Duets for Mellotron is a riveting doorway into the past

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Duets for Mellotron started out as a live event project for Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist Jonathan Kirkscey and Memphis musician Robby Grant (Big Ass Truck, Vending Machine, Mouserocket). They decided to write an album of original music using only the Mellotron, a tape-based keyboard, early precursor to contemporary synthesizers. A staple of the prog-rock movement and used by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Radiohead, the Mellotron has never really had it’s moment in the spotlight. Kirkscey and Grant gave the instrument it’s due, accented with a trippy video installation, all performed to a sold out crowd. The event proved so popular that they added an additional night and recorded it for an album release.

It is immediately apparent as the first track “The Green Sword” fades out of the aether with a military march beat and ringing bells that this album is a doorway into the past. The zoo animal sounds that punctuate the song place it firmly in the Exotica realm. You can imagine the album sitting comfortably next to smiling bullet bra adorned woman comfortably sipping a martini.

The next track, the mundanely titled “Joan Folds Towels” is my personal favorite. The eight-minute opus starts with a haunting melody and a delicate flanging bass line. It is instantly cinematic. Written in movements the second passage begins with an urgent syncopated beat in a minor chord. The final movement returns to the opening melody, but adds a dark buzz underneath, hinting at something more oppressive.

The other standout track on the album “Enemies Til Death” uses vocal loops against a simple, repetitive refrain. It conjures images of someone running through a forest at night and comes the closest to contemporary synth compositions.

I would be remiss not to mention the last track on the album, “Take the Old Bridge,” an Ennio Morricone-esque track that conjures Spaghetti Western images in the listener’s head.

What started out as an exercise becomes a full-fledged project on this album release, and hints at many more exciting avenues to explore using this versatile instrument. Kirkscey and Grant have hinted that they have more music coming, so let’s hope they continue down this path, pushing at the boundaries of possibility and sculpting sumptuous soundscapes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys providing a film score in the near future.

You can buy a digital download or the limited edition blue vinyl release in a beautiful gatefold jacket via Bandcamp by clicking here!

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