Monday, April 20, 2009

Progression Magazine Review of Sequitur

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.

Salt Lake Pop Culture Examiner Review of Sequitur

Review by Vince Font

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

Music Street Journal Review of Sequitur

Review by Gary Hill of Music Street Journal

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.

Giving Tree
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.

Coda: Pentacle
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.