Sunday, January 31, 2010
by OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: January 28, 2010
The US act FRACTAL was founded in 2000 and released its debut album back in 2003. Six years in the making, the band's sophomore effort "Sequitur" was issued early in 2009 - self-released, just like its first effort.
1. Ellipsis 4:25
2. Aftermath 9:14
3. Mantra 7:24
4. Giving Tree 5:01
5. Coriolis 4:18
6. A Fraction of One 3:45
7. Pataphysics 1:04
8. Mauves 3:03
9. The Great Pain 4:39
10. The Monkey's Paw 2:32
11. Coda Pentacle 1:15
12. Churn Overture 1:28
13. Churn-I 2:32
14. Churn-II 6:50
15. Churn-III 2:45
16. Bellerophon 6:18
Paul Strong – drums, percussion
Nic Roozeboom – guitars; loops; vocals
James Mallonee – bass; keyboards; vocals
Josh Friedman – guitars; vocals
Analysis. On the 16 compositions at hand on this production this quartet takes the listener with them on quite a ride. Despite focusing on pretty accessible creations, at least on the surface, the first name that comes to mind when listening to this disc is that of Robert Fripp. Most times Fractal takes its cues from the more accessible part of King Crimson's productions, forming distinct melodies made up of multi-layered guitars and keyboards where close listening will reveal carefully constructed dissonances and disharmonies. "Three of a Perfect Pair" is an obvious reference for these creations. The symphonic side of art rock is represented to a good degree as well on this excursion; with the opening and closing segments of Aftermath as the best example of this stylistic expression. To make matters interesting, Fractal has deliberately chosen to contrast the mellow and slightly pastoral symphonic workout on this composition with a long mid-section taking its cues from the more challenging part of the aforementioned Robert Fripp's output. Enveloping this dark and complex segment with mellow, melodic and distinctly lighter parts is an effective choice, resulting in what for me is the best as well as the most interesting creation on this venture. Other key references for this album are space rock in late ‘70s Pink Floyd style, while elements from the angst-ridden explorations of bands like Radiohead are more of an icing on the cake. There are also a blues number and a punk-tinged effort on hand here; both of them taken through an art rock blender; while the techno and electronica-tinged album closing track will make a few raise their eyebrows at this highly danceable, mainstream-sounding creation where closer inspection reveals that Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream aren't unknown entities to this act. And a distinctly jazz-influenced bass line fits pretty well with this particular musical potpourri. When covering as many bases as this band does it's hard to get it all right, or at least keep everything interesting for all listeners. Unlike other acts I've encountered, Fractal doesn't fall flat on its face on any of its creations though, but there are ventures here less interesting than others and a few just less interesting in general. For the most part the band members succeed though, with the aforementioned Aftermath and the space-tinged Crimsonian venture Coriolis as shining examples of the best this act has to offer.
Conclusion. Complicated yet not highly challenging art rock is the name of the game for this album, with numerous ventures out toward and inclusions from other stylistic expressions as key features besides the guitarwork obviously inspired and influenced by Robert Fripp. It's an album calling out to listeners with a musical taste covering a wide scope, with a foundation in art rock and a tendency to like complex music that doesn't come across as truly challenging, at least not until you start analyzing the minor details. All in all a good effort, well worth checking out.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Fractal first convened in November of 2000 (thanks to a friend, Adrian Cockcroft, who posted an invite on Paul's behalf on "King Crimson" enthusiast site Elephant Talk) in San Jose, San Francisco, California. Nic and Jim were the first two to reply, and strangely enough the three have been together since then. It was more than a little fortuitous that such an unlikely grouping (Paul having just moved from the UK, Jim from Baltimore, and Nic from the Netherlands) has resulted in such a well-balanced complement of talents and musical personalities. Fractal started gigging in summer of 2001 and has continued intermittently ever since. In July of 2002, they started recordings for their first album, "Continuum". A few years after their instrumental debut "Continuum", and a year after a promising single "Aftermath", Fractal are back with their second full album, featuring the band as it has been operating live since 2004. Fractal has been together in its current formation since 2004 starting out as a trio in 2000. Fractal is a concept of modern prog band with a strong instrumental, may very well fall somewhere in between Progressive Rock, Experimental Music and Avant-garde, adding Electronic Ambient textures and various sound effects, everything turning around the footsteps of "King Crimson", "Mahavishnu Orchestra", "Gong", "Magma" and others in the same style. They know how to create intriguing arrangements, with a strong musical interchange and interconnected lines between the keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, with multiple orchestral parts and refined instrumental, giving the music a very special atmosphere, but very complex too. "Sequitur" has a little of each musical style, one hour tends to be melodic, but rapidly tends to be very complex and experimental. It's not so easy to make comparisons with other bands, but, we can say the music on this album it was created especially for all listeners very well connected with Experimental music's groups. "Sequitur" album was recorded all over the Bay Area, California, USA. Produced by Fractal, Engineering, mixing and mastering bu Paul Strong. Cover design by Paul Strong. A special and particular attention to and my favourite songs are: "Ellipsis", "Aftermath", "Mantra: Eternal Spring of Life", "Giving Tree", "A Fraction of One", "The Monkey's Paw" and "Churn - Overture, Part I, II and III". The complet Line Up on Fractal band are: Paul Strong - Roland V-Drums and other noises, Jim Mallonee - Bass, Synthesizers, Vocals, Nic Roozeboom - Guitar, Guitar Synth, Loops and Josh Friedman - Guitar, Vocals. Supported by: Adrian Cockcroft - Live recordings, Miscellaneous Encouragements and Rolf Bienert - Live Sound. Paul and Adrian are British, Nic is Dutch, Jim and Josh are American, and Rolf is German. Josh is a professional musician (classical guitar), the rest of them have day-jobs in various hi-tech companies. Brilliant and indispensable work, highly recommendable...
Monday, April 20, 2009
Bill Noland, Progression Magazine #56, May 2009
Style: Progressive Rock
Sound 3 | Composition 3.5 | Musicianship 3 | Performance 4
Total rating 13.5
[out of a maximum of 4 each or 16 total]
Fractal is a San Jose, Calif.-based quartet comprising Paul Strong on drums, Jim Mallonee on bass, vocals and keys, Josh Friedman on guitar and vocals, and Nic Roozeboom on guitar, keys and loops. Sequitur is their second album and finds the band working in a style similar to recent King Crimson, with other modern influences.
This album opens with the instrumental "Ellipsis," where engaging melodic riffs disguise a subtle complexity. "Aftermath," the disc's longest track at 9:14, is the most successful vocal piece and integrates a fine drum feature into its extended and interesting middle section.
"Mauves" provides a creepy instrumental backdrop to Donald Rumsfeld's paradoxical "known knowns" speech before segueing into "The Great Pain," with its tortured Adrian Belew-like vocals. "Giving Tree," "A Fraction Of One," and the spacey instrumental "Coriolis," present a more sedate and moody side of the group, while the closer, "Bellerophon," has an ambient, techno feel.
In all, a diverse and interesting album that should appeal to fans of rock music with an uninhibited and experimental edge.
The music of San Francisco Bay Area progressive rock band Fractal has been described as "music to tap your brain to", and as painful as that sounds, the reality is their music is a lot more pleasurable than that.
Don't get me wrong--I understand perfectly what the description is designed to convey, and I think it's fitting. Progressive rock has always been looked on (by those who don't just dismiss it as pretentious) as a sort of "thinking man's rock and roll", incorporating complex musical arrangements with often poetic and wordy lyrics. Brain-tapping fodder indeed. But the fact is the older I get, the less I give a damn about mind shattering profundities when it comes to song lyrics. I've come to understand that more often than not, the marriage of words and music is something that should be viewed in a new-world context; that is to say, no union should be forced. At its best, music and voice ought to come together seamlessly and without effort. Few artists accomplish this, and fewer yet have the capacity to strike a chord with their audience in the manner that Fractal has with their second studio album Sequitur.
A powerful successor to 2003's all-instrumental Continuum, Fractal's latest effort ups the ante both stylistically and substantively. What their debut album may have been lacking in vocals has more than adequately been made up for by the addition of Josh Friedman, a singer/guitarist whose vocal timbre is a bit reminiscent of Ed (Live) Kowalczyk, but whose delivery is much more subdued, and ultimately more mature. In no other song is this more evident than "Giving Tree", an ethereal ballad in which Friedman delivers a vocal performance that balances itself skillfully between the wicked worlds of cautious restraint and overwhelming emotion. Far too often it's the audience's burden to bear witness to an inexperienced vocalist biffing it on the issue of whether or not to let it all go and risk coming off like an adolescent drama queen, or hold back and come off stoic and unfeeling. Fortunately this isn't the case here; Friedman weaves his way expertly through a lush and atmospheric soundscape, firmly anchored by the exquisite bass and drum playing of James Mallonee and Paul Strong, respectively. Lead guitarist Nic Roozeboom is no slouch either, offering a guitar solo on a par with the early works of Robert Fripp, before Fripp forsook what he does best and opted instead for what he does today. And for those in the audience who long for those days of old, this is nothing less than a gift.
In fact it could be said that the whole of Sequitur is just that--a gift to progressive rock fans, the culmination of a wish list for the disillusioned ear. All too often the bands we love, for whatever purpose or excuse, simply stop giving us the very things that make us love them. It's an artistic tug of war between artist and appreciator, between those who want to spread their wings and those who want them to stay exactly as they are, and it's a struggle that's been known to kill more than a few great acts along the way. It makes you wonder if maybe the guys in Fractal are not only musically gifted, but perhaps also graced with a bit of marketing savvy, one that might be summed up in a few clever words: if your favorite prog band's quit doing what you love, give Fractal a try.
It's for this very reason that a band like Fractal, operating on their own and without a label to do all the hard work for them, continues to pick up the type of PR and favorable reviews a lot of signed acts would salivate over. The bottom line is, these guys have it where it counts. If they're not offering up challenging instrumental passages framed in odd time signatures on a track like the album opener "Ellipsis" (which sounds an awful lot like something King Crimson might have composed back in the Discipline era), they're tearing it up Frank Zappa-style on "The Monkey's Paw". The definitive statement of this band's instrumental prowess, however, arrives on the 13-minute epic "Churn", a track with enough musical movements to make Gabriel-era Genesis flush with envy.
This isn't meant to say that Fractal is a band that doesn't stray from the prog playbook. Even in the midst of this, the highest-profile point of their career, at a crucial juncture where one mislaid step could spell disaster, these guys don't wilt under the pressure. Instead, they step forward bravely. And never is a band (progressive or otherwise) more brave than when they un-self-consciously abandon all expectation and take a swing at an entirely different genre of music. Such is the case with the album's final track "Bellerophon", an unbelievably groovy instrumental that would almost sound more at home in a dance club than on the tracklist of a prog album. It's so effective that it made me wonder what else this talented band has up their collective sleeves, and provides the perfect cliffhanger that only a follow-up album will satisfy. No matter how long it may take to arrive, consider me sold.
Friday, April 10, 2009
This is an intriguing disc that melds newer prog stylings (think Radiohead and Porcupine Tree) with modern King Crimson and older stuff like Kansas, Pink Floyd and Yes. It’s all done in a fashion that builds a cohesive and powerful disc that is moody and brilliant. It’s a great disc and sure to please fans of modern progressive rock, while also reaching out to the “old school” people.
Track by Track Review
This instrumental, swirls and rolls with a very definite modern King Crimson feeling to it, but comparisons to Djam Karet are also warranted. It’s a powerhouse jam and a great way to start off the disc.
The first cut on the disc to feature vocals, to me those vocals bring in a King’s X kind of texture and there’s a stripped down element to much of this. There are sections that show off some of the same influences as we got on the first cut. They take us out into a killer modern Crimson-like descending section further down the road, too. There is some extremely powerful music in this.
Mantra: Eternal Spring of Life
There are elements of King Crimson (and actually quite a few of them) on this expansive cut, but I also hear plenty of Kansas and even Yes here. The vocals are perhaps closer to Yes and big chunks of instrumental music fall in there, too. This is one of the highlights of the CD.
This one is pretty and gentle. There are still some Crimson hints here, but more like the first few albums and I can make out Radiohead and King’s X on this, too.
Here we get a space rock instrumental. This is ambient and yet powerful. It’s got melody while remaining fairly textural.
A Fraction of One
In many ways this continues the themes and concepts of the last cut, but moody vocals are added. This has a lot of Pink Floyd, but more Radiohead and Porcupine Tree in the midst.
This is just a short little piece of weird jamming, noise music. It segues straight into the next one.
Starting with George W. Bush addressing the potential for peaceful coexistence between humans and fish, this moves out into a jam band meets King Crimson and Djam Karet sound. Other spoken word bits discuss “known knowns” and “known unknowns.” This takes us right into the next cut.
The Great Pain
This one reminds of modern King Crimson’s take on the blues. It’s definitely Crimsonoid, but there is also a definite blues element – think of KC’s “ProzaKC Blues.”
The Monkey's Paw
Now here’s a change of pace. This is a hard rocking little number that’s got a bit of that same KC feeling to it, but with a more punk rock element, too. I can hear bits of Darkest of the Hillside Thickets amongst this. There’s definitely some Blue Cheer here, too.
Delicate and gentle there is a bit (if a twisted) element to this. It’s pretty and proggy yet feels like it could also be music to a horror film. It gets fairly heavy and quite involved before they close it.
This epic spans across four tracks of the CD – so I’ll address each of them separately.
Churn – Overture
About a minute and a half in length, this introductory section is instrumental and quite classical in nature.
Churn – Part i
They fire out here with a Radiohead meets Pink Floyd element. The rhythm section pokes and prods this along. There is also a bit of a Rush-like jam on this later.
Churn – Part ii
While the rest of the movements are less than three minutes in length each, this one is nearly seven minutes long. An uber funky bass brings it in but they shift it out to spacey weirdness from there. It works through a number of varying moods and modes and this is spacey and yet so cool.
Churn – Part iii
They come out into this closing section with an almost catchy mainstream rock texture. The Radiohead concepts are certainly worth mentioning here. It’s an instrumental and brings us a nice resolution to the epic.
Starting sedate and pretty, this moves out into Kraftwerk-like electronica. Then a guitar god solo comes over this bringing a whole different game to the table.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The title track, "Ellipsis" explodes with fantastic "Frippery" lattice of guitarwork. Josh Friedman takes the time to make each of his guitar pieces distinct in the piece. Although a "shoegazer" instrumental, this track moves with energy and dynamics. Speaking of dynamics, the next track "Aftermath," (their reaction to 9/11) introduces vocals to the mix. It shows off their writing prowess in the fact that they can craft complex suites and can also crank out a very accessible effort. Beautiful arpeggios are augmented by airy and light vocals that are dashed on the rocks with crunchy guitar punctuations. "Giving Tree" is a gorgeous ballad with splashes of instrumental prog to keep it moving. The use of space and atmosphere are done well here. My favorite tune is "Fraction of One" as it is reminiscent of old Radiohead. Driving and pulsating rhythms and instrumentation back a very interesting vocal line that breaks into digital distortions atonal harmonies. Another stand out is the quick "Coda: Pentacle", a great instrumental work with harpsichord at its foundation. The "Churn" epic is a wonderful attempt at putting together several pieces that have a cohesive theme tying them together. Majestic guitars, colorful synth pads and mad rhythms make up part I, and part II introduces a funky groove overlaid with sound bits scattered throughout. Part II culminates into an apex of discord with a Pink Floyd finish that meanders into part III, a sparse and eloquent finale.
Fractal has certainly earned their place in the prog genre as master of being able to carve their own niche with creativity and independence. Look for Fractal to rise quickly in this scene as they apply both intellect and emotion into one great output.
Jon Rice, Sea of Tranquility
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Sequitur opens with Ellipsis, a busy instrumental that reminds me of some of Rush's later instrumental work (perhaps a wayward cousin of the Where's My Thing trilogy). Aftermath is the band's response to the events of September 11, 2001 and the loss of personal and cultural innocence. At over nine minutes, Aftermath covers a lot of musical ground, churning through musical mourning, anger and fluctuations of fear before a soaring guitar solo lifts your hopes heavenward. Mantra: Eternal Spring Of Life was perhaps not intentionally written as an epilogue to Aftermath, but does seem to capture the resilience of human spirit springing back to health even after the tragedy and burgeoning recovery of Aftermath. Soft, legato guitar solos capture the fragile first steps of confidence inside the tougher shell formed by guitar, bass and drums.
Coriolis is one of only two pure improvisations on Sequitur, taking on an ethereal, Pete Namlook/Fax type feel, particularly when the keyboards are in full force. Coriolis is somber and serious and other-worldly. Fractal slips into an almost Radiohead-like transcendentalism on A Fraction Of One, imbuing a quiet sense of urgency on an almost supernatural soundscape. Pataphysics, the other improv on Sequitur is an angry and impetulant rage on musical canvas that neither progresses nor devolves, but simply sits as a sonic mass to be passed through on the way to Mauve and The Great Pain. Influenced by a Jimi Hendrix blues feel and Fripp/Belew guitar stylings, Fractal takes us on a 13/8 time odyssey of sound that is closer to improv than pure composition. The Monkey's Paw is a jumbled mass of musical styles that persists in its chaotic state rather than evolving into something new. Imagine if Rush jammed with Gibby Haynes and you might have an idea of how this one will go, except that it's a lot more pure Prog than you might expect.
The epic Churn opens with a classical style overture that leads into the three movements or parts. Part I is eerily reminiscent of classic Yes, with Steve Howe-style guitar chops highlighting a highly rhythmic piece. Part II goes more for a Floydian disposition with an incredibly funky bass line adding musical commentary to randomly dubbed voiceovers; all played against a varying sonic landscape of dark intent. Part III brings a sonic resolution of acoustic guitar and keys that plays like an outro to one of the classic Styx albums of the 1970's. Closing things out is Bellerophon, a bit of musical sleight of hand that is like aural vertigo compared to the rest of the album. Bellerophon is an electronic composition that the band describes as a non-sequitur.
Sequitur is far and away the most exciting and original pure Prog album of the decade. There is a vibrancy and sense of creativity running through the work of Fractal that you have to go back to the early days of Prog to duplicate. It's easy to picture Fractal sharing a stage with groups like Yes, Rush or King Crimson in their heyday. If you have an ear for Progressive Rock then this album is definitely for you. if you're not familiar with Prog but love classical music, musical with unusual time structures or even some of the more experimental electronica then you would do well to give Sequitur a listen. Fractal got it right.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Monday, March 2, 2009
Saturday, February 28, 2009
The album begins with an unmistakable Crimson-influenced tune from King Crimson’s highly experimental Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford period. (Fairly, this Crimson period should also include the Gunn/Mastelotto incarnations of the band as they helped push the Crimson limits even further). The first track, “Ellipsis,” which anchors the Fractal album, is a strong 4:25 instrumental that will surprise you. It opens the way for the next song, a 9+-minute cut that lyrically revisits the tragedy of 9/11 in a melodic composition that fluctuates between the tender and the harsh in its music, replicating moods as it progresses through its time-span. The album’s ballad, “Giving Tree” has the soul of not only King Crimson at its root, but also an explorative style of Pink Floyd. The remainder of the expertly crafted tunes of rhythm and melodies stand out as strongly as the three touched upon.
Each song in Sequitur is a composition of strength and complexity, all of which solidifies the excellence of the album’s tunes. With the intensity of Fripp’s style of musical creation at play here, Fractal’s latest becomes an emerging classic that will have me – and you – reaching for it from time to time just to appreciate the genuine intensity of it.
I heartily recommend your further investigation of Fractal at their site, as well as their MySpace page. But to get the full uninterrupted effect, go for the album. It’s well worth it. Personally, it’s music like this that keeps me excited and involved in music. We desperately need more bands like Fractal.
Last time around, on 2003’s Continuum, the band was an instrumental trio (Nic Roozeboom on guitars/synth, Jim Mallonee on bass/synth, and Paul Strong on drums). This time, Josh Friedman comes to the fold on vocals and guitar, and the band pulls away from their previous instrumental moorings to explore new territory. If there’s any comparison to be made between this effort and Continuum, the prior album had more of a fusion-y freeform feel to it, while Sequitur is much more structured and focused.
Friedman’s lyrics pull the compositions in another direction, with some of the numbers being almost ballady, in working with his vocals. A good example of this is “Giving Tree”, which is a very smooth and conventional ballad. It’s not something you’d expect from a band that’s usually flogging out full-bore in an irrational meter with notes all over the page. But it works well, and it’s an enjoyable piece.
In a similar vein is one of my favorite tracks is “A Fraction of One”. I’m a huge Peter Gabriel fan, and this draws from the same type of phantasmagorical lyrics over an ethereal soundtrack you’d find on the first few of Gabriel’s albums or in his soundtrack work. The song builds to an evil crescendo, with the guitar thrumming away, and the conclusion marked with the gong of an ancient clock. It’s an example of a completely different direction than the earlier three-piece instrumental recording.
There are a couple of interesting diversion that veer away from the center of the prog-rock highway. One is “The Monkey’s Paw”, which has angsty lyrics sung like a 90s alt-rock band, but draped over a complex beat that slowly spirals into a speed metal guitar solo. The band gets back into the fold with the big payoff, the three-part “Churn”, which ends with an almost electronica-oriented zip through with a trance-like synth beat, and a very screaming, fusion-esque guitar solo that I enjoyed.
This isn’t a straightforward album that everyone is going to “get” on the first listen, but that’s a big part of its appeal. It’s a lot more of an artistic challenge, structuring songs with odd-meter bits and complex drumming, lying underneath a complex soundscape of advanced melodic guitar riffage that ranges from playful to intrinsically powerful. It’s the kind of thing you’ll have to give repeat listens to fully appreciate everything that’s going on.
The self-produced CD was recorded all-digitally by the band “all over the Bay Area” - no word if that means a series of extensive home studios or picking up shifts at local booths, but it features pretty clean production and a tight sound overall. The cover art was done by Derek K Nielsen (www.daementia.com).
Fractal is very much worth checking out. Go to http://www.fractal-continuum.com to find out more; you can also pick up this CD at CDBaby.