Review of Fractal Mirror, “Garden of Ghosts” (privately released, 2014). The Band: Leo Koperdraat; Ed van Haagen; and Frank Urbaniak. Art by Brian Watson and layout by Frank Urbaniak. Additional personnel: Brent Kull (mixer); Larry Fast; Don Fast; and Andre de Boer.
Songs: House of Wishes; The Phoenix; Lost in Clouds; Solar Flare; The Hive; Solar Flare Reprise; The Garden; Orbital View; Event Horizon; Legacy; and Stars.
Birzer rating: 9.5/10.
Take a Dutch singer/keyboardist and a Dutch bassist, an American drummer, and an English artist. Add a little Kashmir-Zeppelin and a lot of Bauhaus, some Cure from the Faith period, and a touch of Gilmour-era Pink Floyd. Mix in some master jazz and prog stars to produce, contribute, and engineer. Throw in a dash of social media to connect it all. Finally, glue it all together with lyrics that might make Neil Peart blush at the timidity of his own Canuck individualism. Even with such diverse and various ingredients, you’d probably still not arrive at the genius that is Fractal Mirror.
“I will not bend or conform; this is how I’m meant to be.”
Indeed, it is. The first Fractal Mirror album proved a spectacular success. This second release, even more so. By infinite degrees. This sophomore release offers a full-bodied constitution and a virtuous soul to the emerging voice that was the new-born first album.
Fractal Mirror has come of age.
In a very definite sense, the title of this release “Garden of Ghost,” tells the listener almost all of what he or she needs to know about the whole. From the opening lyrics, Leo Koperdraat’s haunting, quavering voice shakes the listener to his deepest longings and desires as well as to his greatest fears and anxieties. This is not an album for the weak of soul, the narrow of mind, or faint of heart. This album is full-bodied, and it demands immersion, not just polite appreciation. While the ghosts fits the tone of the album completely, a “maze” might have worked as well as “garden.” The garden, if it exists, is the garden one finds in a nineteenth-century cemetery. It is certainly not the English garden of even the most psychedelic of Beatle songs. Here, if it exists, the garden collects stones, obelisks, mutated lambs and gargoyles, crumbling and cracked names, and pieces of rod iron and greened bronze and copper. A fog hovers over it all, and the damp penetrates all who enter it.
Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts is fully prog, though not the prog of our fathers. If Andy Tillson and Brian Watson (who also happens to be the main artist of FM) are correct that we have been living in the third wave of prog since about 1994—and I think they are right—2014 might very well reveal a transition to a new wave. As I look back over my posts for the past five years, I realize that every single year I write something akin to “201X, the greatest year in prog yet.” Yes, I’m prone to hyperbole, but I did mean this every time I wrote it. For the first time in a half-decade, I’m not sure this year, 2014 by Christian accounting, is the best year in prog. There have been some truly brilliant releases this year, indeed, some of the best prog I’ve ever heard. I think it is quite possible, however, that Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer took us to an unsurpassable level last year, perhaps the very culmination of third-wave prog.
The best releases of this year, such as those by Cosmograf, John Bassett, Salander, and Fractal Mirror, offer a progressively retro look, in theme and in musical styles. That is, many of the best releases this year have been scavenger hunts of the years 1979-1984 while cleaning those remaining and latent treasures and reimaging them.
What we have this year, 2014, is prog, to be certain, but it comes very close to post-post modern prog. Atmospheres, tones, and lingerings have replaced force, rhythm, and drive. “Ocean Rain” might serve as the touchstone rather than “Close to the Edge.”
To put it another way, the music of 2014 seems as intense as anything before it, but it also seems content to be contemplative and deeply intellectual, an autumnal repose of the mind and soul, an in-taking of breath, anticipating exhalation.
“This winter feels like forever, a garden of regret.”
FM has created a thing of real genius with Garden of Ghosts. I apologize that this review is so introspective and reflective, so utterly subjective. But, the 2014 prog scene has brought out the most existential questions in me. As I listen and listen and listen to Fractal Mirror, I can’t help but feel a most fundamental soul searching.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been listening to this album for roughly a month now, and I’ve found it one of the most difficult things I’ve ever reviewed. Not because it’s bad, but for exactly the opposite reason. It’s so interesting and complex, so very good, that I wanted to give my own thought processes time to catch up with it. I’m certain that as I continue to listen, I will discover even more depths as well as breadths.
I must also note: it’s well worth getting the physical CD. Brian Watson has presented us with some of his best artwork, and Frank Urbaniak’s layout sets what should be the standard for all cd layouts. The lyrics are well worth reading over and pondering, again and again. The band even included a brief description of the intent and meaning of each song. I resisted reading these until just right now, as I come to a close with this review. As it turns out, my interpretation of the themes of the album—loss, age, regret, concern, and hope—mesh with what the band has explained here. Again, a masterwork of autumnal existentialism.
For more information, see www.fractalmirror.net.