever To The Form, but if those few seconds of high strings are supposed to be a real machine, then I don't know much about Mellotrons, frankly. Not bad, then, but probably not something you're going to want to seek out too urgently.
Going by 2001's Haunted Gardenias, Darin Murphy (younger brother of the better-known Trish, below) sits firmly in powerpop territory, albeit not at the 'slavish recreation of the B bands' end of the genre. Top tracks? Raucous opener Metro B, Masterpiece and Flat, maybe. Philip Edwards' supposed Mellotron strings on Masterpiece and Turning Into You and flutes on Boxing Day (I Belong With You) and Blackberry Plain, however, are fairly blatant samples.
Elliott Murphy is one of those artists who've been around seemingly forever but who have passed completely under my radar (until now), although he released his first album as far back as 1973. Living in Paris for the last twenty years, Murphy's a bit of a renaissance man, having written for the music press, even spitting out several novels and short stories. I'd imagine 2002's Soul Surfing is fairly typical of his oeuvre, being a collection of songs sung in his conversational style, like a lightweight Irish-American Dylan, maybe, or Mark Knopfler if he was actually American. It's the kind of record that would appeal to a great many people if they actually got the chance to hear it, although anyone looking for musical innovation should probably go elsewhere. Kenny Margolis plays alleged Chamberlin strings (alongside real cello) on Tell Me and near-inaudible samplotron strings on Nothing Can Take The Place Of You. Murphy followed up with 2003's ambitious double-disc Strings of the Storm, probably stretching his talent a little thin, but if the songs are pouring out, what's a man to do? Like so many similar artists, bleating on about the music's repetitiveness is rather missing the point, as it's chiefly a vehicle for the lyrics, the best of which are to be heard on The Poet And The Priest, although he's no slouch on the wordage front across the board. Margolis just on samplotron this time round, with flutes on Look Around You.
As has been pointed out by various online reviewers, 2005's Murphy Gets Muddy (with Olivier Durand) is a thoroughly bemusing release. Given that Murphy's been living in Paris for the last couple of decades, working with local musicians makes sense, but an esteemed songwriter recording blues standards? Pourquoi? The band seem to have little idea of how to play this music, Murphy's voice isn't suited to it, it's utterly clichéd and has been done better around a million times already. It's not all bad, by any means, largely due to the handful of originals (notably lengthy closer The Beginning And The End), but too many bland, overlong renditions of overly familiar material do not a great listening experience make. Above all else, this album commits the cardinal sin of being boring. Margolis adds samplotron flute chords to Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues. The following year's Coming Home Again (also co-credited to Durand) sees Murphy back on track, that track being the same one carved out many years earlier by Bob Dylan; even his backing musicians are trying to sound like The Band. OK, it's essentially all about the lyrics, but the material is, once again, overlong and repetitive, making listening to the album something of a chore. Margolis is supposedly on Mellotron once more, although the sustained string notes on As Good As and A Touch Of Kindness, not to mention the strings on closer Home Again really don't ring true. 2013's It Takes a Worried Man sees Murphy back on top form, highlights including Little Big Man (chiefly for its lyrics), Murphyland, the Pink Floyd at full throttle of I Am Empty and He's Gone, although it starts to unravel over the last few tracks. Margolis and Gaspard Murphy are both credited with Mellotron, but, amongst the un-Mellotronic string and choir parts, the nearest they get to 'authentic' is the flutes on Then You Start Crying.
Trish Murphy's Rubies on the Lawn is a rootsy, Americana-ish album, at its best on opener Outsider, Runaway Train and atypical orchestral closer Vanilla Sun (Reprise). Jim Ebert supposedly plays Mellotron, but the vague, background flutes on her version of (These) Boots (Are Made For Walkin') sound sampled.
Pete Murray was apparently intending to make a career in sports medicine, before being diverted by music (happens to the best of us, mate). Unless most of us, however, Murray's albums sell in the hundreds of thousands, probably because they're full of bland, mainstream singer-songwriter fare and are well-promoted by his record company. Cynical? Moi? Anyway, 2008's Summer at Eureka, his fourth release, is a pretty dull affair, although pop/rock opener Chance To Say Goodbye, with its Neil Young-esque guitar solo, is the least bad thing here. Murray's then-keyboard player, Ben McCarthy, plays uncredited 'Mellotron' strings on opener Chance To Say Goodbye, credited strings and flutes on Saving Grace and a pair of string lines on Silver Cloud, all sampled.
Ants & Angels is, by and large, a powerpop album, although Peter Murray dips into the Americana well occasionally, notably on closer Heavy Sleeper. Top tracks? Opener Gen X DJ On E, Skydiver Friends, Never Easy, Ears Make Wax... All-round excellence, really. Samplotron? Obvious flutes on Angels, less obvious strings elsewhere.
Spanish duo Mus sing in the Asturian dialect, although the average listener probably isn't going to notice. Online hagiographies use phrases like '...evoke images of pure beauty', 'innovators in the creation of sounds and atmospheres' and 'opt for gleaming hypnotic guitars', although they sound, to my ears, like a fairly typical 'quietcore' indie outfit. 2007's La Vida is far from 'awful', but equally far from 'great', although I'm sure indie buffs will wet their pants over Mónica Vacas' breathy vocals. Fran Gayo plays samplotron, with a major flute part on Cantares De Ciegu, running right through the track and flute solos on Una Ventana Col Iluz, Una Sábana Al Vientu and Perdieron La Tierra.
Before you all write in to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about (usually true, in fairness), this particular Muse are nothing to do with Matt Bellamy's mob from the UK (see below), themselves confusingly also supposotron users. In fact, I picked Arcana up expecting it to be one of their early albums, only to serendipitously discover that it was a completely different band from a different country who just happened to credit a Mellotron, too. Weird. Ironically, the two acts don't sound that dissimilar, both trading in a kind of overwrought stadium pop/rock, vocalist Paul Isaac over-emoting to an irritating degree. I blame U2. Anyway, the music's probably OK at what it does, but what it does gets on my nerves, having seemingly zero originality and little compositional depth, though in a straight fist-fight with most mainstream pop, this wins hands down. Bassist Ari Eisenstein also plays keys on the album, though, to be honest, they're pretty much inaudible throughout; the only (sampled) Mellotron I can even remotely hear is about two flute chords on closer Two Clouds Away.
The amusingly-overblown Muse formed while still at school, releasing their first EP in 1998 and their debut album, Showbiz, the following year. Comparisons with Queen aren't invalid, although they seem to have missed that band's sense of humour, if not their pomposity. The album has a few decent songs, not least EP lead track Muscle Museum, but despite its vast sales figures (so?), we're not talking 'classic' here. Vocalist/guitarist/apparently untrained pianist Matt Bellamy plays credited Mellotron on three tracks, but there's not an awful lot to be heard. The chief use is the background strings on Muscle Museum, with what I presume are Mellotron cellos on Unintended and Hate This & I'll Love You, but it's all sampled, I reckon. Muse followed up with 2001's Origin of Symmetry (an obscure mathematical theory, I believe), not dissimilar to its predecessor in its utterly overblown pomposity, although, somehow, there's something about their ridiculousness that I can't help... admiring? Not sure, but songs like opener New Born, Citizen Erased and Darkshines have a certain something about them, even if the album overall suffers from a fatiguing density of production and Bellamy's appalling voice. On the samplotron front, Bellamy plays a brief string swell on New Born, background strings on the chorus (such as it is) of Space Dementia and what sound like distant strings on Micro Cuts.
Portland's Musée Mécanique (named in honour of a San Franciscan museum) are generally referred to as 'indie folk'; in other words, musicians who would like to play folk, but are too steeped in indie ineptitude to do so properly. They debuted with 2008's Hold This Ghost, an album that almost manages to do something interesting, but falls at the last hurdle, better tracks including The Things That I Know and Under Glass, worser ones being Fits And Starts, a rather pointless country ballad that goes nowhere and the tiresome, over-arranged Nothing Glorious, for what it's worth. The album opens with samplotron flutes and strings over an acoustic backing, with many more sounds involved, not least female choirs and vibes, to the point where they lose any of the 'specialness' they should be able to invoke. Musée Mécanique try hard, but will have to kick out many musical misnomers they clearly hold dear if they're to improve.
Kacey Musgraves is a young country singer-songwriter who's upset a few people in the ultra-conservative world of C&W by refusing to toe the line. Good. I won't pretend that anything on her fifth album, 2015's Pageant Material, does anything radically musically, but lyrics such as Dime Store Cowgirl and the caustic Good Ol' Boys Club should shove a stick into a Grand Ol' anthill, with any luck. Ian Fitchuk is credited with Mellotron. Where? If you're going to go to the trouble of sourcing a real machine these days, you'd have thought you'd make it audible, so I strongly suspect that samples were used and left buried in the mix somewhere. A reasonable country album then, but no obvious Mellotron, sampled or otherwise.
Mushroom (US) see:
Rome's Mushroom's Patience are (or were), effectively, Raffaele "Dither Craf" Cerroni's alter-ego, releasing music since the early '80s. It seems that 2014's Jellyfish is his/their last studio release, for reasons unknown; I presume its combination of synthpop, electronica, avant-jazz and all-out experimentation is typical of the project's oeuvre. Better tracks? To be frank (hi, Frank), the bulk of the hour-plus album left me cold, the sole exception being closer Solar Rain's organ-and-birdsong combo, which has something of The Floyd's A Saucerful Of Secrets about it. 'Craf' is credited with Mellotron, but the 'infinite sustain' choirs on Patricia are blatantly sampled, as are the cello/double bass on the title track, which drop well below the Mellotron's lowest note. I'm sure this is good at what it does, but I'm afraid I find myself unable to recommend it to my regular readers.
Music for Sleep is Andrea Porcu's new age solo project, with a slew of albums available on Bandcamp, including Mellotron Works, a title shamelessly nicked from the estimable Mike Dickson. Quietly beautiful, this is meditative and serene, albeit not especially engaging (nor is it meant to be), but perfectly pleasent. Admitted samplotron flutes and choirs on Assente, cellos on Respira and cellos and strings on Fiore Chiaro, Fiore Scuro.
San Franciscans The Music Lovers have picked up comparisons along the lines of Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg, but, on The Words We Say Before We Sleep, they sound more like the American answer to Saint Etienne to my ears. Note: not a good thing. Bob Coover gets a Mellotron credit, but the flutes on Nothing and Sunday and strings on This World Vs. The Next World (Revisited) are clearly bogus.
Musica Reservata were a Japanese progressive act whose Paranoiac Ocean might be their only release; information on the band is hard-won. It combines avant- and symphonic stylings with Crimsonesque Mellotron work, female vocals and hard rock guitar, making for a minor stylistic mish-mash, albeit one with several strong points. However, at over an hour, this is decidedly too long, its final track, Kumikyoku Mosō No Umi, being (gulp) nearly forty minutes long, said track featuring many eminently editable minutes of (as it's known in the trade) 'messing about'. Overall, however, this is so much better than the vast majority of recent-ish prog that it feels churlish to criticise. Masao Inoue's 'Mellotron' isn't, with distant choirs and upfront sampled strings on opener Kuchu No Teien, strings on Innerpop and really quite ropey choir and string samples on Kumikyoku Mosō No Umi.
My Brightest Diamond is, effectively, Shara Worden's solo project, whose third album, 2011's All Things Will Unwind, showcases her unusual juxtapositioning of influences, which range from film soundtracks through chamber music and vaudeville to indie/folk. To be perfectly honest, I can't say the results work for this listener; the clarinets, piccolo and celeste sit uneasily with the Sufjan Stevens-esque material, probably working best on the gentle She Does Not Brave The War, while too many tracks give the impression of a minor sonic mash-up, unsuitable instruments plonked next to each other. Perhaps that's the point. Zac Rae supposedly plays Mellotron, but it's completely inaudible, ditto the Orchestron and the highly distinctive Roland RS-09, amongst others, real strings and woodwinds appearing to cover all bases.
My Brother the Wind are a Swedish improvisational quartet, their best-known member being Anekdoten's Nicklas Barker, whose albums apparently chart in their home country, bizarrely. Their second release, 2011's I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity, covers several psychedelic bases across its fifty-minute length, from the careening madness of thirteen-minute opener Fire! Fire!! through the 12-string drone of Pagan Moonbeam, the Anekdoten-esque (deep breath) The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart, the raga-rock of Torbjörn Abelli, the unsurprisingly Crimsonesque Under Crimson Skies and the mildly lysergic closing title track. But is it any good? Yes, very, came the reply; four individuals who instinctively understand what psychedelic actually means and who can translate it to cold tape, or a reasonable simulation thereof. Barker plays what sounds like his Memotron (or M4000D?), with a decidedly space-rockish string part on Fire! Fire!!, angular strings on The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart and drifting flutes on Under Crimson Skies, all to decent effect. His (presumably) samplotron work isn't the chief reason you should invest in this little delight, though; leave that to the music.
Their next studio recording, 2014's Once There Was a Time When Time & Space Were One, continues in the same vein, albeit with possibly a little less variety than before. Top tracks? Both parts of the highly improvisational Song Of Innocence and the lengthy Garden Of Delights, but there really isn't anything here to upset the determined psychonaut. Barker's samplotron on a couple of tracks, with pitchbent 'infinite sustain' choirs and a handful of high string notes on Garden Of Delights and chordal flutes and strings on Epilogue.
On All the Pieces, My Friend Stephanie play a stylistic mash-up I don't think I've previously encountered: Christian powerpop. The end result is musically successful when the band kick out the jams, less so on the gloopy ballads, as you might expect. Lyrically, of course, is another matter... How much you might like really rather good material such as opener Journey, How Are You and See You Again may well depend on your tolerance for The Message. Two credited Mellotron tracks, although Bill Campbell's flutes on You Are God (told you about those lyrics...) and Scott Bachmann's strings on Time Heals ain't foolin' no-one.
My Little Lover are a Japanese pop group, now comprising just vocalist Akiko "Akko" Kobayashi, since her split from her husband, Takeshi (thank you, Wikipedia). 2006's Akko is their eighth album, I believe, a mainstream-without-being-too-awful release, synthpop influences on several tracks, in true YMO style. Better tracks include opener Chansu (Chance), the sparse Mayoi Neko and the rock-ish Baketto, but horrors include Insupirēshon (Inspiration), with its faux-American '70s funk moves and the autotuned vocals on closing cheeso ballad Itoshii Mainichi. Producer Brad Jones (amusingly credited as 'Producer Brad Jones') plays supposed Chamberlin on Shōtaimu (Show Time), a sampled string part running through the track.
Appropriately enough, as I listen to My Morning Jacket's third album, It Still Moves, I'm reading an interview with Neil Young, one of the artists with whom they are constantly compared, not least due to mainman Jim James' voice, although he lacks Neil's fragility, for better or worse. This is music that belongs in the '70s, channelling the songwriting values of the time, which means NO INDIE WHINING! It's so nice to hear a new band (from anywhere) who don't have some dreadful whingeing bore on vocals and don't feel the need to chuck in a bunch of 'contemporary' production tricks (remember the story about the Doors and the wah-wah pedal?). I've seen them described as Americana and, while there's some truth in that, this lot have a lot more rock'n'roll in their collective souls than that description would indicate. Not that they're perfect; the album's overlong, almost every track outstaying its welcome, if only slightly. I mean, after seven minutes or so, I Will Sing You Songs shifts pointlessly into a gentle reggae groove for another two minutes, rather trying the listener's patience, although after the coruscating Run Thru, you'll forgive them almost anything. Subsequently departed keyboard player Danny Cash presumably plays sampled Mellotron strings on I Will Sing You Songs and Just One Thing, while the strings running right through Steam Engine don't even have that Mellotron ring about them.
Two years on, MMJ released their follow-up, probably the shortest album title on this site, Z. That'll be 'Zee', of course, not 'Zed'. I wonder how many Brits reading this remember Billy Gibbons' bunch being referred to as 'Zed Zed Top' on UK radio when they first made it over the pond? Anyway, while not a bad album (and a damn' sight shorter than its predecessor), it's also rather less exciting, although it certainly has its moments. 'Mellotron' on one track, presumably from new Keys man Bo Koster, with strings and flutes on Off The Record.
My Silent Bravery, a.k.a. Matthew Wade, make some of the limpest indie-schmindie singer-songwriter guff I've heard in a while on their/his second album, 2011's Can't Quit. He seems to be so bereft of ideas, that on an under-forty-minute album, he records different versions of two tracks, the acoustic versions of Burnt Out and the title track adding little to the originals. Least bad track? Closer Today Is Tomorrow's Yesterday, with its mild country bent, but that isn't saying a lot. Jeff Calder is credited with Mellotron, but are the flutes on To Give supposed to be genuine? For that matter, are they even Mellotron samples? You thought that was bad? Listen to THIS, matey! 2013's Diamond From Coal is quite unbelievably horrible, dreck like the enraging Amazing or P.O.V. sending my blood pressure through the roof, while I can't, er, believe no-one spotted the grotesque Beatles rip on Believe. Vague samplotron strings on a couple of tracks, every bit as unconvincing as before. Truly hateful. This is so shit that you can imagine a video for pretty much anything here of Wade dancing, his arms half upraised, clicking his fingers. That shit. I wonder if you'd end up with a gemstone if you compressed Matthew Wade for millions of years in strata consisting of landfill copies of his own albums? I doubt it. Another substance entirely, I'd wager.
The irritatingly-named Myracle Brah (joke names, eh?) are Baltimore-based Andy Bopp's powerpop project, whose fourth album, 2002's Bleeder, is passable enough, although not even close to the quality of the genre's prime practitioners (not to mention the band's own eponymous release from 2000), not helped by Bopp's rather strained vocals throughout. Better tracks include Independence Day and Nation's Out, although Too Many People has more than a hint of Helter Skelter about it and the overall vibe is, oddly, one of defeatism. Paul Krysiak is credited with Mellotron, but if the strings on opener Song 37 are supposed to have anything to do with a tape-replay-based keyboard... The flutes on Wasted are slightly better, but only because they're easier to sample, while the strings on the same track and Broken are terrible. Sorry to be so down on this, but powerpop albums really should be either uplifting or melancholy; this is neither, succeeding merely in triggering this listener's finger-drumming and watch-checking urges.