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.
Having had a chance to listen to a stream (a review copy from the fine folks B/W/R PR) of the new Steven Wilson, I’m very glad to write that it’s profound and good and true and wonderful. I wasn’t so taken with the last album (the RAVEN one), though I thought the first two solo albums quite astounding. And, I pulled out my Chicago DVD show of Porcupine Tree. Sheesh, when Wilson wants to be, he’s incredible. The last solo album I thought a poor mimicry of the work of that ever-wonderful genius, Andy Tillison.
This new album pays homage to late 1970s Rush, but it does so in a way that honors Rush. All to the good.
As the Grammy’s are happening as I write this, I remember how utterly disappointed I was with Wilson a few years ago when he tweeted how sad he was not to have won a Grammy. I responded in my own tweet: “Dear Lord, you are so much better than that!” Or something akin to this.
I meant it.
A Grammy is an albatrossian weight, not a mark or a sign of anything other than bland, tapioca conformity on a corporate scale.
Not watching the Grammy’s, I can happily report that I’m listening to the brand new, deluxe version of Galahad’s EMPIRES NEVER LAST. Let me offer another “sheesh.” What a great album, made even better through remixing and editing. Glorious.
Yesterday, my family and I devoured the new Neal Morse, THE GRAND EXPERIMENT. We are all rather smitten.
Today, I listened to all of Dave Kerzner’s NEW WORLD (deluxe edition) as I made Sunday evening pizza. Again, I’m a rather happy fan.
I also read Bryan Morey’s insightful review of Mike Kershaw’s latest EP, DEPARTURE, featuring lots of FRACTAL MIRROR talent. This got me to thinking about Greg Spawton and his ability to form communities–not only around himself immediately in BBT, but also through the internet. Kershaw, Urbaniak, Kull. . . what a crazy bunch of proggers we all are. And, that Morey. He’s a natural.
And, now, I patiently await the arrival of the new Glass Hammer.
I’m sorry–what awards show is going on tonight? Yeah, I’ve got much better things to listen to, thank you very much.
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.
Well, they’ve yet to capture the imagination of Tim Cook and the PowersThatBeiTunes, but they have our attention. And, we’re absolutely thrilled. A second Fractal Mirror is just about here. Amen, amen, amen.
But, I’ll let the guys of FM speak for themselves:
We are very proud to be able to announce that we have started taking pre-orders on our Bandcamp site for our second album Garden of Ghosts . The release of the album is scheduled for November 2014. The album contains 11 tracks and includes a 12 page booklet with artwork from Brian Watson and all the lyrics. The album has been co produced by Brett Kull (Echolyn) and Fractal Mirror. Brett Kull also mixed the album. Larry Fast mastered the album. People who pre-order the album receive an immediate download of the albums opening track “House of Wishes”. During the pre-order period the price of the album will be EUR 10,00 (ex shipping).
Brett Kull also plays guitars and background vocals on all the tracks of the album and there are also guest appearances by other members of Echolyn, Jacque Varsalona, Don Fast, Larry Fast and The Stephanus Choir.
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.
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.
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. . . .
Leo Koperdraat of Holland posted this on Big Big Train’s Facebook page tonight. Nice. And, very exciting. The drummer is even our own progarchist, Frank Urbaniak, and the artist is our own progarchist, Brian Watson. A progarchical band! Ok, I really can’t claim them–but I am rather happy to be associated with them–Brad (ed.)
Dear BBT friends,
Just a year ago I had build up enough courage to post a song me and a friend had made. We have been making music for ourselves for about 20 years but this group made me feel confident enough to post one of these songs. With all the talk that happens here I would not expect you to remember it.
However we got a lot of positive remarks and the best thing that happened was that one of the members of this group was so positive about our music that he volunteered to become our drummer.
And now one year later we are called Fractal Mirror, the ten songs that we hope will be on our first album have been mixed and mastered by the excellent Rhys Marsh from Rhys Marsh and the Autumn Ghost and finally one of our tracks will be featured on the New Species Vol X cd that will be part of the next issue of Classic Rock Society Magazine. Without this fabulous group of BBT fans none of this would have happened and on behalf of Fractal Mirror I would just like to say:
We will now be looking for a deal with a record company that is willing to release our first album, Strange Attractors.
Fractal Mirror are:
Ed Van Haagen: Bass, Keyboards and Programming Leo Koperdraat: Voice, Guitars, Keyboards and Lyrics Frank L. Urbaniak: Drums, Percussion and Lyrics
Brian Watson: All Artwork (Brian has been responsible for a lot of the booklet art that was part of The Tangent’s Le Sacre du Travail)
Andre de Boer: Video Art.
Symphonic Modern Progressive Rock (we will skip the word Neo) with rich, dense instrumentation and melancholy lyrics/melodies for fans of Marillion-Brave Era, PG, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree (SD, LBS Era), Bowie, Floyd, VDGG.
Art is a bitch, and so is literature – and music. They always present us worlds well out of reach – pipedream kingdoms of epic journeys, heroism, boundless yearning and lots of all the things we are, well, let’s face it, not. Art is, insofar, simply destructive for your everyday middle class John Doe. It makes him long for things he neither really wants or needs: danger, uncertainty, lovesickness, bleeding hearts, je ne sais quoi. – t on anti-matter poetry.
2013 is looking to be another great year for progressive music with Steve Wilson, Lifesigns, BBT, Riverside and Cosmograf all released by mid-March. The sheer volume of quality releases makes it easy to overlook an artist who cannot easily be googled ( t ), has long gaps between releases and does little or no touring. t /Thomas is classically educated in piano and voice, but switched to guitar early in childhood when he realized that ‘most girls in his class fancied guitar players’. Psychoanorexia is his fourth solo CD since leaving German art rock band Scythe, and he plays all instruments, sings, arranges, produces and mixes his work. His two most recent CDs, Voices and Anti-Matter Poetry, each about 3 years in the making, received critical acclaim in some quarters but failed to achieve the overall recognition they deserved. This is likely a result of two factors:
t music is not always an easy listen, but as Kinesis said, ‘t takes the listener into an alternate musical reality, and after the album concludes, you may need to pause and take several deep breaths before returning to waking reality’. The music is sometimes dark and moody, offset by beautiful, melancholy melodies often delivered through heavily processed vocals and dense instrumentation so it is not a easy casual listen.
t is a deep thinker and a poet. He focuses on the alienation we experience as society and technology advance, the impact on our relationships and our ability to stay linked and loved. Lost loves, disconnected lovers, feeling alone and alienated while being with someone, the multiple influences that affect our everyday lives and therefore our relationships is not always happy stuff.
“This is the time when ringtone applicability equals musical quality. This is the place where the greed of being a pop star has replaced the sublime experience of creativity. This is the era in which democracy means mass phenomena, not choices. When we have become too lazy even for subterfuges. And too busy to feel the loss.”
Psychoanorexia consists of only 4 songs, three epics and one shorter track. His lyrics –which fill several pages of the CD insert, are complex and interesting but not always easy to understand due to the amount of vocal processing. The opening track, the three-part The Aftermath of Silence, is a beautiful seventeen minute love story with very accessible melodies. Aftermath begins with a long and haunting instrumental passage leading to the refrain
‘ So this is the day, the sky too blue.’
Slow and sad, the opening moves through an interesting set of musical progressions reminiscent of Marillion, concluding with:
‘We came back, but we never recovered
We always reminded ourselves of each other’.
Kryptonite Monologues, the most complex and challenging track, continues the theme of love lost by abandoning the mood of the previous track with a frantic opening section named ‘Breakfast Cataclysm’. This is the most symphonic track, with hints of Yes, Van Der Graaf Generator and Crimson. After a soaring instrumental section with some pounding drums and heavy guitar lead t moves to a bombastic operatic interlude he describes as part comedy (Monty Python), hinting at the absurdity of it all, collapsing into a lovely classical section named ‘Borrowed Time ‘with soaring strings. Driving percussion builds to the haunting climax ‘The End of the World’ with echoes again of Marillion’s Brave.
The third track, The Irrelevant Lovesong could be a lost track from somewhere between Peter Gabriel’s Scratch and Us periods, and is a short, moving poem describing the growing gulf between two people:
‘All through the nights
Though cold and blind
I hold you here
But no, I love you not
No, I love you not’.
The CD concludes with Psychoanorexia in two movements, ‘Bedhalf Exiles ‘and ‘The Stand’. The music again alternates between attack and reflect, the gates are locked and defenses up in an effort to save all that is worth saving.
‘Save our souls
And guard all the doors we closed
And promise to stake our hearts
Lest one of our oaths could last’.
The song ends with a barrage of frantic drums and a vocal chant reminiscent of mid-70’s Genesis in tone. The journey is tiring but rewarding, challenging but gratifying. I thought that his previous were highly personal stories, but here t seems to be more of an observer, reporting on the irony of our (or his) existence, the decay that comes with progress.
Psychoanorexia is modern symphonic rock at its finest, rich, inventive and always interesting. I love the dense instrumentation, vocal effects and overall presentation. t’s biography mentions his obsession with sound and he is obviously proficient at all instruments, but it is his keyboard prowess and engineering skills are what enables him to deliver on his vision. t also uses electronic drums more effectively than most, and in many cases you are hard pressed to recognize them as electronic except the cymbals, which at times sound too separated (crash cymbals should not be left or right speaker only) and a minor quibble, sound a bit ‘spitty’. Psychoanorexia is an obvious labor of love by a unique musical poet and this outstanding effort by t is one I highly recommend.
As a sophomore at Lafayette College I became program director of the college radio station, and Larry Fast (Synergy) became the general manager. We had access to early releases and concert passes in one of the great periods in progressive music. To generate better distribution for college stations, I published a newsletter called The Rolling Paper that we distributed each month on campus and to all record labels.
We were fortunate to interview our three favorite bands between 1971 and 1973-Yes, Genesis on their first US performance at Lincoln Center, and King Crimson on the second Larks Tongue tour through the Bill Bruford connection with Yes.
We met and interviewed Yes at Dickinson College in 1971. I had seen Yes the previous summer supporting Jethro Tull ($5) with Tony Kaye and had been blown away by the energy of the band. By December the Yes album was taking off, and Fragile had arrived that week as an import from Jem Records. We requested an interview through Atlantic Records, and received a warm welcome from the band members who were delighted that we were holding import copies of Fragile in the US. For the next several years we were fortunate to have backstage passes to more than 20 Yes shows at area colleges, and later at the big arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum in Philly during their prime including several shows with Bruford on drums prior to his departure. We watched the band grow from being third on bills (Yes, King Crimson, Procol Harum ) to headliners for the Close to the Edge through the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour. Larry built a strong connection with Rick Wakeman through electronics and keyboards, and he went on to build some sequencers for him over the next few years. My connection was forged through and over beer, as Rick and I shared a fondness for brew. I was but a lightweight while Rick’s consumption of Budweiser was unrivaled and eventually unsustainable.