Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Fractal – Sequitur (2009)

A fractal is a geometric shape that has a fine structure at arbitrarily small scales, and is too irregular to be easily described in traditional Euclidean geometric language. That’s also a decent description of the latest release from the Bay-area quartet Fractal, because this sixteen-track album is a cohesive musical work with a focus on great detail and complex composition, but offering a wide swath of style.

Last time around, on 2003’s Continuum, the band was an instrumental trio (Nic Roozeboom on guitars/synth, Jim Mallonee on bass/synth, and Paul Strong on drums). This time, Josh Friedman comes to the fold on vocals and guitar, and the band pulls away from their previous instrumental moorings to explore new territory. If there’s any comparison to be made between this effort and Continuum, the prior album had more of a fusion-y freeform feel to it, while Sequitur is much more structured and focused.

Friedman’s lyrics pull the compositions in another direction, with some of the numbers being almost ballady, in working with his vocals. A good example of this is “Giving Tree,” which is a very smooth and conventional ballad. It’s not something you’d expect from a band that’s usually flogging out full-bore in an irrational meter with notes all over the page. But it works well, and it’s an enjoyable piece.

In a similar vein is one of my favorite tracks is “A Fraction of One.” I’m a huge Peter Gabriel fan, and this draws from the same type of phantasmagorical lyrics over an ethereal soundtrack you’d find on the first few of Gabriel’s albums or in his soundtrack work. The song builds to an evil crescendo, with the guitar thrumming away, and the conclusion marked with the gong of an ancient clock. It’s an example of a completely different direction than the earlier three-piece instrumental recording.

There are a couple of interesting diversion that veer away from the center of the prog-rock highway. One is “The Monkey’s Paw”, which has angsty lyrics sung like a 90s alt-rock band, but draped over a complex beat that slowly spirals into a speed metal guitar solo. The band gets back into the fold with the big payoff, the three-part “Churn”, which ends with an almost electronica-oriented zip through with a trance-like synth beat, and a very screaming, fusion-esque guitar solo that I enjoyed.

This isn’t a straightforward album that everyone is going to “get” on the first listen, but that’s a big part of its appeal. It’s a lot more of an artistic challenge, structuring songs with odd-meter bits and complex drumming, lying underneath a complex soundscape of advanced melodic guitar riffage that ranges from playful to intrinsically powerful. It’s the kind of thing you’ll have to give repeat listens to fully appreciate everything that’s going on.

The self-produced CD was recorded all-digitally by the band “all over the Bay Area” – no word if that means a series of extensive home studios or picking up shifts at local booths, but it features pretty clean production and a tight sound overall. The cover art was done by Derek K Nielsen (www.daementia.com).

Fractal is very much worth checking out. Go to http://www.fractal-continuum.com to find out more; you can also pick up this CD at CDBaby.

Rating: 8.5