Not Bauhaus but World Party: Fractal Mirror’s SLOW BURN 1

Fractal Mirror, SLOW BURN 1 (Third Contact, 2016).

Tracks: Prelude; Miracle; Numbers; V838; Floods; Mist; Enemies; Embers; Fading; Artifacts; Universal.

Mixed by Brett Kull, and mastered by Larry Fast.

slow burn 1
Fractal Mirror’s Third Album.  A new direction, but the same glorious dedication to art.

If you’re looking for some intelligent, thoughtful, and melodic rock, you’ve arrived at the perfect place.  The aptly titled, SLOW BURN 1, offers 11 contemplative tracks, each flowing elegantly from one to another.  While the first two Fractal Mirror albums possessed strong gothic-Prog elements, this album, as a whole, is rather Beatles-eque, especially in its vocal melodies.

Continue reading “Not Bauhaus but World Party: Fractal Mirror’s SLOW BURN 1”

Neither Bending Nor Conforming: Fractal Mirror Comes of Age

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.

GOG

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.

Through a Glass, But Not So Darkly: Fractal Mirror

Art by Brian Watson.  Courtesy of Fractal Mirror and Watson.
Art by Brian Watson. Courtesy of Fractal Mirror and Watson.

In one of his most famous books, The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton noted that men (persons; let’s not be sexist!) never come together merely by mutual consent for some advantage or personal gain, at least in the beginning.  Long-term societies–civilizations–do not arise out of some abstract compact in which every person agrees to help every other person.

Instead, society–and, hence, civilization–arises when two or more persons find themselves as brothers (sisters, too!) in arms, defending what they believe sacred.  Once they recognize they’re each fighting for the same thing, they trust one another, and society is born.

Call it the romantic in me, but Chesterton’s origin story is a lot of more compelling than, say, John Locke’s.

What does this have to do with Fractal Mirror, you might very well be asking?  Everything.

As many readers of progarchy know, this site arrived in the world out of an intense love for Big Big Train and a desire to let others know about Greg, David, and co.

Not surprisingly, our progarchists have found that we actually really love all kinds of music, especially when it apprehends or reaches toward the beautiful.  Not just BBT, but Cosmograf, Talk Talk, The Reasoning, Cailyn, Kingbathmat, TFATD/Matt Stevens, Ayreon, The Tangent, 3RDegree, Gazpacho, Neal Morse, Transatlantic, The Flower Kings, Nosound, Oceansize, Riverside, Rush, Spock’s Beard, Sanguine Hum, Glass Hammer, and the list goes on.

Some folks love prog for the innovations, and we progarchists (speaking broadly and a bit presumptuously) generally see the innovations as subservient to the drive for truth, beauty, and goodness.

It was almost exactly one rotation around the sun ago that the first post appeared at progarchy.  Since, citizenship in our little quasi-anarchist polis has grown wildly.  Amen.

***

Art by Brian Watson.
Art by Brian Watson.

As with progarchy, Fractal Mirror began out of a love for BBT, especially as a community formed around the BBT Facebook page.  It’s one of the most interesting–and one of the most neglected aspects–of the current prog scene.  Though this third wave of prog is now roughly 20 years old, tight communities have been growing within around, above, below, and near it for just as long!

Probably no current prog group, however, does this better than BBT.  While the conversation can take an odd turn here or there, BBT’s FB page hosts and encourages some of the best discussion of music, culture, and history anywhere.  Never a dull moment at the BBT FB page, administered, interestingly enough, by everyone’s favorite Swedish progarchist, Tobbe Janson.

There are more connections, some of them rather intimate.  Leo Koperdraat inspired much of the writing for progarchy from and with his own many reviews written for DPRP (our heroes), while Frank Urbaniak (drummer) and Brian Watson (artist) are citizens of perfect standing in the pseudo-anarchical progarchy.

[Progarchy, it should be noted, has no border guards, border fences, customs officials, or TSA agents]

After reviewing and talking about music for years, DPRP’s Leo Koperdraat (voice, guitars, keyboards, and lyricist) decided to create a band.  He and Ed Van Haagen (bass and keyboards) have been playing together for years, and the two recruited Frank (drums and lyrics on one song).  Throw in Brian’s always stunning artwork (and the lyrics on one song), guest spots by Don Fast (an unofficial fourth member of the band and brother of famed keyboardist, Larry Fast) on guitar and Charlotte Koperdraat (Leo’s daughter) on vocals, and some advice from Nosound’s Giancarlo Erra, and the result is a thing of brilliance, a thing of beauty, a treasure, frankly.

I’m never a fan of labels or of categorization.  Prog generally needs no descriptives to modify it.  Retroprog, crossoverprog, etc., seem so bloody (may my English friends forgive me for employing their perfect word) redundant to me.  I’m fully with Andy Tillison on this.  Prog means everything can be thrown in the mix.  It’s music as art, and art as music.  In the same way that Arvo Part uses amplifiers to make a point in modern symphonies, so a rock artist should feel free to employ anything traditionally classical to underscore the drama of the music.

Prog, by definition, means breaking boundaries.

***

Art by Brian Watson
Art by Brian Watson

This written, even if I wanted to label Fractal Mirror’s first release, “Strange Attractors,” I’m not even sure how I would do so.

I can, however, state unequivocally, it’s gorgeous, stunning, moody, intense, brooding, uplifting, punctuated, driving, subtle, sustained, lush, flowing, inspiring.

One might call it New Wave/prog or alt rock/prog.  Indeed, as I listen repeatedly (it’s rather addictive), I’m reminded much of the intensity of Peter Murphy or Robert Smith (Faith-era), the lushness of Reverberation-era Echo and the Bunnymen, the wall of sound of My Bloody Valentine, the punctuations of The Fixx, and the vocal sensibilities (though the voices sound NOTHING alike) of Andy Partridge on “This World Over.”

It would be fair, however, to label this music as moody, lulling, serious, and accompanied by waves of sound rather than a wall of sound.  Ten tracks long, none of the songs meander, ranging from 2:56 to 5:42 minutes in length.

Yet, there’s a coherency to the album as a whole, and if an engineer–a la Todd Rundgren–might connect it all, one song to another, it would work just as well.  Coherence without sameness.

The famed Rhys Marsh mastered “Strange Attractors,” and it shows.  Each of the musicians is in top form.  I’m especially taken with Koperdraat’s anguished vocals, Van Haagen’s fluid bass, and Urbaniak’s spacious drums.  Each remains distinctive and alive, but always forming a coherent whole.  Each offers a uniqueness as a part of a whole.  Hard to explain, frankly, but it’s a fundamental part of this excellent album.

As some progarchists have noted, the number of releases that are prog or prog-related (those labels again!) is sometimes overwhelming, as though drinking from a fire hose.  Fractal Mirrors MUST NOT get lost in this current deluge of goodness.  It’s distinctive, and it needs a market.  No, let me put that better.  Right now, Fractal Mirror is looking at all distribution options.  A record company would be foolish to pass this one up.  These guys are at the beginning of something vital, ready to spring forth into the world.

I’m deeply honored to be a part of the BBT and the progarchy community, and I’m equally honored to know that something so gorgeous and meaningful has arisen out of these communities (Ave, Gregory Mark Aurelius Spawton!).  Leo, Ed, and Frank–highest kudos to you.  And, thank you–for trusting me with such glimpses of the rotating spheres. . . .

FM web image
Art by Brian Watson.

For more information, contact Leo at:

fractalmirror@gmail.com