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.
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.
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
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.