I’m thrilled by this news. The first three albums were extraordinary, and I’m sure #4 will live up to expectations. And, to make it all even better, FRACTAL MIRROR is now a part of the Bad Elephant Music family. In addition to Kscope and Karisma, who doesn’t love Bad Elephant!!!
Bad Elephant Music is delighted to announce that internationally renowned progressive rock band Fractal Mirror is joining the family for the release of its new album, Close To Vapour, in early 2018.
For this, their fourth album, core members Leo Koperdraat and Frank L Urbaniak are joined once again by Brett Kull (of Echolyn, and producer for label-mates Valdez) and founder member Ed van Haagen guesting.
“We’re extremely pleased to join the diverse Bad Elephant Music family”, said Frank. “We are confident that together we’ll be reach a wider audience with Close to Vapour. For us this reflects a dramatic step forward in both composition and production, and we’re grateful for BEM giving us this opportunity, and for the confidence they’ve shown in us”.
David Elliott from Bad Elephant had this to say: “I’ve been a keen follower of Fractal Mirror’s music since Strange Attractors, their first album, and we’ve been talking over the last couple of years about working together. The stars finally aligned after I met Frank at RoSFest this year, and with Close To Vapourthey’ve produced their finest work yet. We’re proud to be associated with the guys, and delighted to be once again working with Brett!”
Close To Vapour will be released on CD and high quality digital download in the first quarter of 2018.
Fractal Mirror are: Leo Koperdraat: voice, Mellotron, guitars, keyboards, recorder and programming Frank L. Urbaniak: drums & percussion
with: Brett Kull: guitars, bass, keyboards, backing vocals Ed van Haagen: occasional keyboards
Leo and Frank formed the band in 2013 (with Ed van Haagen, pictured above), after discovering each other’s demos posted on online music forums. Both have long been involved in the progressive music scenes in their relevant home countries, The Netherlands and the United States. Frank was involved in the progressive scene during his college years in Essence, with Larry Fast, which led to Synergy and Larry’s involvement with Peter Gabriel and others.
Fractal Mirror’s music represents a multitude of progressive, pop, rock and indie influences, having drawn comparisons to David Bowie, Tears for Fears, R.E.M. Psychedelic Furs, Blackfield and No-Man. Their debut album, Strange Attractors, gained positive reviews, with follow up Garden of Ghosts, making the shortlist for a Grammy award nomination. By third album Slow Burn1 the band had secured the talents of Brett Kull (Echolyn) as producer, and to add additional musical embellishments.
Their new album, Close to Vapour, introduces further influences from the likes of The Grays, Jellyfish, Pugwash and Beck. Lush vocal harmonies abound, with perhaps a rougher musical edge being introduced, all without losing the characteristic Fractal Mirror sound.Close To Vapour will be released by Bad Elephant Music in the first quarter of 2018.
2016 has been a pretty horrible year: terrorism, deaths of way too many musical heroes, the recent loss of Prog magazine and the total screwing of all Team Rock employees, personal inability to find a job… Yeah, this year has sucked.
Thankfully, despite these trials, progressive rock has continued to be the most creative and innovative genre in the music business. I always enjoy writing a “best of” list, mainly because it gives me a chance to look over the best music of the year. We prog fans really are spoiled.
Like last year, my 2016 list will be pretty big, and the order is completely arbitrary. I have a numbered top 4, but my top 3 picks for this year are essentially tied for first place. Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2016:
Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath (Bad Elephant Music, 2016)
Tracks: Gunning for the Gods (9:30), In Floods the Light (4:20), Dice (4:42), The City Revealed (6:53), Two Eyes (4:20), Wounds (4:45), Another Disguise (5:23), The City of My Dreams (7:04)
I’ve been following Mike Kershaw’s work for a few albums now, and I’m truly impressed with how he has grown as an artist over the past few years. His earlier music, while displaying excellent insightful lyrical content, wasn’t the easiest music to get into. It required a lot of effort on the part of the listener, although that effort was rewarded. What Lies Beneath, however, finds Kershaw at his best to date. Fans of Fractal Mirror will find this music remarkably familiar, yet more upbeat than FM’s music. Featuring a diverse, yet progressive sound, Kershaw’s music sounds fresh and unique.
The similarities between Kershaw and Fractal Mirror exist because FM contributed to this album, much as they did on Kershaw’s previous EP, Departure. In addition to providing lead vocals, backing vocals, and playing keyboards, Kershaw collaborated with quite a number of people on this album:
Gareth Cole – electric and acoustic guitars, piano
Leopold Blue-Sky – bass, pedal steel, keys, drums
Leo Koperdraat – guitar, keys, backing vocals
Tom Slatter – vocals (track 6), acoustic guitar
Frank Urbaniak – drums
Rohan Jordan-Shah – drums
Joshua Leibowitz – drums
Marco Vàsquez – keys
Allyson Blue-Sky – backing vocals
Stuart Stephens – backing vocals
Clare Stephens – backing vocals
These collaborations have brought a breath of fresh air and diversity to Kershaw’s wonderful lyrics. This spark of energy shines clear in every aspect of the music, including Kershaw’s vocals. While I believe he still underestimates his vocal abilities, this album showcases his best vocal work to date. One of the best examples of this is on the upbeat track, “Two Eyes,” one of my favorites from the album. The lyrics to this song find the narrator searching through old family photos trying to figure out where he came from in order to find his purpose in life. The drums, courtesy of Urbaniak, set a wonderful rhythm for the song.
“Wounds” features lead vocals from Tom Slatter, whose voice reminds me of Andy John Bradford. Kershaw’s backing vocals work perfectly here, and the change up adds a nice variety to the music. Kershaw’s keyboard solo in the middle of the song is a great high point, as well, bringing back some of the sounds of his earlier albums.
While often keyboard oriented, What Lies Beneath does have its more rock-oriented elements. Throughout the album, the bass guitar keeps a steady, yet complex, flow. Excellent guitar work appears throughout, with some of the best coming at the end of the album with “Another Disguise” and “The City of My Dreams.” The instrumentation is solid throughout, although these songs are definitely lyric oriented.
“The City of My Dreams” builds wonderfully through both the music and the lyrics, and they meld together perfectly, with Kershaw’s vocals taking the spotlight towards the middle. Kershaw ends the album by contemplating on the passage of time through a city, yet it is so much more than that. The beauty of Kershaw’s lyrics is their depth – the more you listen, the more you get out of the music. Indeed, Kershaw is one of the most thought provoking lyricists of the last few years, and he is someone deserving of attention.
This album marks a wonderful step forward for Kershaw, and any fans of Fractal Mirror (whose recent album was also magnificent) should particularly take notice. Fans of prog in general should also take note, for Kershaw’s lyrics continue to impress. Now, with excellent musical collaborations, these lyrics can be appreciated by a more diverse crowd.
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.
Way back at the end of August, in my review of Mike Kershaw’s Ice Age, I said I was looking forward to future releases from Mike. Well, here we are! And Departure is even better than Ice Age!
Departure basically picks up where Ice Age left off. The first track, “Farewell,” is a goodbye to the long winter spoken of at length in the previous album (sounds great right about now in the frozen tundra of southern Michigan). This song is my favorite on the album. It is very upbeat, and it features Progarchy’s very own Frank Urbaniak (Fractal Mirror) on drums, as well as Gareth Cole on guitar. I believe the collaboration took Mike Kershaw’s musical ideas to the next level. The song is reminds me very much of Fractal Mirror. Interestingly enough, when I first heard Fractal Mirror, it reminded me of Mike Kershaw’s music. I was really excited when I saw that Mike collaborated with them on this EP.
Thematically, Departure is not as structured as Ice Age, presumably because it is a shorter EP, and because not every song here is new. The song “Origami” was recorded during the Ice Age sessions, and “An Ordinary Poison,” which was recorded with Fractal Mirror, is a re-recording of an older song Mike Kershaw made. This is also especially good. Overall, the EP is heavily synth driven, just like Mike’s earlier work. It seems like there is a little more guitar work here as well, which I think is a nice improvement. Frank Urbaniak’s drums are fantastic, bringing a smooth rhythm and driving beat to the music. The added vocals from Fractal Mirror’s Leo Koperdraat, among others, was a nice added touch. As always, Mike’s deep, quiet vocals add a wonderful sense of contemplation to the music.
The songs on Departure do a wonderful job of combining Mike’s creative talent with his collaborations. The songs that are strictly Mike Kershaw are more like his older work, with a darker, brooding sense to them. The collaborated pieces have a more upbeat and fuller sound to them. Overall, there is a good balance of styles on this EP. For those that couldn’t quite get into Ice Age, I’m sure you will find Departure to be more accessible. I believe that this EP marks a definite step forward for Mr. Kershaw, and I am excited to see what else he has forthcoming in the months ahead.
And, my final “best of” post for 2014. Let’s hope that you’re not getting too tired of these!
I’ve saved the albums that hit me the hardest—at level of mind and soul—for the last.I guess it’s somewhat goofy to have a “top eight,” but these are my top eight.These are the albums that did everything right, the ones that pulled it all together, offering real glimpses of the turning spheres.The first seven are in no particular order.I like them equally, and I think they’ve each attained the highest an album can reach but in quite different ways.
What can one say about Poland’s greatest, Newspaperflyhunting?Craig Breaden has already explained—in perfect detail—why this is a perfect album.From atmospherics to piercingly intelligent lyrics to mood swinging melodies, these Eastern Europeans have created what is certainly one of the most innovating and interesting albums of the last few decades.The album, ICEBERG SOUL, has much in common with early 1990’s American psychedelic revival, and there’s a real Mazzy Star and Opal feel to much of the music.But, whereas Mazzy Star was really good, Newspaperflyhunting is simply excellent.Droning, walls of sound, haunting guitar lines—this album has it all.
Salander, a new band from England, has blown me away as much as Newspaperflyhunting, and the two bands have much in common.Slander is only two guys, each named Dave, but you’d never know it listening to the music.Much as Cailyn plays every single thing on her album, the two Daves do the same.Their two albums this year, CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT and STENDEC, are really one album, a journey through the wonders and terrors of the world, seen and unseen.The two Daves move effortlessly from one style of music to another, but they always hold it all together with what can only be described as a Salander sound.These two albums provide a journey that you hope never ends.
Armed with some new producers and engineers and a barrel full of confidence, the Anglo-Dutch-American band, Fractal Mirror, has proven the worth of community and friendship a million times over with GARDEN OF GHOSTS, a landmark album.As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets in this album.But, whereas those 1980’s bands felt as though they had one cool trick, Fractal Mirror is the real deal.GARDEN OF GHOSTS is mind-bogglingly good—stunning in every way—and we are so blessed to be catching them at the beginning of their journey.Certainly, it’s Gothic in tone, but it’s always soaring and light and dark and maddening and enlightening and loving. . . .It’s also quite defiant, and, at times, the lyrics make Neil Peart look like a softy.
I think the first album by the Tin Spirits one of my all-time favorite albums.It would certainly be in my top ten all-time albums.In particular, the song “Broken” is a masterpiece, a progged-out Allman Brothers kind of song.I eagerly awaited SCORCH, and I’ve not been disappointed.This is guitar prog, pop prog, rock prog—however one might label it, it’s just amazingly good.The four guys in the band obviously really like one another, and their friendship comes out in a myriad of ways in the music.The best song on Scorch, “Summer Now,” might very well be the best song of the year.As with Flying Colors, the Tin Spirits should be playing on every single album-rock radio across North America.The contrast between the two bands?Where Flying Colors might cross the line and go “over the top,” the Tin Spirits go for taste, class, and a dignified restraint.
Not to be too jingoistic, but one of the best aspects of 2014 has been the emergence of a number of North American prog bands.I’ve already mentioned several over the last few posts.The very best of the American prog bands, though, is Fire Garden.Holy Schnikees these guys are good.Scratch that.These guys are amazing!They clearly love Dream Theater, but they’re also 20x better than Dream Theater.Just as the Tin Spirits goes for dignified restraint, so does Fire Garden.Rather than play 30 notes in a millisecond, master musician and lyricist Zee Baig goes for just the necessary ones, the ones most needed for creativity and beauty.Again, that dignified restraint, when employed properly, can be such a beautiful thing.As I noted with Threshold and Haken, I don’t generally gravitate toward the heavier stuff.With Fire Garden, I happily embrace it.Of course, their heaviness is more Rush than Metallica. But, again, everything is perfect.I’ve focused on the band’s ubercoolleader, Zee, but everyone is in top form here.Zee pulls it all together.
I’m almost afraid to mention John Bassett.I’ve praised the that English stocking cap-wearing bard so many times, folks might start to wonder if I have some bizarre motive or some mancrush.Trust me, I’m married and have six kids.Yet, I do really love Bassett—just not in THAT way.Bassett’s music, through Kingbathmat, appeared in my life just a few years ago, but I can’t imagine my love of prog or music without him now, even as I look back to four decades of music obsession.Bassett’s first solo album, Uneßarth, is a psychedelic folk album, the kind of album that Storm Corrosion should have been.Somehow, Bassett’s actual voice (vocals) have a guitar-like quality.It’s bizarre.Beautifully and wondrously bizarre.And, despite his own self-deprecating remarks about merely being a “muppet”, Bassett is one of our best cultural critics.Of course, I love Animal, and there is a slight resemblance.Equally interesting, Bassett went the Matt Stevens/Fierce and the Dead route with his second album of 2014, a vocal-less progressive metal affair called Arcade Messiah.Each reveals a fascinating side to this very fascinating artist.What would I love to see—Bassett to bring these two styles together in Kingbathmat, writing a full-blown prog epic, unapologetic and unrelentingly so.
Once again, here comes the bro-mance.Sorry, Sally!I love your man, too.Just in very different ways than do you.I’m not sure Andy Tillison is capable of a misstep.Not only has he been one of the two or three most important musicians of what he’s insightfully called “Third Wave Prog,” he’s now becoming one of the two or three most important musicians in what I’ve attempted—admittedly, not very successfully—“Fourth Wave Prog.”His only release this year (what a funny thing to type) is under the name, cleverly, The Andy Tillison Multiplex.The album: ELECTRONIC SINFONIA 2.Just as Cailyn has brought classical music back into the world of prog, Andy is bringing jazz and jazz fusion back into prog.This album is beyond stunning.It is the very essence of taste itself.Every note, every line, every segue is just astounding.Tillison is a perfectionist, and it shows on and in all that he does.Thank you, Mr. Diskdrive.Rage on.
And, so I come to my favorite album of 2014.It took a while for me to get here, and if you fine progarchist reader are still with me, bless you.God has granted you immense patience.Though, as I’ve noted, this has been one of the best years ever in prog—and I’ve loved everything I’ve mentioned in the previous posts—I’ve loved this the most: Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR.Made by master of chronometry, Robin Armstrong, CAPACITOR is the perfect album.To those of you who write and produce instrumental music, thank you.And, please accept my apologies.I love what you do, but, not being trained in music, I don’t always get what you’re doing, even if I love it.For me, prog has been centrally about the lyrics and the story telling, with the music augmenting the two.I love the Word and the words.And, that brings me to CAPACITOR, a story that has everything.It’s a mix of science fiction and the occult, a play on religious revivals and scientific fetishes of a century ago.It’s not steam punk, it’s seance punk!And, what a story.Simply put, it’s the best sci-fi story of 2014.Part Arthur Conan Doyle, part Ray Bradbury, it’s purely Robin Armstrong.And, as we all know, Robin is not only a perfectionist, he’s an aural genius.He knows exactly how to mix word and note.This album is so good, it, almost by itself, redefines the entire genre.This is an album to match CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and, much more recently, ENGLISH ELECTRIC and LE SACRE DU TRAVAIL.
N.B. Please forgive any typos. I have a three-year old princess acting rather grumpy as she deals with the flu. Lots of distractions in the Birzer household.
Andy Tillison and Brian Watson have convincingly argued in favor of dividing the history of prog into three waves, the third wave beginning around 1994 or so.
If Tillison and Watson are correct, and I suspect they are, I believe we might have entered what we could call the fourth wave.
The turning point came in 2013 with grand and profound releases from Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer. These albums were so excellent, perhaps the best in prog history, that they might very well have represented the apex of third-wave prog.
Take a listen to any of the above mentioned artists in 2014. Their music, especially when compared to the releases of the previous several years, offers something much more experimental and reflective. The story telling is less narrative and more punctuated, the lyrics more imagistic.
Anyway, I’m thinking (and typing) out loud. I’ll give it more thought.