It seems that almost every album I review lately has been born as a result of the time and space afforded whilst working musicians are stuck at home with nothing but their home studios, a bunch of instruments and a computer for company. This one is no different. I dare say Stephan Thelen always intended to make a follow up to his masterful Fractal Guitar album of 2018, but perhaps we may have been waiting a little longer had life not been put on hold for the last year. Well anyway, the second instalment is upon us, and Fractal Guitar 2 is unleashed, and it’s a beauty.
If you are familiar with the original, you will instantly recognise the style and format as a seamless continuation, and indeed many of the musicians who contributed to the success of that record have been enlisted again here. As the album title suggests, this is a guitar album first and foremost, but with a unique approach. We are in an almost ambient world with abstract tendencies, and yet this is an album that is so easy to get lost in; truly another world, drifting somewhere, nowhere, in a sound cocoon that is both hypnotic and riveting with bursts of the most extraordinary sounds that can be made with guitars.
The title track is the most concise example of what this album is about at a second under eight minutes, but time is suspended by such hypnotic and engaging music. Soundscape washes ebb and flow, whilst guitar and bass weave interlocking patterns like cogs and wheels spinning through an infinite void. Over this background, different guitars improvise, exploring the possibilities of the shape of sound, weaving a magic carpet in space and time. It is over in the blink of an eye and yet lasts hours, such is the difficulty in working out how long you have been listening. I know, it sounds like I’ve lost the ability to write sensibly or coherently, if I ever knew in the first place, but I blame Thelen for creating this mind stretching soundworld.
Each piece has a slightly different atmosphere, but is part of a coherent plan, a harmonious whole. The thing I can simply revel in though is the guitar improvising. With so many players involved, it can be hard to figure out who is playing what, and it doesn’t really matter much, but some of the soloing is unbelievable. Some sound like Fripp at his most inspired, a thought probably sparked by the fact that many sounds on this album are not a million miles away from the guitar-centric style of Discipline era Crimson. However such starting points are extrapolated way beyond the self-imposed limits of that outfit, and are allowed to evolve naturally into something wonderful and unique. Ladder to the Stars is another marvellous example, its ambient live looping courtesy of Chris Muir, together with Markus Reuter’s soundscapes and Jon Durant’s guitar effects, setting up a deceptively simple framework over which the guitar probing becomes more and more adventurous and extreme as the track progresses. Whilst the music is predominantly guitar-led, there are some keyboards, thanks to Fabio Anile, who provides some electric piano sparkle here. The last two minutes contain some incendiary warped guitar playing from Henry Kaiser (I’m guessing) which fries synapses before abruptly ending. Celestial Navigation offers some soothing relief from such carnage, with some very Tangerine Dreamy motifs, with Stefan Huth providing simple but effective touch guitar bass locked with Manuel Pasquinelli’s drums, whilst the inquisitive guitar runs of Jon Durant, Bill Walker and Thelen ensure the ride is riveting all the way.
The final piece, Point of Inflection, sees David Torn and Barry Cleveland whipping up a cosmic storm alongside the ever-present Reuter and Thelen, with some Eastern sounding moments, although this is music with no particular world ‘place’, it is not Earthbound but stellar, conjuring places we can only imagine beyond the stars. Overall, one is left in a state of awe and wonder. This album is both beautiful and scary, atmospheric and strange, thought provoking and peaceful.
So Stephan Thelen has taken his Fractal Guitar blueprint and trumped it on Fractal Guitar 2. He seems able to draw together the most astonishing group of musicians, albeit remotely, and invent a new sound world for us to wallow in, and I thoroughly recommend you do just that. This is totally immersive music to, not merely listen to, but experience. It is addictive and life affirming. It is the best instrumental album of the year so far.
01. Cosmic Krautrock (14:08)
02. Fractal Guitar 2 (7:58)
03. Mercury Transit (12:03)
04. Ladder to the Stars (14:54)
05. Celestial Navigation (12:29)
06. Point of Inflection (12:12)
Total Time – 73:44
Markus Reuter – Touch Guitar U8, Soundscapes
Jon Durant – Electric Guitar, Fretless Guitar, VCS3 Guitar, Filtered & Sliced Cloud Guitar, Cloud Guitar
David Torn – Electric Guitar, Live Looping (tracks 1 & 6)
Bill Walker – Electric Guitar, Live Looping, Feedback, Lap Steel
Stefan Huth – Touch Guitar AU8 (Bass), Touch Guitar S8 (Bass)
Andi Pupato – Percussion
Andy Brugger – Drums
Stephan Thelen – Electric Guitar, Choppy Organ, Granular Synth, Programming, Fractal Guitar, Formant Swell, e-Bow, Particles, Keyboards
Barry Cleveland – 6 & 12-string Guitar, Filtered Guitar, Bowed Guitar, Revox Loops, Chopped Guitar, Fuzz Orchestration
Manuel Pasquinelli – Drums
Fabio Anile – Keyboards
Henry Kaiser – Electric Guitar (track 4)
Chris Muir – Electric Guitar, Live Looping (track 4)
Andy West – Bass (track 4)
Record Label: MoonJune Records
Country of Origin: International
Date of Release: 9th March 2021