Although Strange Attractors is the band’s first full length album, two members of Fractal Mirror can trace their musical beginnings back to the mid Eighties. In fact Dutchmen Ed van Haagen and Leo Koperdraat have worked together for some considerable time and only recently ‘teamed up’ with drummer & percussionist Frank Urbaniak. I use the term ‘teamed up’ as this project has been put together with the aid of technology as Frank lives in the USA.
Listening to Strange Attractors made me think what a odd brew this progressive rock malarkey is – and no better typified by this release. Being of a certain age, my introductions to prog revolved around oddly metered rock extravaganzas, which returned to the original theme or melody infrequently, if at all. Which is not the case here on Strange Attractors as the material is of a song based nature and there is little in the way of solo sections or any time signatures. Does this matter? Not at all really and what the album does have behind these seemingly simple song structures are hidden depths that are slowly revealed to the listener. The album cover also reveals that almost half the album is dedicated to one track.
I’m no expert in this area, but my initial thoughts on the music were that it had strong influences from the pop music of the Eighties. David Sylvian, Echo And The Bunnymen, New Order, OMD – but my knowledge is limited in this area. Oddly enough the band cite Terraced Garden, which I can hear – memories of Dry Leaves In The Wind, Passages and Black Tie from their debut album resonated. But it isn’t all 80s pop, as the same era also saw the emergence of the second wave of prog and certainly bands like IQ, Twelfth Night and Pallas can be detected – at times. Then again there were times where Swedes Änglagård came to mind as well as many from the Kscope label including No-Man and Nosound…
The album opens with distorted ‘Rhodes’ piano followed by the steady rhythm which continues throughout. What’s Inside is a prime example how Fractal Mirror combine pop/rock song sensibilities with proggy ingredients. The driving verse and catchy chorus line format is expanded to include rich keyboards, with the song closing to intertwining guitar/synth lines and mellotron-esque choirs. Although a more melancholic piece than the opener, The Fading Ghosts Of Yesterday also incorporates a strong hookline and a fine array of keyboard textures. Don Fast’s unhurried solo sits comfortably here and takes the track out in fine fashion.
Opening fairly upbeat musically, Brian’s Song catches the essence of Fractal Mirror for me. As the driving rhythm subsides fairly early on in the track, the music gives way to a more stately pace allowing the somewhat darker lyrics to sit more comfortably. I particularly enjoyed the light and shade arrangement which contrasted well against the choral drenched sections. A formula the band use to good effect throughout.
So to the band’s epic track. Opening with the delightful, if not oddly misplaced piece, Ending. ‘Mellotron’ lays the foundation for this gentle track, deftly augmented by simple interlocking themes. A delightful instrumental which in turn leads to soothing tones of Insects. Leo Koperdraat’s fragile voice bringing warmth and depth to the lyrics. Raising The Stakes probably does exactly that, opening with crunching guitar and a driving rhythm, which gives way to an ebb and flow format with the ‘mellotron’, in particular, working really well. In fact the following instrumental Various Methods Of Hunting also utilises said instrument and the ‘mellotron’ plays a key part throughout. I noted that the album was mixed by Rhys Marsh and being familiar with his music I pondered what influence he might have brought during the mixing stages.
A Life In Darkness concludes with two more upbeat tracks, Leave Me and The Chair, the former having an almost Ray Davies feel to it whilst the later has an infectious chorus line nicely complemented by Charlotte Koperdraat’s backing vocals.
As indicated in the opening paragraph Strange Attractors should perhaps be viewed as a project album or better, a team effort, noted by the inclusion of graphic artist Brian Watson, (recently having contributed work to The Tangent’s Le Sacre Du Travail album), offering not just the fine artwork for the album, but also the lyrics to one of the tracks here. Last but certainly not least is André de Boer who is responsible bringing the band’s music, Brian’s artwork, studio footage, external film and visual effects together in a video format.
Fractal Mirror have made a strong opening statement with this album and are already actively working on the follow up to Strange Attractors, so we may see a third release from the band in 2014? But don’t quote me. Not an album I would have picked up normally, but I’m really glad I did. Certainly Strange Attractors has grown on me over recent weeks and repeated listenings have revealed far greater depths. The fine combination of upbeat, crafted pop rock songs is nicely offset by the darker, melancholic and sombre pieces of music, which made a welcome respite to the somewhat overplayed, saccharin, yuletide offerings. An album to return to often…
01. What’s Inside (4:24)
02. The Fading Ghosts Of Yesterday (4:31)
03. Brian’s Song (5:40)
04. Fade Away (4:47)
05. A Life In Darkness – Ending (2:54)
– A Life In Darkness – Insects (3:30)
– A Life In Darkness – Raising the Stakes (4:21)
– A Life In Darkness – Various Methods
Of Hunting (3:44)
– A Life In Darkness – Leave Me (3:10)
– A Life In Darkness – The Chair (4:17)
Ed van Haagen – Bass, Keyboards
Leo Koperdraat – Voice, Guitars & Keyboards
Frank Urbaniak – Drums & Percussion
Don Fast – Guitar (2)
Charlotte Koperdraat – Voice (10)
Independent Studio Album
Released 08 November 2013
Artwork & Lyrics – Brian Watson
Video Art – André de Boer
Strange Attractors (2013)
The Fading Ghosts Of Yesterday [EP] (2013)