Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sea of Tranquility review of Sequitur

West Coast prog artists, Fractal, grace us with the sophomore effort , Sequitur, a CD that is wide reaching in their approach to prog. This CD is certainly refreshing to listen to as the band reaches new territory it what can be a rather uninspired genre. What I like about this band is their unabashed revealing of their legacy influences (King Crimson, The Beatles, Rush, Pink Floyd) yet coming off as a vehicle to inform their compositions and overall tone. In essence, taking their prog heroes and making it their own.

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

Wildy's World Review of Sequitur

Fractal is an original Progressive Rock quartet based out of San Jose and the San Francisco Bay area of California, beginning as a trio in 2000 and expanding to their current lineup in 2004. Their second album, Sequitur, moves mostly away from the improvisational approach of its predecessor, Continuum, while containing some of the most stylish and artful Progressive Rock of the decade. Fans of King Crimson, Yes, Rush, Radiohead, Pink Floyd and even Dream Theater take note; Fractal may just be the second coming of Prog.

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 review of Sequitur this math rock...or a revival of the sound of progressive rock bands from the 1970s...? Actually and in fact, the guys in Fractal have a sound that combines ideas from both camps. Sequitur is the second full-length release from this San Jose, California-based quartet. There's a lot to digest here as the band presents no less than 16 complex intricate compositions. And in the true tradition of 1970s progressive bands, they aren't afraid to present tracks that are lengthy and involved ("Aftermath" clocks in at nine minutes and fourteen seconds). The band consists of Josh Friedman, Jim Mallonee, Nic Roozeboom, and Paul Strong. It was obviously a labor of love for these guys creating these complex tracks. The songs have a nice flowing quality and feature some impressive instrumental passages. Our favorite cuts include "Aftermath," "Mantra: Eternal Spring of Life," "Mauves," and "Bellerophon." (Rating: 4+++++)