‘They call it a community, I like to think of it as home’
To quote a Pet Shop Boys lyric is an odd place to start an album review, but bear with me as I think this pretty much sums up mine (and many others) feelings about the Prog world that we are all a part of, and which we are proud to belong to, finding new bands, meeting new friends and making new spiritual and musical connections along the way.
Fractal Mirror is the ultimate reflection of this, a band, a connection of collaborators all brought together by the love of Prog music through the Big Big Train Facebook group of all things. This creative connection showcases all that is good about the power of social networks, and for every negative media comment about how it’s bad for us, and how it is just a minefield of bullying, there’s not enough positivity about the real friendships and bonds that are created online, and here, in my hands and in my CD player is the proof of the power of social media.
If there was no Facebook this group wouldn’t exist in this format, and that would be a damn shame.
Following up last years highly acclaimed debut album Strange Attractors, Garden of Ghosts is a wonderful album with stunning lyrics, amazing musical moments and is the complete package, with an amazing sleeve, an immersive example of the album as art.
The collaborators that are Fractal Mirror, Leo Koperdraat (keys, guitars, vocals) Ed van Haagen (bass, keys, sound enhancements) and Frank Urbaniak (drums, percussion) are all fantastic musicians, and here working together they all combine to create a mighty musical sound. Of course Fractal Mirror is a collective and the other members are the highly original and talented artist Brian Watson (whose the real go-to guy for album art, having worked on albums by Manning, The Tangent and Mike Kershaw) and whose artwork beautifully illustrates each song in the book, whilst the final member of this immensely talented quintet is Andre de Boer responsible for moving images and triangle.
As an aside talking of this community of folk I first had the pleasure of meeting Leo Koperdraat and Brian Watson (amongst others) at this years Eppyfest where they made me feel most welcome, again prog connects so many people.
From the album notes Fractal Mirror say this album is loosely connected around the themes of connections and relationships in the 21st century, all pervasive technology and how memory and perspective changes.
Three wholly relevant and widely debated topics that ask all sorts of questions, which would take someone far smarter than me to answer.
These 11 tracks on this superbly produced album (by Brett Kull from Echolyn who adds vocals and guitars to some tracks) are a wonderful variety of styles and moods, and like all the best albums should be listened to in one sitting.
This isn’t a dip in dip out kind of record, and it rewards the listener who takes the time to focus and appreciate the subtle nuances throughout.
There are plenty of musical guests joining the Fractal Mirror family on this record like Larry Fast on keyboards and mellotron, Don Fast lending his sitar to Orbital View, Charlotte Koperdraat on vocals and Jacques Varsalona on vocals.
These talented musicians add to an already impressive musical sound and all bring something to the party that enhances the texture throughout this album.
This album flows wonderfully from the opening House of Wishes, with some great vocals from Leo, and the Fractal Mirror sound exploding out from here.
The Phoenix, with its lyrics from Graham Smith, and additional vocals from Brett is a
The centrepiece of the album is the Powerless Suite, made of the four tracks Lost in Clouds, Solar Flare, The Hive and Solar Flare Reprise, a wonderfully written and performed quartet of tracks about the impact of technology on our lives, as well as our over reliance on technology and I am sure we have all felt lost in the cloud at some point, and in the ultimate of ironies my wi-fi dropped whilst I was trying to upload this review!
Lost in Clouds has some great harmony vocals and has some great musical parts, with some wonderful guitar solos and keyboard parts reminiscent of the Canterbury sound.
Solar Flare with some sublimely dramatic guitar and keyboard interaction, as well as some intense old school prog keyboard sounds is a warning to us all as to what could happen when the solar flares cut off all our power.
Whilst the Hives lyrics focus on the darker side of social media and the way that computers and technology are tracking our every move and our every like and dislike.
Words of warning wrapped up in a lighter, rockier tune, with some more of those wonderful vocal harmonies.
Whilst the instrumental Solar Flare reprise is an intense and amazing interlude, with the music as deep and absorbing and powerful as anything Floyd used on Dark Side or Wish You Were Here, the keyboards particularly invoking the spirit of Shine on You Crazy Diamond (pts VI to IX)
The Garden again changes pace, with its intimate vocal delivery and haunting keyboard sounds is almost the title track, and is as emotive a song in a similar vein to Old and Wise by the Alan Parsons Project, and is beautifully emotive.
Orbital View, with lyrics by Brian Watson, is an amazing track, the musical performances are amazing, with some truly wonderful musical interludes and harmony vocals to die for. However the true star in this track are the lyrics, Brian speaks here so eloquently and beautifully, that it’s hard not to agree with everything he’s saying and the point they are making musically is wonderful.
Event Horizon is a slower paced, melancholically reflective piece, with some fantastic guitar interplay from Leo, Brett and Don and Leo’s vocals bringing John Lennon to mind, whilst the beautifully haunting fade out is reminiscent of classical guitarist like John Williams or John Renbourn.
Legacy with it’s honest lyrics, and fantastic keyboard work, is underpinned by amazing drum and bass work from Ed and Frank, whilst Leo continues to weave his vocal magic, his versatile vocals a delight throughout the album. This, like many songs on the album mixes a prog sensibility with a more traditional rock approach, and the catchiness of the work is in part due to how Fractal Mirror make complex music sound so fresh and accessible.
There is real emotional and musical depth throughout this album, and a brutal honesty throughout the lyrics delivered in Leo’s honeyed vocals, reminiscent of the Beautiful South or Richard Thompson at their finest where the rawest truth is delivered in the sweetest musical package.
Closing finale Stars, with it’s ethereal choir, it’s orchestral sweep and it’s epic musical scope is a paean to loved ones who have been lost, and with lyrical vignettes like,
‘You taught us to realize
There were holes in the rain
And through them the stars prevail
Their light would remain’
Is as beautifully moving as any poetry by Simon Armitage, and with it’s big string driven sound is as emotive and emotionally charged as any of Jeff Lynne’s ELO big ballads, and is a superb way to close a triumphant second album. The Stephanus choir, with their vocals add so much emotional weight to this song, it is the point where rock and classical music crossover and create something beautiful.
There is always the sophomore curse, where some bands second albums are nowhere near as good as their first, due to, as the popular rumour goes, the band using all their ideas on the first record.
This isn’t the case with Fractal Mirror; they join a list of bands like The Beatles, led Zeppelin, ELO, where their second album is streets ahead of an amazingly strong debut.
There is nothing about this album I don’t like, I can put it on in my car, at home, on my iPod and it takes me somewhere else musically and spiritually.
In other words I cannot recommend this album enough and am really looking forward to hearing what visions we see through the Fractal Mirror on album number three.