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MP3 Fractal - Sequitur

''Music to tap your brain to''. Progressive rockers Fractal return with an eclectic musical trip featuring complex rhythms, style-bending and -blending, and existential musical and lyrical outcries.

11 MP3 Songs in this album (66:28) !
Related styles: ROCK: Progressive Rock, ROCK: Post-Rock/Experimental

People who are interested in Radiohead Pink Floyd King Crimson should consider this download.

A few years after their instrumental debut "Continuum", and a year after a promising single "Aftermath", Fractal are back with their second full album, featuring the band as it has been operating live since 2004: Paul Strong on drums, Jim Mallonee on bass, vocals and keys, Josh Friedman on guitar and vocals, and Nic Roozeboom on lead guitars, keys and loops. Fractal is based in and around San Jose in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been together in its current formation since 2004 starting out as a trio in 2000.

The Album

As its Latin title might suggest, Sequitur (“it follows”) both compares and contrasts with Continuum – the repertoire is still rife with odd and compound-meter riffs, metric manipulation and complex song structures, but adds vocal, lyrical and contextual dimensions since the instrumental trio debut. Although by no means a concept album, through its variety of song styles, subject matter, moods and textures Sequitur does exhibit a distinct musical arc.

Relative to Continuum, Sequitur deemphasizes improvisation in favor of composition and conceptual cohesion – a few discrete improvs such as Coriolis and ''Pataphysics frame and complement large-structure compositions such as Aftermath (previously released but remastered here), Mantra and magnum opus Churn. On the other end of the spectrum, the album''s pace is propelled by nuclear and succinct songs such as the heavy Crimsonesque riffing of Ellipsis, the punk-prog energy and manic meter of The Monkey''s Paw (and its disturbing Coda, Pentacle), and The Great Pain – a true blues but in 13/8 time, complete with Jim Mallonee''s Hendrix-like proclamation vocals.

Throughout the album, Fractal nods and winks in the direction of several of their examples: of course King Crimson (though noticeable only in Ellipsis and much less so than on Continuum), Radiohead (e.g. on the haunting alienscapes of A Fraction of One) and even Pink Floyd, Yes and Rush – but Sequitur demonstrates the band has matured into a very distinct and varied personal style.

Like Continuum and again with Sequitur, Fractal both flaunts and taunts Prog-rock convention – cases in point being The Monkey''s Paw and The Great Pain. Both depart from a different (incompatible?) genre – punk and blues respectively – and stretch its parameters in inventive, what one might call “progressive” ways. Churn, with its multi-episodic structure and grandiose scope hyperactively veers from genre to genre, from orchestral to anthemic rock through an intense and disturbing purgatory of nightmarish soundscapes until it subsides in an all-out ballad-like catharsis. Possibly one of the very few album works featuring a false ending, Bellerophon is drummer Paul Strong puncturing all pretense with “something completely different” - a veritable “non-sequitur” putting the whole work in perspective.

Fractal''s lyrical approach is sparse but focused, drawing upon themes of affirmation of human life and emotion (Aftermath, Mantra, Giving Tree), philosophical ruminations (The Monkey''s Paw, Churn, The Great Pain), the subconscious (A Fraction Of One) and the insanity and inhospitality of our times (Churn, Mauves). Josh'' melodious and relatively understated singing is balanced (or perhaps more accurately: unbalanced) by Jim''s more primordial raw energy, adding to the album''s overall yin-and-yang tension.

The album art for Sequitur was commissioned by Fractal from fractal and chaos artist Derek K. Nielsen. More about Derek and his work can be found at https://www.tradebit.com

The Music

Ellipsis, composed by Nic, opens the album with a riff-heavy and confidently strident instrumental, built upon a multi-layered and multi-rhythmic main riff contrasting with delicate, interlocking arpeggio sections. In the evolution of Fractal''s sound, this song marks a turning point as being the last to wear the influence of King Crimson on its sleeve, and melding it with a Beatles-like approach to song structure and sound, but without words (unless you count the “...”)

Aftermath, originally released as a limited edition single in 2007 but remastered here and the thematic opener for the album, was composed by Nic in 2002 (as such the “oldest” song on the album) and given the title in a response to the events of September 11, 2001. The lyrics were written in collaboration by all band members with the addition of Josh''s wife Jessica. It is the band''s very personal dedication and remembrance of those events. The struggle to come to terms with the loss of innocence is symbolized in many of the song''s elements, such as its shock-metal guitar bursts, its ascending and descending spiral harmonic modulations underpinning a frantic percussive middle section, and chorus with fleeting ghost-notes and culminating in an emotional guitar solo seemingly crying for hope.

Mantra: Eternal Spring of Life was developed from an intricate rhythmic pattern and melody by Nic and matured by the band (by way of many rhythmic-meditative sessions as well as live) into an emotionally charged song. Its “mantra” - a meandering legato guitar melody line – recurs in different forms throughout the songs Reichian progression, including a softer core featuring sparse singing and delicate cascading guitar notes. Nic''s emotional guitar solo and the frantic final reprise with signature ending make this a quintessential Fractal work.

Giving Tree is a vulnerable and serene ballad, written by Josh and Chris Pratorius, a friend and fellow composer. Pure.

Coriolis is an improvisation originally recorded by Paul, Nic and Jim, to which later Josh extremely tastefully added bowed guitar, preserving and amplifying its contemplative and organic soaring sonic atmospherics and almost subliminal rhythmic drive. It is an example of the band''s mental interconnection and capacity for restraint, thinking almost as a single organism in pursuit of a musical whole.

A Fraction Of One was conceived and almost entirely recorded during a band retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains (which also resulted in Churn), and sublimates some of the band''s working dynamics, surroundings and events during those sessions into a haunting and surreal “soundtrack to a dream”, with stream-of-consciousness lyrics, an insistent, throbbing guitar riff and eerie soundscapes. Due to circumstances, Paul was at the last moment not able to take part, and recordings of his drums from earlier rehearsal improvisation sessions were used as a backbone for the writing of A Fraction Of One, and were kept in adherence to documentary truth – although cymbals were added later.

''Pataphysics, another fortuitously captured improv (the band indiscriminately records rehearsals for later harvesting), plays like a screamingly violent outburst of grief, outrage and indignation. Culled from hours of improvisation footage and titled by Josh, it marks a pivotal change in tone of the album towards the visceral and unrestrained.

Mauves and The Great Pain, a two-piece bluesy mini-suite, are musically two sides of the same coin. Mauves was derived from The Great Pain''s main 13/8 riff and features quotes of confounding profundity commenting on the human condition. The Great Pain is in essence an bluesrock song but in 13/8 odd meter, featuring the interlocking main riff played by both guitarists – at times in hocket fashion. Its title referencing a short story by science-fiction author Cordwainer Smith, its lyrics link notions of duality in politics and personal relationships, ultimately searching for hope. The song has been described by a listener as “like Jimi Hendrix singing with Robert Fripp on guitar”. Jim''s opening bluesy banter was actually a sarcastic commentary to his having to record the vocals to a MIDI version of the song, but their spontaneity worked so well that they were preserved for the final version – as was his beer-bottle note ending the song.

The Monkey''s Paw after a Zeppelinesque opening explodes in a frenzy of simian angst-ridden punk energy. With lyrics extremely loosely based on the short story of the same name by W.W. Jacobs , Jim''s bloodcurdling vocal delivery underscores some alarming notions on life and its choices. A stunning coda, Pentacle, takes the melodic theme and mutates it into another signature Fractal spiral harmonic transformation, progressively layering an unusual blend of instrumentation and colors including classical guitar and baritone ukulele, a real live harpsichord, tubular bells, synth-choir and ultimately culminating in a thrash metal reprise – all happening within a less than 4-minute timespan!

Churn – Epic in scope at almost 14 minutes duration, the longest and possibly most ambitious track on the album was basically written during the same Fractal retreat as A Fraction Of One, and was almost dismissed from inclusion on the album, until ideas began to “churn” and enrapture the musicians'' interest. Rather than the cohesive architecture of Aftermath, Churn meanders in styles through its several episodes: a symphonic overture, a riffing rock section but with twisting rhythms as well as harmonies, a nightmarish and trippy third movement and a cathartic ballad finale. The anthem-rock second movement has rap lyrics teeming with humorous allusions but realized as “unspoken word”. The core of the piece literally revolves around a serpentine chord sequence symbolizing DNA, sonic dreamscapes, and a vocal collage contributed by all band members based on lyrics by Nic and arranged by Josh.

Bellerophon, realized entirely by Paul, is the album''s false ending – yes: a non-sequitur – contrasting so starkly with the rest of the album as to create a sense of release (and possibly, relief). Its musical distance from the assumed Fractal sound puts the entire album in perspective and offers a nihilistic and somewhat hedonistic commentary on any assumed “seriousness” in the preceding music and its pretensions. Or, perhaps, it is just a fun ditty...

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