Review – Fractal Mirror – Close to Vapour – by Jez Denton

Pop music often gets a bad press; often because it is thought of as being bland, uninspiring and repetitive, and often with good cause. However, pop music can be anything but those criticisms with brilliant melodies, lush production and funny and quirky lyrics. Right from the moment Brian Wilson created ‘Pet Sounds’ in 1967, through Bowie’s many different reincarnations in the 70’s and 80’s and via the melodic cleverness of The Smiths, The Teardrop Explodes and World Party, pop music can offer moments of greatness and genius.

Fitting into that roster of clever pop influenced music is the latest release from Leo Koperdraat and Frank Urbaniak, better known as Fractal Mirror, ‘Close to Vapour’. The album has ten tracks that soar and grow with an ebb and flow, a gentle build to heights of dreaminess, and which take the listener deep into the stories being told. With production by Brett Kull of Echolyn, the band has created an album of outstandingly tuneful and clever songs that deserves the high plaudits that will surely come its way.

If I was to make a small criticism it would only be that the lead vocals will take a bit of getting used to. Leo has a slightly nasally style that, whilst not being a huge problem, does surprise and even disconcert, but only until you get used to his sound. Once the initial impressions have receded the idiosyncratic nature of the delivery adds to the depth and  multi-faceted sculpture of the album.

Being released on Bad Elephant Records in the first quarter of 2018 this album is one of the highlights of the year so far. Also featuring guest appearances from original member Ed Van Haagen, Tom Doncourt and producer Brett Kull, this album will entrance and beguile the listener with its superior pop melodies. I urge you to search this album out for all the rewards it will give you.

Released 23rd February 2018

Order ‘Close to Vapour’ from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – Valdez – This – by Leo Trimming

When first hearing about Valdez, a new band based in Philadephia, featuring Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish and Shineback) and Echolyn bassist, Tom Hyatt, I made some initially lazy assumptions about it’s probable sound. I was wrong. Please check in your assumptions at the door because this is an album a long way away from Echolyn or Tinyfish. Simon Godfrey moved to America in 2014 when he married an American, and his personal journey has further stretched his musical horizons in an already wide ranging career encompassing Prog rock, acoustic songs and the electronically drenched unique rock of Shineback. When he met Tom Hyatt in Philadelphia they immediately hit it off and started jamming, then deciding to form Valdez (the name taken from a former band of keyboardist Joe Cardillo from the 1970’s.) Teaming up with the excellent electric keyboardist from Cool Blue, Cardillo, and drummer Scott Miller, Godfrey and Hyatt have produced with Valdez an eclectic and warm album, lovingly steeped in the sounds and textures of classic instruments.

The range of different styles is interesting but one thread that goes through them all is the sense of a solid, well written song. These are not sonic soundscapes of epic proportions, rather vignettes in engaging songs of sometimes wry observations of life around them. This is perhaps most acutely demonstrated in Thirteen, a song which opens with a subtle reference to the opening lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which in early April the clocks ‘struck thirteen’. The song gives us pithy observations about how our societies have come to be in their current political messes, and this is all served up in waves of ‘bubblegum pop’ as Godfrey has described it. There’s a real 70’s vibe to this catchy song with excellent electric piano, reminiscent of Billy Joel.

Godfrey has explained the thinking behind the band as having a real focus on the song, whether  ‘it’s a short song, a long song or a mad, complex one. As long as it’s good we’ll grab it with both hands and spin it until we’re dizzy’, which very much comes over, especially in Thirteen. Similarly, opening song Black Eyed Susans chimes in with all the swagger and attitude of a Joe Jackson song, which is a GOOD thing!

The diversity and skill of Valdez is exemplified by the melancholic and evocative take on dementia in Sally Won’t Remember. This emotional but not mawkish song successfully conveys the debilitating slowness and sheer psychological effort associated with caring for someone with dementia. Like Godfrey this listener has experienced the sad decline of a parent with dementia, and this song echoes those feelings, but even in their dementia strangely our parents indirectly teach us about life and caring.

The stand out track on the album is the title track This, which apparently refers to ‘the world of wonder right in front of us which we forget, simply because we see it every day’. Opening intriguingly with the sound of a wurlitzer and a chiming piano, it then rises like a sun as acoustic guitar and percussion join in to then be filled out with bass and keyboards… and then it settles back in to the song with Godfrey’s distinctive and emotive voice leading us to a swelling killer chorus. This lovely song rolls along memorably and then takes a breath before a pulsing bass introduces us to a resonant final section with great multi-layered harmony vocals as it rises to a crescendo. In some ways this listener would have liked to hear a few more songs of this nature, but only because it was so bloody good!

No Stone Unturned is a more bluesy number, Godfrey sounds like George Michael vocally at times (which is no bad thing), but the real star of this number is the excellent keyboard work of Cardillo. Godfrey has shared that the whole band really thinks that the majority of the best music came out of the instruments made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Consequently they have used a range of classic keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, upright pianos, classic acoustic and electric guitars, recorded through old amps, and this is particularly evident on the warm, lush, atmospheric sounds of No Stone Unturned and Little Keys. Not every song works for this reviewer (take a bow Spite House) but this is an engaging album that will draw you in.

On ‘This’, there is a real sense of looking back affectionately but not slavishly to the past, as evoked by Mark Buckingham’s striking artwork of a 1950’s style woman swinging on a balloon. This is an album of fairly stripped back but well played and constructed songs. Godfrey has also shared that this album, produced by Hyatt’s legendary band mate in Echolyn, Brett Kull, was recorded without sequencing and as miked up to make it as live as possible. Such loving attention to vintage recording techniques combined with classic equipment clearly  influenced the whole atmosphere of the album, and it particularly pays off in the strong final duo of segued songs, Colorado and Smile for the CameraColorado, written by Cardillo, has an enchanting rolling and melodic intro and evokes the free open space of that state, with some beautiful bass by Hyatt. An ambient, feedbacking interlude connects us to the beguiling Smile for the Camera, which floats in with a delicately picked acoustic guitar, with echoes of classic Supertramp’s heyday. This extended song takes a jazzier turn with peculiar sounds and a twisting synth solo… it seems that Godfrey and Hyatt couldn’t quite contain all their ‘Proggier’ impulses for a whole album! However, this is a brief diversion before this piece takes another turn into the beautiful blissed out harmony vocals reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, possibly with the help of Kull who added vocals and guitar alongside his production duties. Nevertheless, ultimately this is a Valdez song because the song then concludes eerily and possibly a little darkly with the last line ‘Smile for the Camera’ .

Valdez have created an interesting album, which crosses various genres and combines the myriad talents of the band in an engaging mix of sounds and songs. It’s not particularly ground-breaking or innovative, and was never intended to be so – but if you’re looking for some well written and well performed songs in classic style  with warmth, with and spirit ‘This’ could be it!

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘This’ in the UK, Europe & ROW (excluding USA) from Bandcamp here

Order ‘This’ in the USA from bandcamp here

 

Brett Kull – Open Skies Exploding – New Solo Album from Echolyn Frontman

Brett Kull is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer, and engineer from the United States. He is best known for being a founding member of the band Echolyn, and long standing member of Grey Eye Glances. Brett is also an adjunct college instructor sharing his love for audio engineering and sound design.

For his third solo release comprised of 10 new tracks, ‘Open Skies Exploding’, Brett decided to start releasing two songs a week starting on the 24th of December 2016 and has written a blog to coincide with these releases. When all ten songs have been released I will write a review of the full album but, in the meantime, here are Brett’s first three blogs…

Open Skies Exploding 1st Release – ‘My House is Loud’ and ‘Three Walls’

Here is the companion video for Three Walls:

Open Skies Exploding 2nd Release – ‘Hard Dying Time’ and ‘Dublin Rooftops’

Open Skies Exploding 3rd Release – ‘Railroad Self’ and ‘Punch of the Day’

Check out the video for ‘Railroad Self’ – Live at Chateau Fornance – 5 Jan 2017 here:

You can download the up-to-date songs from bandcamp here:

Open Skies Exploding – bandcamp

Brett is heading to England for a tour with Francis Dunnery, here it is in his own words:

“Speaking of a wild ride, I’m headed to England next week for a mini tour of sorts with my friend Francis Dunnery, but I’ll try and have a couple songs in the oven, ready to go to help keep our hearts and bellies warm during my cold absence. Wait a minute, oh right, I’m starting my master’s degree this week! Shyte, I forgot!! I need to tell my instructors I’ll be AWOL for the first classes. Thanks for the reminder! Damn, one more thing to put on the list… and less time to drink wine!

But seriously, If any of you are in close proximity to ancient Britannia (during the dates below) feel free to come out and say hello. I’ve been hired to sing a hell-of-a lot, play a few keyboards, and even less guitar. It’s a good gig with an amazing songwriter and musical force of nature – Mr. Dunnery. The band is amazing and we walk the edge of complete catastrophe and utter brilliance. You wont be able to turn away! Here are the dates and where you can get tickets. Hope to share a pint with some of you… well, I’ll have my own pint and you’ll have yours.

Cheers!

Brett”

Francis Dunnery – Vampires 2017 

 Friday, January 20th – Club Academy Manchester

http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/256899

 Saturday, January 21st – The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton

http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/256903

 Sunday, January 22nd – Bush Hall, London.

http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/256881

 

 

 

Review – Fractal Mirror – Slow Burn 1 – by James R. Turner

Fractal Mirror - Slow Burn 1 Cover

James R. Turner’s first review for Progradar!

It’s a strange half life you have as a reviewer, you’re at one step the conduit between the bands and the audience, hoping that what you write influences others to investigate some of the exciting new music out there, on the other hand you end up meeting musicians, talking to the bands and becoming friends with them either online or, even better in real life, and that friendship you build up, you have to be careful not to let it influence your writing or your relationship with the band, a balancing act that shouldn’t compromise your principles or your opinions.

Of course you get sent albums to review, and having a day job, or indeed the house move from hell (never move, or if you do move, never use the decorator we had), it sometimes takes longer to get round to writing the reviews than intended, that’s the trouble with life, it always gets in the way.

Making friends in the progressive genre is an easy thing to do, as it’s such a small scene, and for the most part a friendly and welcoming environment that you can go to gigs on your own and end up in a big group at the end, which is how coincidentally I met Leo Koperdraat, back at Eppyfest 2014.

That’s how Fractal Mirror, Leo, Ed Van Haagen and Frank Urbaniak, met, via a Facebook group, and from such an everyday occurrence, something magical was born.

‘Slow Burn 1’ is their third album following on from 2014’s astonishing ‘Garden of Ghosts’, which was one of my albums of the year, and see’s them consolidate their sound, an evolution rather than a revolution, after all if something ain’t broke, then don’t break it for the sake of it.

That is no criticism by the way, the band are in no way playing it safe, instead they are bolder with their sounds, and broader in their vision without compromising anything of their heart and soul that helped make ‘Garden of Ghosts’ such a great album.

Band & Brian

Working again with Brett Kull, who produces and co-writes a few tracks on here, this is an exceptionally assured album, the Fractal Mirror sound is unique, a step away from what other artists are doing at the moment.

This means that you can tell who is playing the minute the album starts, and there are not that many artists who are instantly recognisable.

What’s also striking is the fact that each song title is just one word, which adds to the effect.

There is no sound and fury and bombast here, the sound is deceptively relaxed, and the album is as its title suggests a slow burner, one of those gems that works it’s way into your head subtly and each time you play it, you pick up more and more from each track, the beauty of the music being so subtle and almost chilled out, is that the lyrics then work their way into your consciousness.

Fractal Mirror have a clever way with lyrics, similar to how The Beautiful South used to work, by having beautiful music, with quite stark lyrics, the lyrics to Embers for instance are quite dark and haunting, belied by an amazing tune, in fact whilst there is light on this album, there is also a lot of dark, and understandably so, the times that we are currently living through are turbulent and unstable, and all the best art reflects the times we live in.

Tracks like Mist and v838 have an element of optimism about them, however the darkness of the lyrics on Enemies, Embers and Fading has it’s polar opposite in the final track, which I will come back to.

band live

The music that Fractal Mirror make is superb, the synth and guitar work on Enemies for instance is striking and powerful, whilst the vocals of Leo are superb throughout, and the way the band work together in creating this music considering how spread apart they are is a testament to their vision and their friendship. Whilst some of the vocal harmonies are stunning and on Embers are very Beatlesque, particularly with the guitar work reminiscent of George Harrison.

Back to the closing track, never finish a set on a downer an old poetry tutor told me when structuring a reading, and I think this might be something Fractal Mirror have also learnt.

I don’t think I am overstating the importance of the message in Universal when I say it is all about the message of togetherness and how we could all be so much better together, the ambiguity of the closing suggests, like so many things that it could go one way or the other. With it’s musical refrain, and it’s almost pop sensibility it has some great hooks, wonderful keyboard sounds and great guitar work (with guest bass from Leopold Blue-Sky), I don’t like to overuse clichés, but I would say it is anthemic and one of those songs that can come to represent a time and a place, particularly with the haunting coda at the end.

However there is no ambiguity here, ‘Slow Burn 1′ is another fine piece of art from Fractal Mirror, musically and lyrically superb, and packaged beautifully with the work of Brian Watson, another friend of the bands who met in the Facebook melting pot. It’s so good to see bands taking as much care over their artwork as their music. I am from the era where how records look are s important as they sound, hands up how many of you out there have bought a record based purely on the sleeve? I know I have.

People criticise social media for keeping people apart, here we can see it has brought together like-minded creative individuals, all of who have something to add to the prog genre that we love.

Progressive, adjective, happening or developing gradually or in stages, favouring change or innovation, engaging or constituting forward motion.

I think looking at the true definitions of the word progressive, we can apply all those to ‘Slow Burn 1’ as it is an evolution of the Fractal Mirror sound, there is definite innovation in their work, and it’s another mighty step forward for them from ‘Garden of Ghosts’.

Released 23rd April 2016

Buy ‘Slow Burn 1’ direct from the band

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James R. Turner

The best thing to come out of 1977 (the 2nd best being ‘Out of the Blue’ by ELO) I have been writing about prog since I joined the Classic Rock Society back in 1994, and have written for several online magazines, the BBC website as well as contributing two articles about Cult television to two anthologies.

I like cult TV specifically Doctor Who, and see where prog and Doctor Who meet in the music of the BBC Radiophonic workshop.

I live in Bristol with my other half, have a large collection of rubber ducks and more CDs/Books/DVDs than I have space to store them.

Review – Fractal Mirror – Slow Burn 1- by Progradar

Fractal Mirror - Slow Burn 1 Cover

“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” – Lily Tomlin.

Modern life can be likened to being on an express train that only runs between two stations, the one where you board and the one where you alight. The common complaints of ‘not enough hours in the day and too much to do to fill them’ arriving on a regular basis.

We really need to get off this never-ending stressful ride more often, for our own health and sanity, if nothing else. I know it’s easy enough for me to say it but, it certainly helps my well-being to be able to take a step back now and again.

My way of forgetting the intimidating rat race is just to listen to some calm and relaxing music, music that I can unwind to and that soothes my furrowed brow. One of the artists that have delivered this gentle, sedating relief to my busy life in the fast lane has always been Fractal Mirror and they have just released a new album, ‘Slow Burn 1’ so, when the promo arrived, I pressed play to see what wondrous, whimsical world they had conjured up for us this time…

band live

Fractal Mirror is an international recording band. Leo Koperdraat (keys/guitars/vocals) and Ed van Haagen (bass/keys) have made music together since the 80’s in the Netherlands. They met Frank Urbaniak (drums/lyrics) online and compose and record their music via transatlantic data exchanges. While Ed has visited the US during mixing sessions, Leo and Frank have never formally met. The band’s name and compositions are a reflection of their passion for the wide variety of music that has influenced them and has provided the soundtracks for their personal lives.

The themes in ‘Slow Burn 1’ are a reflection of the disruption that technology is triggering in all phases of life, and the platform it provides for consent and dissension about the direction in which our world is heading.

There is a wide selection of guest artists helping the band on this release including Patric Farrell, Kenny Bissett Sr., Don Fast, Leopold Blue-Sky and Brett Kull (Echolyn) who, once again, mixed and produced the album. Brian Watson of Plan A Art provided the stunning artwork.

Track listing

Prelude is a calming opening, lowering the heart rate and getting you ready for what is to come. The signature Fractal Mirror keyboard sound and Leo Koperdraat’s dulcet tones all present and correct. There is a real light and airy feel to Miracle as it opens up. The jangling guitar and Frank’s drums giving a dreamy feel, a deliberate note is in the vocal though, all serious for a moment. The guitar gravitates in earnest and the catchy chorus is really good. Some stylish bass playing adds a touch of class to proceedings. Immediately you feel that the band have matured and progressed in their songwriting, there are layers of complexity on show here, shown in the late 60’s psychedelic feel to the opening of Numbers. The swirling organ note and deliberate drumming add a thoughtful note to the song and Leo’s vocals have an earnest note. It is all cleverly whimsical and wistful, lulling you into a serene state of calm. I see a new found depth to the musicians and one that I am liking a lot so far.

Patric Farrell provides bass on V838 and lead guitar duties are taken on by Peter Swart. On the verse, the song has an upbeat feel, uplifting and light, the rhythm section bringing their ‘A’ game along. Leo delivers another reflective vocal performance. There’s a note of regret, even warning, on the meditative chorus. This track showcases the new, polished sound that is crystal clear and lush. A contemplative and plaintive note pervades Floods. This song has an almost melancholy and ethereal beauty to it, I listened to it with my headphones on and was lost in its sublime, calming grace. Charlotte Koperdraat and Kitty Diepstraten add serene backing vocals, there’s some heartfelt guitar playing and you are left with a blissful lightness of being.

slow burn words

That sanguine, optimistic note returns on Mist, positive drumming, quick-stepping keyboards and Leo’s buoyant vocal all come together to give the song a really upbeat note. Stopping just sort of becoming annoyingly twee, with Don Fast’s elegant 12-string, it left me feeling like I could take on the world, the sun was shining and everything was right with the world. Both Enemies and Embers have a determined and businesslike note to them. While at first resonating a little less with me, they are both still clever, involving pieces of music that did, at first, seem a tad one paced. Charlotte returns on backing vocals for the former, this time joined by Jason Himmelberger. Both songs initially seemed to lack the instant involvement of the rest of the songs on the album but, after repeated listens, they both proved to be slow burning diamonds. It is true that all comes to he who waits, apparently….

A delightful guitar note opens Fading before a tidy drum roll introduces the rest of this feel-good track. A jangling guitar riff and Leo’s expressive vocal add another layer of benevolence. A proper ‘foot-tapper’ it seems to fly along slightly out of grasp with its more AOR friendly feel. Throw in a Peter Gunn style riff and you have another song that lifts its head above the parapet of normality on this increasingly impressive release. Artifacts is another smoothly polished song that just drips panache and style and yet seems to suffer slightly against the inspiration of some of the other tracks on the album. It is a rather nice piece of music anyway, great vocals from Leo and Jason again, combine them with the superlative musicianship and you will never fall below rather good but, to me anyway, there just seems to be something lacking. However, the final track on this expressive musical world of wonder is every bit as good as, if not better than, the rest. Universal is Fractal Mirror doing what they do best, sumptuous music, intelligent songwriting and delightful vocals combine to give over eight minutes of intriguing and involving musical enchantment and it really does leave you on a high. On this final song, the majority of the musical guests make a final appearance with Patric Farrell, Kenny Bissett Sr., Leopold Blue-Sky, and Dan Fast all joining the exuberant gathering. The harmonised vocals are just one of the joys on show and the song runs out with a serious feel of the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper.

A band that constantly strives to improve and progress, Fractal Mirror’s new album is testament to their devotion to this ethos. ‘Slow Burn 1’ is a multi-faceted delight and a joy to behold. I doff my cap to you gentlemen, after ‘Garden of Ghosts’ I expected something special from you and, boy, have you delivered!

Released 18th March 2016

Buy ‘Slow Burn 1’ direct from the band