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Fractal Mirror - Slow Burn 1 CD (album) cover

SLOW BURN 1

Fractal Mirror

 

Crossover Prog

3.80 | 22 ratings

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Jan Scanulfsson
4 stars Slow Burn 1, released in March 2016, is Fractal Mirror's 3rd album and has an overarching concept of sorts. It's not a continuing narrative, but could be described as a series of musings on a world-in-flux and the difficulties we all face in adapting to the rate of change. As Yeats put it : "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world"

The Fractal boys concern themselves with lyrical themes involving technology, privacy, identity, alienation, separation, life and legacy. Twenty-first century concerns from a twenty first century band, located as they are in the Netherlands and the U.S.

I'd say their primary musical roots lie with the late sixties psychedelic era, with additional influences from eighties and nineties art-rock. Strong echoes of the late Beatles' style, and the first-wave of post-Fabs. The emphasis is placed unswervingly on memorable melodies, providing a comforting sense of familiarity from the very first listen.

The evocative sounds of the Mellotron feature on practically every song, being employed with great invention rather than simply opting for slow moving epic string textures.

If you're looking for extended instrumental passages or lengthy solos then you've come to the wrong place. In many respects it's as if they've bypassed the seventies altogether, which could either be a strength or a weakness depending on your point of view.

Moving on to deal with some of the songs themselves.

The opening number, "Prelude", is wonderfully cinematic with layered strings & flutes giving way to a slightly world- weary vocal. Choral swells and acoustic guitars continue the melancholy beauty but alas, it's over all too soon. Nice move - leave the listener wanting more.

The next pair of songs appear to be linked lyrically with phrases common to both. Musically we have hints of slowly building emotion, as per "Nights in White Satin", and mid-tempo, mid-eighties Genesis textures.

Another highlight for me is "Embers", which starts with a very similar idea to "I Talk To The Wind", and related lyrical sentiments to Sinfield's "Much confusion, disillusion all around me". The Fractal Mirror song relies on rich backing vocals and a clever arrangement allowing for effective rise and fall before winding up into something gently epic. I was also reminded of XTC's "Books are Burning".

Lead vocalist Leo sings comfortably in a light baritone, with an ever present air of resigned melancholy. The lyrics employ plain, everyday language with topical Americanisms, the language of the internet and the global village. The backing vocals are very cleverly arranged, sometimes reinforcing the lead and acting as effective mood- colouring, or taking contrasting lines to set up attractive counterpoint. For me their harmonies are one of their major strengths.

Listen to the fantastic vocal arrangement on the closing track, "Universal". Hints of CSNY, or World Party perhaps, certainly a kind of sweeping neo-flower power and very effective at provoking an emotional reaction.

Over the course of an hour's music they revisit similar themes, both lyrically and musically, but this is absolutely the right thing to do for the sake of cohesion in a conceptual piece. Classical recapitulation means we view the same themes differently as a result of lessons learned en route.

Penultimate song, "Artifacts", deals with preserving experience for posterity, leaving one's mark on the world perhaps, and conjures images of a technological ossuary. Being and time as someone once said. Musically and melodically there are parallels with the second track, revisiting and preserving in action.

The liner notes feature lavish illustrations with lyrics for each song, reflecting the Mirror's attention to detail.

The strength of the songs, and of the album as a whole, lies with melody, mood and arranging variety. Accessibility of musical and lyrical language, all without compromising their inventiveness.

Psych-pop-art-prog-rock - what's in a name? They're all in there, with their relative proportions being something for the listener to determine.

Highly recommended.

Jan Scanulfsson | 4/5 |

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