album list


Brenda Weiler  (US)

Fly Me Back  (2000,  38.03)  **

Fly Me Back is a wetter-than-wet indie singer-songwriter effort, its irritation factor exacerbated by Brenda Weiler's unpleasantly nasal tones. John Hermanson's Mellotron? Fucked if I know.

Noam Weinstein  (US)

We're All Going There  (2006,  43.15)  **½

We're All Going There is a dull singer-songwriter effort, lyrics clearly regarded as more important than music, Not On The Lips being its most memorable composition. I have no idea why Lee Alexander is credited with Mellotron.

Weird Weeds  (US)

Hold Me  (2004,  31.18)  **½

Weird Weeds seem to do a variety of post-rock that makes very little sense to my ears, I'm afraid; maybe you have to attune yourself to this kind of stuff, but the 20th-century classical influences to be heard on 2004's Hold Me tend to grate on my ears, although I doubt if that's the desired effect. I find that any one track played at random sounds OK, but the cumulative effect of an album's-worth set my teeth on edge after a while, even though this is the shortest modern album I've heard in a long while. Sampled Mellotron on two tracks, with dissonant flutes on Soda Jerk, although the album's crowning fakeotron moment is the actually very beautiful first minute or so of opener Paratrooper Seed, which is nowt but solo polyphonic flutes, far too smooth to be real, which probably means they are. I didn't really like this, but you might and its first minute really is a corker...

Well Wishers  (US)

Twenty-Four Seven  (2004,  42.02)  ***½

The Well Wishers are effectively Spinning Jennies' Jeff Shelton's powerpop project, whose debut, 2004's Twenty-Four Seven, is a fine example of the style, all breezy sunshine melodies and jangly guitars. Shelton plays with the genre a little, tackling old-school punk (well, sort of) on Sex & The Suburbs and even country on Something On Your Mind, while adding monosynth to a few tracks in true Cars stylee. Highlights include opener (of course) See For The First Time, Bustin Up and Press Begin To Play, but little here disappoints. Someone (presumably Shelton) adds clearly sampled Mellotron strings to Dead Again, particularly obvious on the low notes, with possibly a little more on closer The Game. No matter; this is a most worthwhile album, faux-Mellotron or no faux-Mellotron.

E.J. Wells  (US)

Rhyolite  (2002,  44.09)  ***

Rhyolite is at the 'dirty rock'n'roll' end of Americana, with a side-helping of Spaghetti Western soundtrack, at its best on Shortstack And A Longneck, Moonrise and dark ballad Rising Sun. Chris Arduser and Charlie Fletcher play blatant samplotron strings on Downstairs At The Funeral Home and The Undertaker's Lament.

Wende  (Netherlands)

No. 9  (2009,  36.35)  ***

Although British-born, Wende (Snijders) is very clearly Dutch, although recent albums see her breaking out to an international audience. 2009's No. 9, er, isn't; it's either her fifth or sixth release, depending on what you count, a strange album, more vaudeville and circus music than the expected contemporary pop/rock or singer-songwriter guff. Better tracks include Sycamore Tree and The Moon Is Out, but nothing here offends. Reyn Ouwehand (Charlie Dée, Stephan Eicher) plays most of the album's fairly minimal samplotron work, with nothing immediately identifiable on Break My Heart and flutes on Exhale and Sycamore Tree, while Wende adds flutes to Yes, We Can.

Wendy & Lisa  (US)

White Flags of Winter Chimneys  (2008,  41.56/60.44)  ***

Wendy (Melvoin, sister of The Smashing Pumpkins' Jonathan) and Lisa (Coleman) were, of course, integral members of Prince's Revolution in the '80s, going solo in '87 after falling out with the Great Man (cough). Unbelievably, 2008's White Flags of Winter Chimneys (from a line in Joni Mitchell's Hejira) is self-released, as a duo of their standing aren't on a label; OK, that has its advantages (some would say, "Considerable advantages"), but there are reasons artists sign with large companies. It's actually a fine album of singer-songwriterly material, with unsurprising '80s touches in places, better tracks including the all-acoustic You And I and the excellent, almost proggy Sweet Suite (Beginning At The End), complete with its beautiful opening piano solo. One (or both?) of the duo add Mellotron samples (admitted in an online interview), with choirs on Ever After, Salt And Cherries (MC5), Red Bike, the title track and Sweet Suite, sounding neither particularly authentic or inauthentic. Overall, a long way from the kind of sub-Prince nonsense you might've expected, which has to be good news. Almost prog in places (gasp!), this is a very listenable album, albeit one without too many defining features.

Matt Wertz  (US)

Weights & Wings  (2011,  40.21)  *½

Going by his sixth studio album (including an early independent release), 2011's Weights & Wings, Matt Wertz is the very worst kind of wet-as-water, drippy US singer-songwriter; it will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever to learn that his ultra-twee songs have been used on various crappy mainstream US TV shows. He's also toured with the hideous likes of Jason Mraz and Christians Jars of Clay, so his own appallingness is pretty much a foregone conclusion and, believe me, this album is appalling. John Deaderick and Jason Lehning play samplotron, if only just; is that a flute doubling the whistled melody (ouch) on Everything Will Be Alright? Definite flutes on Easier Tonight. Never mind, only masochists and the terminally tasteless are ever going to listen to this steaming heap of garbage anyway.

John Wesley  (US)

Under the Red & White Sky  (1994,  53.12)  **

John Wesley was the eighteenth-century minister and theologian who founded the Methodist church. He... Er, sorry, that's what comes of relying too heavily on WikiPedia. This John Wesley (Dearth, a.k.a. Wes Dearth) was apparently Marillion's guitar tech in the early '90s, for his sins; his band certainly opened for them at the time, while he later joined Porcupine Tree as their live second guitarist, alongside his solo career. I'm afraid to say, however, that his solo debut, 1994's Under the Red & White Sky, is an album so insipid that it makes Marillion's contemporaneous work sound raw and edgy; this is bland, AOR/soft rock for the most part, Cuttin' The Tree and the Americana of closer Silver being the nearest this gets to 'dynamism'. Worst tracks? Most of the rest, frankly. Sorry.

The 'Mellotron' strings and flutes on None So Beautiful are fairly obviously sampled (no good samples around in '94), quite possibly the 'first generation' ones Marillion apparently made from an associate's machine and used on a handful of albums around the same time, not least the same year's Brave. I'm sorry to be so hard on this; Wesley strikes me as a decent chap and an excellent musician, but this kind of 'nothing music' does him no favours whatsoever. He's made most of his back catalogue available free of charge from his website, though, so you can decide for yourself without having to splash out.

Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses  (Norway)

Maelstrom  (2014,  53.12)  **

Stian Westerhus has worked with Jaga Jazzist, so it's no great surprise that his first (?) solo album, Maelstrom, sounds a lot like them, albeit jamming with Radiohead. Unfortunately, the end result sounds like a kind of post-rock jamband, most of its overlong tracks building to a feedback crescendo to no particular effect. Westerhus and Øystein Moen are both credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Chasing Hills fail to convince.

A Western Front  (US)

Full Blown Dave  (1993,  67.04)  **½

A Western Front's Full Blown Dave is, allegedly, the very first album ever to've been given away by its creators on the Internet, in MP2 format. MP2? Yes, dear reader, MP2, which apparently 'remains a dominant standard for audio broadcasting' (thank you, Wikipedia). And yes, there was an MP1, now regarded as being 'largely obsolete'. No shit. Anyway, said first free downoadable album blah blah is a very ordinary, early '90s kind of alt.rock thing, at its least irrelevant on Everybody's Going To Hell. Someone calling himself Spooner is credited with Mellotron, with strings on The Problem that sound like 1993-style samples, probably because they're from 1993.

Westlife  (Ireland)

Back Home  (2007,  47.30)  *

I think Westlife's Wikipedia entry says it all: "Westlife are an Irish pop group formed on 3 July 1998". So accurate? Was that the day all the hand-picked participants signed their management contracts? I don't know why I even bother getting disgusted by manufactured boy/girl bands; they've been around as long as pop has existed and will be around until it coughs its last. 2007's Back Home is their pretty vile eighth non-compilation effort, consisting of the limpest of limp balladry, interspersed with the occasional upbeat effort (The Easy Way, Pictures In My Head), slightly reducing its overall soporific effect. But only slightly. Producer Steve Mac is credited with Mellotron on It's You, but whatever he adds to the track is inaudible under the real strings and backing vocals, meaning that I've (half-) listened to this for no reason at all. Gahhh. Y'know, I actually approached this hoping to find something positive to say about it, but have failed dismally. This is music for people who have a gap where some of us have musical taste; not mine, but any taste. Music for people who don't like music. Absolute fucking drivel.

Lise Westzynthius  (Denmark)

Siberian Mission  (2007,  41.14)  ***

Lise Westzynthius plays an intriguing form of offbeat singer-songwriter material on Siberian Mission, all sparse piano, circus calliope and massed voices juxtaposed with mainstream pop/rock moves and occasional bursts of the completely unexpected. Highlights? The opening title track, Soldiers and the crazed Bechstein My Ass. Westzynthius credits herself with Mellotron on the last-named. It isn't.

Erica Wexler  (US)

Sunlit Night  (2013,  42.26)  **½

For those who don't know, Erica Wexler is XTC's Andy Partidge's American wife, Sunlit Night being her debut album, forty-odd minutes of unremitting piano balladry. Don't get me wrong - Wexler has a truly beautiful voice - but you've got to be really into the soppier end of the musical spectrum to gain much from this. Partridge is credited with Mellotron on I Unbecome, to which I can only say, 'you must be joking'. XTC's Mellotron clearly went with Dave Gregory.

Kirk Wheeler  (US)

Bonfires  (2007,  37.08)  **

Kirk Wheeler released his first album in 1997 as Jitterwheel, although he went 'legit' for its follow-up, '99's Pelican Soup. Although he's not exactly the biggest name ever, someone's pumped some money into him (so to speak); his fifth album, 2007's Bonfires, features a whole slew of known session guys, not least producer Zac Rae (Macy Gray, Lisa Marie Presley), although (as a result?) the end result is the kind of bland singer-songwriter fare that's tailor-made for background music on TV nonsense like The O.T. The gutsy Bullfight's about the best thing here, but that isn't saying much. Rae supposedly plays Chamberlin, with background strings on Cameras In California, background cellos and strings on Dry Wood and background flutes on Fields Of Green; spot the connection? Everything about Wheeler seems to be background; just for once, dude, write something that actually grabs your audience's attention. Suppose that's no way to get lucrative TV contracts for your music, though.

When  (Norway)

Gynt  (1997,  39.24)  ***
Psychedelic Wunderbaum  (1998,  42.24)  ***

When are effectively Norwegian psychonaut Lars Pedersen's one-man band, allowing him to experiment to his heart's content. And experiment he does. Despite his work having little metal content, several of his album's are apparently revered on the Norwegian black metal scene for their overall darkness, which says more to me about what black metal enthusiasts really like than any number of torched churches. Gynt is, as you might expect, a severely mutated version of Grieg's best-known work, with twenty-six tracks squeezed into forty minutes. Pedersen has described it as, "A satiric play on Edward Grieg's Peer Gynt. Inspired by Henrik Ibsen" and he ain't kiddin'. Parts of it are recognisable, but more isn't than is and what is usually ends up mutilated almost beyond recognition. Is this what happens when it's impossible to escape your country's most famous work? This is properly weird-arse shit, a typical mangling being The Death Of Åse, which 'features' a rhythmic 'beep' throughout, that becomes a solid tone at the piece's conclusion, heart monitor-style. Pedersen plays samplotron strings on Dance Of The Mountain King's Daughter, The Death of Åse (playing the main melody line over a Residents-style atonal backing), a descending line on The Thief And The Receivers, Peer Gynt's Serenade and Whitsun Hymn: "Blessed Morn". Psychedelic Wunderbaum is better described as 'psychedelic cut-up' than dark per se. I won't pretend it's the easiest of listens, but who wants easy listening? Go and listen to James Last if that's your bag. In fact, since writing that, I've realised that Pedersen was a founding member of samplotron users The Last James, which is a strange piece of synchronicity, non? Pedersen on samplotron again, with unusual cello use on opener Time Ago, 'stabbed' strings on Extremist Cow, high strings throughout As-Speak-You-Are and more normal ones on Young Feet Flush and Kali.

When the Clouds  (Italy)

The Longed-for Season  (2010,  29.13)  **½

Going by what appears to be Francesco Galano's solo project, When the Clouds' debut release, 2010's The Longed-for Season mini-album, he/they play an entirely generic form of post-rock, which I've insultingly seen compared to Sigur Rós. OK, I suppose it's mostly harmless enough, but what was original in the mid-'90s is now unutterably clichéd, all wispy glockenspiels and plangent guitar lines. Yawn. Although there are Mellotronic strings on Flooding River, a high cello line on November Song and strings on The Place Where This Path Leads, the '...ic' is the giveaway; there's no way that these are a genuine Mellotron, I'm afraid. The strings on the first two tracks could be the same samples, but manage to not even sound Mellotronic, for what it's worth. Maybe not, then.

A Whisper in the Noise  (US)

As the Bluebird Sings  (2006,  49.27)  ***
Dry Land  (2007,  54.46)  ***

A Whisper in the Noise almost define the phrase 'gothic post-rock', with their gloomy evocations of something or other, set to zero b.p.m. Their second album 'proper' (excluding a collaborative effort), 2006's As the Bluebird Sings, replete with lashings of solo orchestral instruments (violin, French horn) and massed vocals, comes across as the kind of things that goths should listen to, as against Bauhaus and The Mission. Mainman West Thordson (other members: Hannah Murray on suitably ethereal violin and Matt Irwin on drums and programmes, probably more of the latter than the former) plays Chamberlin samples on a handful of tracks, with distant male voices on the title track and Until The Time It's Over, while the credit for 'Chamberlin loop' on their superb version of Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' presumably refers to the cello-ish drone running right through the song.

The following year's Dry Land isn't actually bad, just slightly stifling, lacking the variety a band needs to really carry this kind of thing off. Murray's inventive violin work is possibly the most important component of their sound, even more than West's rather tortured vocals, although it's probably Thordson adding the fairly obviously sampled Mellotron flutes and choirs to A New Dawn. Suffice to say, if you're of a gothic persuasion, you may well go for this, although, like so many similar, it's distinctly overlong. Guess what colour their website's background is? Clue: it's not fuchsia.

Ian Whitcomb  (UK)

Songs Without Words  (2012, recorded 1964-2009,  148.13)  ***

Ian Whitcomb's been around since the '60s, although his tastes lean closer to ragtime than psychedelia these days. Songs Without Words is a semi-compilation, its earliest recordings dating back to 1964, mopping up a slew of instrumental tracks, all in early 20th Century mode. While I can't fault the execution, over two hours of this stuff begins to grate after a while, frankly, although I realise that's my problem, not his. Whitcomb's credited with Mellotron, although I have no idea why; I can't even hear anything on the older recordings.

Bryan White  (US)

How Lucky I am  (1999,  43.56)  *

Bryan White is the kind of modern country singer who barely even counts as 'country'. His fourth album, How Lucky I am (and how unlucky are we?), is more 'adult contemporary' than Nashville, despite being recorded there; the only traditional touches are pedal steel and (admittedly well-played) fiddle. Some online reviewers are more charitable than others (I don't count his rabid fans on Amazon), saying things like 'the material's above average', to which all I have to say is: how low do you have to go to reach 'average'? This is utterly horrible, lowest common denominator schlock of the nastiest order, cheesier than the entire Pizza Hut chain, slicker than the Exxon Valdez, squeakier-clean than the Carpenters having a sleepover at the Osmond household. I mean, just look at his horrid, smug expression on the sleeve; would YOU buy a used concept from this man? I've tried manfully to a) listen to the album without skipping through tracks and b) find anything even remotely nice to say about any of it, but I've been defeated. Defeated by shite.

A gentleman named Taz Bentley is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be buggered if I can hear the sodding thing; it's probably buried away under the ubiquitous strings for a few seconds somewhere. Anyway, this is one of the most distressing albums to which I've had the displeasure to listen over the last several years and I can only urge you to run, VERY FAST, in the opposite direction should White's name ever come up in conversation. Vile, vile, vile. I feel soiled. Apart from that, it's fine.

Jim White  (UK)

Drill a Hole in That Substrate & Tell Me What You See  (2004,  62.39)  ***

Jim White's third album, 2004's Drill a Hole in That Substrate & Tell Me What You See, manages to mix Americana, electronica and Tom Waits into a rich, southern gothic gumbo without sounding clichéd or naïve, which is quite a trick. I'm not sure if it's an album that will bear repeated listens; even on a second play, the programmed percussion and synths were beginning to get on my nerves. However, you couldn't say he sounds particularly like anyone else, which is worth celebrating in these days of 17th-hand borrowings and copies of copies of copies of something that wasn't that original in the first place. 'Mellotron' on a couple of tracks, notably the strings on Static On The Radio (spot Aimee Mann on vocals) and the flutes on Combing My Hair In A Brand New Style, but it all sounds rather distant and sampled to my ears. Anyway, an interesting, if flawed record, with several tracks that won't drive you up the wall. At least he's doing something different.

White Birch  (Norway)

People Now Human Beings  (1998,  48.01)  **
Star is Just a Sun  (2002,  44.34)  ****
Come Up for Air  (2005,  46.04)  ***½

Although The White Birch have been reviewed on some progressive sites, 1998's People Now Human Beings is a noisy, overproduced mess, incorporating elements of post-rock, hip-hop and other hyphenated genres, the bulk of the album irritated me intensely. Oddly, their influences seem to coalesce on closer The Expanding Sea, making it a rather more palatable listen. The album features occasional clearly sampled 'Mellotron' use, notably the insanely over-extended flute note on Satellite, although it's hardly a defining feature. I'm afraid to say I found listening to this a real chore; when you have to keep fighting the urge (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep jabbing at the 'next' button, you know you're in trouble. Very dull. 2002's Star is Just a Sun is apparently a major departure for the band, probably best described as melancholy, having more in common with the quieter end of, say, Radiohead, Low, or more obviously, Iceland's Sigur Rós. A sort-of post-rock/prog crossover, then, a far better description than 'miserable', which just makes me think of the likes of The Smiths. This is really quite gorgeous, actually, deserving a far wider audience than the one it doubtless has, although at least being on Glitterhouse should give the wider world a passing chance of becoming aware of their existence.

It's difficult to pick standout tracks on one listen (you think I have the time for multiple plays of new albums?), but opening instrumental Air sets the scene nicely, with most of the album being in a similar vein, only a couple of tracks having any percussion at all. The vocal work is reasonable, but I'd have been just as happy had the album been instrumental, although that wouldn't do the band's prospects any good, I suspect. Ola Fløttum plays the occasional (credited) Mellotron part, with a flute part running through Breathe, sparse flutes and cellos (the closest any of the samples come to 'authentic') towards the end of Donau Movies and what sounds like distant, heavily-reverbed choirs on Glow. The band's final album, 2005's Come Up for Air, gives us more of the same: a slowcore/post-rock crossover record, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is shorthand for 'no outstanding tracks, listen to the whole thing'. Plenty of what I take to be samplotron, with a brief flute part on Your Spain, more of the same on The White Birds and a major part on Stand Over Me, flutes and choirs on Silent Love and various other distant, drifting 'is it/isn't it?' parts on most tracks.

White Fence  (US)

Family Perfume Vols 1 & 2  (2012,  79.48)  **

White Fence are Californian Tim Presley's lo-fi indie project, whose third (and fourth) release (excluding live albums and collaborations), 2012's Family Perfume, is a pair of vinyl-only LPs (now on one CD), stuffed to the brim with Presley's unique brand of something that some commentators are calling 'psychedelia'. Personally speaking (shall I say 'me, personally'? Thought not), I'm not at all sure what's 'psychedelic' about any of this; call me an old fart, but what I'm hearing is a bunch of intimate, personal songs (Presley calls them 'diary entries'), wilfully badly-played and recorded, complete with tape-slippage and other technical hitches. I'm not advocating the smooth, West Coast sessioneering approach, but is this attempt to sound 'authentic' a case of trying too hard? I'm all for rawness, if the results justify the means, but this comes across to the unattuned ear as amateurish. Uncool, aren't I?

'Mellotron strings' on a handful of tracks, in the background on opener Swagger Vets And Double Moon, upfront (and very badly played) on Daily Pique, murky on Groundskeeper Rag and more distant on closer King Of The Decade, but I'm really not holding out any hope that they're real. I feel like a proper old geezer now; "Well, it ain't proper music, is it?", but I simply don't get it. This is where old age starts.

White Hills  (US)

H-p1  (2011,  71.47)  ***
Frying on This Rock  (2012,  44.23)  ***

White Hills are a New York-based space-rock outfit, although most reviewers label them 'psychedelic'. Yes, I suppose their second (?) album, 2011's H-p1, is, but first and foremost, its churning, repetitive riffery is really only categorisable as space-rock. There's a quite blatant Hawkwind influence throughout, particularly obvious on the lengthy closing title track, while several of the synth-heavy tracks sound like Warrior on the Edge of Time outtakes. Best track? Probably the relatively concise Upon Arrival, although full-blown psychonauts may prefer the ten-minute blitzkrieg of No Other Way or H-p1 itself. One Dave W is credited with Mellotron strings on opener The Condition Of Nothing, but its smoothness, not to mention sounding exactly the same on every repeat, ring warning bells on the sample front, which probably means I'm wrong.

2012's Frying on This Rock is an easier listen than its predecessor, partially due to being a sensible 'single album' length. Musically, it mines the same seam as H-p1, but the trancelike repetition of Robot Stomp and fourteen-minute closer I Write A Thousand Letters (Pulp On Bone) loses this listener's attention, although Pads Of Light is rather more varied. Samplotronically speaking, we get a screechy string part on Robot Stomp, but that appears to be our lot. Are you doing the same drugs as White Hills? And if not, why not?

White Hinterland  (US)

Phylactery Factory  (2008,  45.54)  ***

White Hinterland are clearly the brainchild of Casey Dienel, whose strangely childlike, almost tuneless vocals pervade her first album under that name, 2008's Phylactery Factory. Try to imagine Joanna Newsom reinvented as an ethereal jazz spirit haunting New England (go on, try) and you might be getting close to their sound. I can't say it especially appeals to your esteemed reviewer (in fact, I find her voice highly irritating), but it's been critically lauded and is certainly a work of some intelligence and invention, so what do I know? Dienel plays samplotron, amongst other keys, with occasional flutes on Lindberghs & Metal Birds.

White Violet  (US)

Hiding, Mingling  (2012,  35.30)  ***

Hiding, Mingling sits at the sparsest end of the Americana spectrum, at its best on Second Wind and Station, perhaps. Andy LeMaster (Bright Eyes) supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flutes on Blame aren't fooling anyone.

Jenny Whiteley  (Canada)

Dear  (2006,  42.54)  **½
Forgive or Forget  (2010,  35.40)  ***

Jenny Whiteley is the daughter of Canadian blues musician Chris Whiteley, although her preferred oeuvre is largely gentle, country-influenced material. To be honest, Dear, while respectable enough, is all a bit one-paced, while whoever sings harmony on Write Me Away (Jim Byrnes?) is painfully flat; not so much 'rustic' as 'tone deaf'. Best track? Probably opener Indoor Lightning. Producer Steve Dawson and Chris Gestrin are credited with Mellotron, but the vaguely flutish sound used here and there convinces no-one. 2010's Forgive or Forget is a good album within its genre, which, of course, stands or falls on the quality of its songwriting more than most, although my favourite track is the one that deviates furthest from the formula, the vaguely Neil Young-ish Truth And The Eyes Of The Dead. Dawson and Gestrin on 'Mellotron' again, with background flutes on Truth And The Eyes Of The Dead, although given that I can't hear anything else, I'm not sure why it took both of them to produce a fairly minor part. As with all of Dawson's production work, though I'm quite sure it's sampled. Anyway, a superior country album, without the western.

Whitlams  (Australia)

Eternal Nightcap  (1997,  63.36)  ***

I'm assured The Whitlams are a pretty cheerful bunch most of the time, but it seems Eternal Nightcap is largely about a friend of their who committed suicide the previous year; several of the tracks are about him, including the three 'Charlie' ones (thanks to Adrian for that info). A few tracks up the ante and the pace, including Love Is Everywhere and Up Against The Wall, but most of the album relies on an almost alt.country laid-back feel, not to mention the waltz-time folk of Band On Every Corner, although the rest of it's nearer to the rock/pop mainstream. Samplotron on one track only, Melbourne, band leader Tim Freedman playing 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes, mixed with real strings in places.

Chris Whitley  (US)

Din of Ecstasy  (1995,  47.29)  ***

Chris Whitley is that rare thing: an artist who actually deserves the label 'alternative'; over the course of his career, he shifted through various styles, landing on a alt.rock/electric blues hybrid by the mid-'90s and Din of Ecstasy. It's a good singer-songwriter effort and while its rock element sounds a little dated fifteen years on, the power of Whitley's songs remains undiminished, particularly Can't Get Off, New Machine and the 'hidden' track at the end, the acoustic slide blues of Days Of Obligation. Andy Rosen is credited with Mellotron on opener Narcotic Prayer, although whatever he contributed is entirely lost in the mix. As a sad postscript, Whitley's lifestyle caught up with him in 2005 and he died of lung cancer in November of that year.

Joy Whitlock  (US)

God & a Girl  (2008,  61.50)  **

Joy Whitlock considers herself a 'prodigal', going by the biography on her website; preacher's daughter gone bad, before 'God caught up with her' at 21. Well, good for God, I say. Of course, untold numbers of people actually believe that 'He' is omnipotent (even if they can't spell it) and is actually able to pinpoint individuals and haul them up from the depths to which they've sunk. Yeah, whatever. Do none of them ever consider that it might have been THEMSELVES that did the 'hauling up'? Give yourselves some credit, people... The end result, in this case, is a Christian artist who, going by her first full-length album, 2008's God & a Girl, makes upbeat pop/rock CCM, which is at least preferable to the drippy 'oh God I LOVE you!' variety. There's still plenty of that in the lyric department, but at least the music is only 'modern pop/rock' awful, rather than 'typical CCM' awful. Is this an improvement? Slightly, yes, but only slightly. Rick Steff plays Mellotron on Cost Of Being Free, which proves the worth of track-by-track credits, since if I didn't know, I wouldn't know, if you know what I mean. Is there anything in there at all? Anything? Why bother?

Wibutee  (Norway)

Sweet Mental  (2006,  42.32)  ***

I've seen Norwegian trio Wibutee described as 'electro jazz', although their sound on their debut, 2006's Sweet Mental, also features elements of avant- and chamber-prog, amongst other styles. Moments of quiet beauty (SORPI, closer The Ball) rub shoulders with sax-led jazzy pieces (Aalo, Stereo Plains), ensuring that few people will really understand where they're coming from; a pity, as there's a lot to like about the album, depending on your tolerance for jazz. Although Håkon Kornstad and Rune "Sternklang" Brøndbo are credited with Mellotron on two tracks, the speedy flute part on Aalo and strident string line on SORPI lack that ring of authenticity, so into samples this goes. To buy or not to buy? How much do you like jazzy avant-prog? That's probably your benchmark, then.

Wicked Farleys  (US)

Sustained Interest  (1999,  32.28)  **

Aargh! Generic indie alert! Piss-poor rhythms? Check. Scratchy guitar work? Check. Whiny, tuneless vocals? Check. Why? Just why? The Wicked Farleys have a Swirlies connection, making it less surprising that one of their members, Damon Tutunjian, supposedly plays Mellotron. He doesn't.

Wicked Minds  (Italy)

Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden  [a.k.a. From the Purple Skies]  (2003,  52.42/78.23)  ****
Witchflower  (2006,  79.02)  ***½
Visioni, Deliri e Illusioni  (2011,  70.55/79.11)  ***½

Wicked Minds formed in the early '90s, apparently shifting into a psychedelic hard rock direction after supporting Monster Magnet, although it took them until 1999 to release Return to Uranus and another four years to produce their first 'proper' album, Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden. You like Uriah Heep? Deep Purple? Atomic Rooster? You'll love Wicked Minds. The album's a full-on heavy psych-fest, chock-full of Paolo "Apollo" Negri (Link Quartet)'s ripping (very obviously real) Hammond work; listen to the intro to Drifting to get, er, my drift - he keeps the Leslie switched off for twenty seconds or so, then switches it on in a way that emulators have never fully captured. The material's good all round, if (unsurprisingly) a little unoriginal, but as with, say, Black Bonzo, that kind of accusation could be construed as seriously missing the point; of course something emulating a thirty-plus year-old style isn't original, it's what the band does with it that matters.

Most of the album's keyboard work is, of course, Hammond, although there's a little samplotron, with brief string parts on The Elephant Stone and Across The Sunrise, although you probably wouldn't miss them if they weren't there. Just to confuse matters, no-one seems to've spotted that the following year's From the Purple Skies is no more than a resequenced reissue of ...Delirium Garden with three extra tracks, the short Forever My Queen (slotted in as track five), a ripping cover of Heep's Gypsy and the massive, jammed-out, eighteen-minute Return To Uranus (stop laughing), reiterated (and presumably re-recorded) from their out of print debut, adding more 'Mellotron' strings. As a result, don't even bother looking for the original release, as the reissue's far better value and that final track is completely essential.

2006 brought Witchflower, another full-length CD of presumably mostly new material, although Burning Tree is doubtless a re-recording of their debut's Garden Of Burning Trees. The songwriting quality has largely been maintained, highlights including the epic Scorpio Odyssey, although somehow it's a fraction less joyous than before, accounting for the dropped half-star. We get another cover, too, with a piano-led take on Purple's Soldier Of Fortune, although vocalist J.C. Cinel, while perfectly competent, is no Coverdale. Negri's expanded his instrument base, adding a Moog and a (Solina?) string machine, although the solo 'Mellotron' strings on Scorpio Odyssey give the Mellotron sample game away, with more of the same on A Child And A Mirror and some terrible choirs on Soldier Of Fortune.

2011's Visioni, Deliri e Illusioni is excellent, is a little overlong, especially the double vinyl version. Top tracks include instrumental organ-fest opener Caronte I, heavy prog epic La Prima Goccia Bagna Il Viso and Io, La Strega, probably the most original thing here, although various Italian prog covers, including an abbreviated version of Museo Rosenbach's Zarathustra and the vinyl-only PFM segue La Carrozza Di Hans/Impressioni Di Settembre are worthy, yet slightly inessential. Samplotron on several tracks, including background flutes and a string line on L'Uomo, obviously sampled strings on Dio Del Silenzio, upfront strings on the Un'Isola/Un'Illusione Da Poco/Clessidra medley and the expected parts on the covers.

All in all, an excellent band, if you're as stuck in the early '70s as me some. The lack of real Mellotron shouldn't be considered a disadvantage (what, it isn't?), given the definitely real Hammond overdose effect on both these releases. So; don't forget: From the Purple Skies, not Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden, even if it's got a better title.

Wiehe  (Sweden)

Främmande Land  (2005,  51.16)  **½

Mikael Wiehe's Främmande Land is a rather dull, largely acoustic Swedish-language singer-songwriter effort, almost certainly improved if one understands the lyrics. Better tracks? Possibly the title track, which channels a certain dark energy. Pål Svenre plays samplotron strings on closer Det Finns Nåt Vitare.

Wil  (Canada)

By December  (2007,  49.44)  ***

Wil Mimnaugh's By December is an Americana-end-of-indie effort, veering between lighter and heavier material, at its best on Wedding Dress, Always With Love and the downtuned heavy blues of Honey Pie. Dave MacKinnon's credited with Mellotron, but it's intriguing to know exactly where it's meant to be. The various strings on Rain On? The mandolins at the end of Always With Love? Quite certainly not genuine, anyway.

David Wilcox  (US)

Turning Point  (1997,  51.40)  **

I'm trying to work out whether or not David Wilcox's Turning Point is meant to be a Christian album: track titles such as Silent Prayer, Glory and Secret Church indicate a possibility, but I suspect Wilcox is coming more from a 'spiritual' direction than an overtly religious one. Either way, both his songs and their arrangements are exceptionally dull. Newton Carter and Ric Hordinski (Over the Rhine) are credited with Mellotron. Hmmm. The flutes and strings on Spin aren't too bad, although a speedy flute run sounds suspect, while the massed strings bridging Right Now and Human Cannonball (plus flutes on the latter) simply don't ring true. I could, of course, be wrong.

Wild Strawberries  (Canada)

Heroine  (1995,  43.28)  **½
Twist  (2000,  56.06)  **½

Wild Strawberries are the Toronto-based married couple duo of Ken and Roberta Carter Harrison, who've been making albums, with varying commercial success, since the late '80s. The fact that they've played Lilith Fair probably tells you a good bit about how they sound; perfectly pleasant, but a bit wet, in a typically indie manner. 1995's Heroine features nice instrumentation in places (plenty of Wurly piano), although the '808 kit' credited on a few tracks wears one down pretty quickly. Ken (the duo's sole songwriter) plays inaudible samplotron on I Don't Want To Think About It, while Fall has a very audible flute part and Fine a lesser one. Two albums later, Twist is, essentially, more of the same, only longer, so if lightweight indie-pop's your bag, you've come to the right place. Is there a best track? Yup: their rocky cover of Gloria Jones via Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Harrison (K.) supposedly plays Chamberlin on All I Want, but I've no idea what it might be doing. Incidentally, one oddity here is the series of brief, silent tracks, interspersed with bursts of ambient noise, separating the two covers that end the disc from the rest of the album. Why?