Album Review: Stephan Thelen, “Fractal Guitar”

The words “shock and awe” are rarely associated with a musical project. Yet that is precisely what Stephan Thelen’s forthcoming album, Fractal Guitar, produces upon listening.

Thelen is a one of the guitarists for Sonar, a remarkable prog/fusion outfit from Switzerland. He is releasing this album fresh on the heels of triumphant Sonar albums Vortex and Live at Moods (both recorded with guitarist and loop specialist David Torn). Fans of Thelen’s mathematical (but groovy) tri-tone sound will find comfort in its familiarity on this album. They will also be shocked at what can be done with that sound in a slightly different context.

Fractal Guitar is named for a rhythmic delay Thelan uses to augment the tone of his instrument. It’s also a highly appropriate name for this project, which shows a musician stretching a few notes to their absolute limit — to the point where they seem to break apart –as opposed to playing dozens of notes as quickly as possible.

The core group of Thelan, touch guitarists Markus Reuter (who also produced the project) and Matt Tate (who serves as the bassist), and drummer Manuel Pasquinelli (a fellow Sonar member) lay the heavy foundation, while guest guitarists like Torn, Henry Kaiser, and Barry Cleveland (among others) add fascinating textural layers. This is the ultimate headphone record, given all the information being brought forth.

Not enough can be said about the depth of the album’s sound, which will resonate within the listener’s body. Thelen has created an album capable of reaching listeners on multiple levels. Epic length tunes have no chance of becoming boring, and songs like “Briefing for a Descent Into Hell” and “Urban Nightscape” are appropriately named.

Fractal Guitar represents the best progressive rock, ambient, and electronic music have to offer. Stephan Thelen has established himself as one of the music’s giants across the board.

PERSONNEL: Stephan Thelen (Guitar), Markus Reuter (U8 touch Guitar), Matt Tate (U8 touch Guitar [bass]), Manuel Pasquinelli (drums), Andi Pupato (percussion), and guest guitarists

Stephan Thelen, Fractal Guitar (Bandcamp Link) (MoonJune, on sale January 19)


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