Reviews

Fractal Mirror, “Slow Burn 1”

Fractal Mirror Slow Burn“What is ‘Prog’?”  This question is one that has a tendency to lead me to a certain existential angst.  Could it be that the term ultimately has no meaning?  I have struggled to answer this question countless times, usually in discussing bands that would generally be considered on the fringe of the progressive rock genre.  Is Iron Maiden prog?  Is Devo prog?  Is Styx prog?  Is Kino prog?  My answers to these is usually “yes, no, sometimes, and yes” but when asked to justify my response, I usually end up justifying myself by how much I like a given band.  I have even been known to state, with a certain exasperation, that the ultimate definition of Prog is ‘music that I like’ – hardly a basis for establishing common reference points.

I find myself again struggling with this question as I listen to Slow Burn 1, the most recent release from Fractal Mirror.  Is it a Prog release?  I’m not sure.  I detect more than a little mellotron (perhaps the quintessential Prog instrument); the album is produced and mixed by Brett Kull of Echolyn; their band name is undoubtedly Prog; the album has a thematic consistency, being “a reflection of the disruption that technology is triggering in all phases of life”; and it’s the type of music that doesn’t lend itself to top-40 lists or dance clubs.  But on the other hand, there is never a moment on the album that gives the listener an unequivocal moment of progginess, whatever that is.

In describing themselves, Fractal Mirror states that they are a pop/rock band that uses influences from progressive rock.  They cite bands such as IQ, Gazpacho and Big Big Train as favorites and argue that at the heart of the great Prog bands are great songs built off of a basic verse-chorus-bridge structure.  This argument is well taken, and provides an argument that bands such as Fractal Mirror should be welcomed in the Prog tent.  But enough rambling.

Slow Burn 1 is an album that is fundamentally about melodic lines and lyrics that are accessible, interesting, and even catchy.  The album opens with “Prelude,” a brief piece with lovely melodies on guitar, mellotron and Leo Koperdraat’s vocals.  From there the album segues into the very pop-ish “Miracle.”  During this track, the album adopts the late 60’s psychedelic/folk feel that will remain through most of the album.

“Numbers” is the third, and my favorite, track of the album.  The song moves forward at its own pace, which feels very comfortable, and Leo’s vocals are nicely supported by well-arranged backing vocals.  Frank Urbaniak’s drums and Ed van Haagen’s bass and keyboard lines aren’t complex, again functioning primarily as support for the primary melodic line, but remain interesting enough to make sure the song never feels boring.  “V838” moves at a medium rock tempo, and both bass and guitar duties are taken over by guest musicians, Patric Farrell and Peter Swart, respectively.  The song isn’t objectionable, but to this listener it’s the weakest on the album, as I think the band feels more comfortable letting either mellotron or acoustic guitar setting the mood for their songs as opposed to the more usual bass/drums of most rock music.  The track after “V838,” “Floods,” bolsters this argument.  “Floods” opens with nice acoustic guitar that sets a lovely melancholy tone for the rest of the song, which also features nice backing vocals by Charlotte Koperdraat and Kitty Diepstraten.  The mood of the music fits nicely the lyric, which contains my favorite refrain on the album:  “Follow the traces-stones in the stream.  The Bridge that has fallen, like pieces of dreams, wash away.”  Maybe I’m just a sucker for the melancholy, but I think that Fractal Mirror is at their best when they embrace a bit of the melancholy in their songs.

Track 6, “Mist,” opens up with that same melancholy before moving into a more up-tempo number with considerable hook.  While the number has a certain pep, there remains an underlying somberness that is very attractive.  Tracks such as “Enemies,” “Embers” and “Fading” demonstrate Fractal Mirror’s fondness for melodic hooks and intriguing lyrics (“We slowly burn, just embers; no flames”).  And while the songs aren’t the strongest on the album, they demonstrate that even the weaker moments of the album are enjoyable.

The album ends with its longest and best-constructed track, “Universal.”  Many longer songs (“Universal” clocks at 8:47) rely upon a certain amount of instrumental pyrotechnics to engage the listener throughout the song, indeed it’s not uncommon in the Prog world for a song to warm up with a 3 minute or so intro.  Fractal Mirror never does this, which means that a longer track requires very good songwriting to keep the song from over staying its welcome.  “Universal,” is just such an excellent display of songwriting, with the mood shifting smoothly from section to section of the song and with the number climaxing on an almost Sgt. Pepper-esque layered vocal line before ending the song with a lovely lyrical reflection upon the main themes of the song with only acoustic guitar as accompaniment.

It could be debated just how ‘Prog’ Slow Burn 1 is, but the songwriting talents are above dispute.

 

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8 thoughts on “Fractal Mirror, “Slow Burn 1”

  1. Thank you very much for this review! 🙂 Really enjoyed reading this (and I have the same thoughts about ‘Prog’). I still need to review this album myself, but I think mine would be similar.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A small update from your roving reporter again! | Grendel HeadQuarters

  3. Great review and I love your questioning on the term “Prog” and what it means. I’ve read where some people label Tears for Fears as Prog where I see them as catchy Pop Music but music is all in the ears of the listener I suppose eh? Classically and traditionally some would say Prog has to be; long songs, fantasy lyrics, spacey album art, long solos, mellotron(!), orchestration etc but then you get the Neo-Prog, Krautrock, Prog-Metal and all of the other sub-genres under the Prog tent. Gets overwhelming after a while regardless of how much we love it which I do and hold it in the highest regards. But like you said, What IS Prog? My dog the vocalist barking through a microphone that’s running through a phaser pedal turned all the way and me playing guitar with copious amounts of delay is Prog. Wait a minute…… That gives me an idea and my sister has two dogs! Sweet! I agree with you and really enjoyed your review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Xerxes for taking the time to listen and write such a thoughtful review. We struggle with identity all the time in Fractal Mirror. We list IQ and BBT as influences, but are just as influenced by some pop artists, Todd Rundgren’s early solo career (me being from Philly area), TFF and the 80’s bands (New Order influence on Fading) along with early PTree like Stupid Dream which to these ears was not prog either. We love writing ear worm type songs with lyrics that might stimulate some emotions, but don’t have the chops to be fully proggy, nor do we want to be when so many others can do it better. The challenge is that in defying categorization (alt prog or crossover prog is typically how we are labelled) we lose much of that audience of hard core progressive fans, but cannot quite cross over to other markets-what do people listen to in their 40’s and 50’s who don’t like current radio music and don’t care for prog? Mostly older music, classic tunes, with little inclination to venture into new territory.
    The fact that I am in the US while Leo and Ed are in the Netherlands (I have never personally met Leo) makes the idea of playing live or working together on longer or more intricate arrangements challenging.
    Our next CD which is a long way away, has some much heavier songs, and a 17+ minute track we wrote years ago called Nevae with 4 key sections, kind of a science fiction theme. We also have a bunch of tunes more like Floods/Mist, more of a pop rock feel with the mellotron styling, but need to just have a break before we can consider the right focus and sound for the next collection and give these songs the treatment we think they deserve.
    We appreciate the kind words. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the wonders of the present time is that bands with members from all over the world can form and record music. I have wondered what difficulties may nevertheless be present, and I appreciate that you have identified one. I think that the album is a definite grower and I hope people will give it a couple of listens. I know that I appreciated your creation more as I listened more, which is a good sign.

      I very much look forward to your next album, when it comes about, and wish you much deserved success. Thanks for checking in!

      Like

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