Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fractal Mirror

Welcome back fellow progheads!  Summer has finally blazed her trail...leaving tornadoes, hailstones, thunderstorms, and indiscriminate debris in her wake.  However; the sun is shining today so let us celebrate the victory the best way possible--listening to great progressive music.  Having spent nearly a year globe-hopping in the search for all things prog, I recently discovered a band that does practically the same thing. Not letting something as trivial as time zones, mountains, or thousands of miles of land and ocean keep them apart, a trio of talented musicians use technology along with innovation and determination to bring an extraordinary sound to life.  Chasing a band that hails from both Amsterdam and the United States (via New Jersey) presented quite the conundrum.  Rather than try and be in two places at once, I found it much easier, more relaxing, and most enjoyable to stay home this week relaxing to the sounds of Fractal Mirror.

The Dutch/American fusion that is Fractal Mirror makes for an incredible sound.  Self-described as a "pop/rock band with prog influences" leaves me with the impression these guys are extremely humble.  I pick up strong scents of IQ and Marillion along with some top notes of The Verve and Radiohead.  Fractal Mirror should make for remarkable listening...gotta break out the good headphones...

The first serving from the buffet this week is a song called "The Fading Ghosts of Yesterday."  The song opens with some serene keyboards; the mental picture is a lost soul emerging from an overgrown corn field. The drums and guitars blend in with the keys to create a soft, dark ballad of sorts...the music has a way of staying in the foreground while creating a picturesque setting for the vocals a la Under The Psycamore...intriguing indeed.  Fractal Mirror ha set the bar high with their opening cut.

Song number two from this week's sampling is a captivating piece called "The Chair."  With traces of Fairport Convention and  The Psychedelic Furs (now that is some generational fusion), I half expect videos of splitting amoebas to suddenly appear on my living room wall.  This song has folk, rock, and prog influences running throughout.  Fractal Mirror does something few bands can pull off successfully--each member of the band comes off understated yet completely essential to the composition.  Nothing jumps out and steals the spotlight, but remove any one note from the song and you are left incomplete and disappointed.  The lead vocals are smooth, with just a bit of an edge while the backing vocals fill a void you didn't realize was there.  Fractal Mirror has brought something new to the prog garden that is all at once refreshing, exciting, appealing, and borderline addictive.

Liner Notes...Fractal Mirror is Ed van Haagen on bass, keyboards, and programming, Leo Koperdraat on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, and Frank L. Urbaniak on drums and percussion.  Lyric credits go to Frank and Leo along with one Brian Watson, who also is credited for still images.  Andre de Boer picks up credit for video images.  I sense a band that puts as much into interpreting their music visually as they do playing and presenting it aurally...which is a very cool part of the prog process.  For supporting evidence you need look no further than any King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, or Yes album sleeve.

Although relatively new to the prog music garden, Fractal Mirror has roots reaching as far back as the '80s when Leo and Ed began working together in the Netherlands.  Riding the then-resurgence of progressive music, they connected with Frank via the Internet and started laying the tracks for what would be their 2013 debut release.  Working across the ocean is obviously not an issue as Fractal Mirror is currently near completion of their second CD due later this year.

Serving number three this week is a tune called "Brian's Song."  I can almost hear Adrian Belew in the background directing on this number, trying to build a hybrid of Echo & The Bunnymen, The New Order, and Marillion.  The keyboards are almost cathedral-like while the drums keep a steady beat--holding the guitars up for display without drowning anyone out.  The time and tempo changes are subtle and hit at just the right moments.  Leo's voice is haunting; coming across both foreboding and melancholy.  Fractal Mirror is quite adept creating a sound, building  a mood, and telling a tale.  They may consider themselves more pop/rock, but the prog influences ooze through like subliminal messages in a movie trailer.

The cut posted below is "The Fading Ghosts of Yesterday."  Thus is an excellent introduction for the new listener; soothing vocals layered ever so smoothly over keyboards, guitars, and drums leading you down a corridor that opens into a ballroom of emotions.  Fractal Mirror creates songs like a brilliant architect designs buildings...push the edge of possible just enough to inspire greatness.  Learn more about Fractal Mirror at http://www.fractalmirror.net/index.html


We have reached the end of another week once more fellow progheads, and I am sure you will concur that while it went by quickly it was worth diving into.  Fractal Mirror may not put themselves at forefront of the prog garden but they are undoubtedly more than just a "...pop/rock band with prog influences."  Humility is a good trait to  have as it tends to prevent arrogance, and Fractal Mirror brings an understated wallop to the prog garden.  As you enjoy the music of Fractal Mirror, I will continue my search for all things prog.  Until next week...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Minor Giant

Once again fellow progheads I have taken the concert closet traveling...this week home is but a red arrow on a Google map as I cashed in several frequent flyer miles for an overdue trip.  One of the many positive benefits of progressive music is its refusal to recognize borders, time zones, climate, or any other restrictive man-made excuse to keep prog from the masses.  Luckily it does recognize the value of the Internet...so this week I hunkered down in my window seat for a long trip to the Netherlands and a chance to explore the sounds of Minor Giant.

Minor Giant takes prog in yet another direction, flowing as smoothly as a Transatlantic/Spock's Beard weekend jam session.  New to the prog scene and about to release their debut CD, Minor Giant refers to themselves simply as a progressive rock band.  I like the minimal reality of that statement; no frills, no muss, no fuss. Let's have a listen, shall we?

The first offering on this week's prog menu is called "On The Road," and I decide to jump right in.  The keyboard opening to the song is almost reminiscent of an unplugged Emerson, Lake, and Palmer intro...and moves quickly to a full, headlong ride as drums and keyboards fill the sound out.  The vocals come in smoothly like a dry martini on a summer night.  Definite top notes of Camel and Transatlantic on this tune; for a newcomer Minor Giant seems highly educated and well versed.  Hmm...me thinks I will be avoiding jet lag this week...

Sampling number two is a tune called "Hand In Hand."  The song opens methodically with guitars and keyboards building a kindred bond that is held together with some tight drumming.  The vocals come in and suddenly everyone is moving around the soundscape.  If there is a void in the prog garden Minor Giant fills it quite aptly...with eyes closed I pick up hints of Porcupine Tree and early Genesis.  Listening to Minor Giant hearkens back to an evening with Yes in the round; remember those days?  Everyone in the band has a specific role and attacks it with fervor.

Liner Notes...Minor Giant is currently Roy Post on drums and percussion, Rindert Lammers on keyboards, Jordi Repkes on guitar and vocals, Rik van Dommelen on bass and vocals, and Jos Heijmans on keyboards and vocals.  Minor Giant started growing in the prog garden back in 2010, spending the next four years writing, recording, performing, and putting countless hours into fine tuning their sound.  What started as Rindert's vision has come full circle as Minor Giant plans to release "On The Road" later this month.  This is a semi-concept album, dealing with different roads people choose in life and the consequences--good and bad--those choices carry.

My final listen this week is a tune called "The Last Road." Sounding like a spiritual kick in the heart, the drums and keyboards come right at you.  Jordi keeps pace with excellent guitar work as the song gels into a beautiful piece that climbs inside your head and tugs at the emotional side of your brain.  Vocals seep through about five minutes into the song...making the last road the right choice.  Minor Giant shows strong influences of classic prog yet is able to harness a sound all their own.  The four years it took to cultivate, nurture, encourage, and create this sound was definitely time well spent.  Minor Giant will without doubt go on to expand its musical library, and "On The Road" is an outstanding first entry in the catalog.

The clip below is called "Dreams With Eyes Wide Open."  I chose this after listening to several pieces because Minor Giant shines on several fronts.  The intro takes me back to Dream Theater's "Scenes From A Memory;" music on a subconscious level.  Minor Giant once again moves seamlessly into a an instrumental barrage that comes from all corners of the stereo landscape and hits you firmly yet gently between the ears. The flow to this piece is as fluid as mountain run-off on that first warm January day.  Savor this piece again and again...learn more about Minor Giant at http://www.reverbnation.com/minorgiant.

Time to wind down once again fellow progheads, as seven more days land in the "spent" column....while I don't enjoy how fast 168 hours tick off the clock, I take solace in the fact that I used most of them doing prog research.  Minor Giant pulls off a difficult feat; playing to many different prog tastes while avoiding being "pigeon-holed."  Prog fans across the garden; young, old, stubborn, open-minded, with a preference for metal, jazz, classic, fusion--choose your adjective...there is something for everyone.

A plane warming up on the tarmac tells me to get back to searching for more untilled earth in the prog garden...until next week...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Midnight Mosaic

Greetings once again fellow progheads!  Another week has flown by faster than Superman chasing a Manhattan cab...and that can only mean one thing--seven more days in the hunt for all things prog.  I know I have mentioned many times in these posts that progressive music has always been an evolving genre, and an online debate I stumbled into a few days ago about whether or not Al Stewart is prog (prog influenced maybe; prog artist not so much) started the gerbil wheel in my head spinning...ever so slowly...

I realize it is an emotionally charged, heated discussion  that will continue ad infinitum with no concrete, definitive answer...however I will say that playing songs of twelve minutes plus does not a prog band make and simply leave it at that.  I urge the listener to make his/her own decision and like a true proghead, live peacefully among the masses.  So in my quest for all things prog and with a strong desire to expand my musical horizons, I took a walk on the Jersey Shore this week listening to the sounds of Midnight Mosaic.

Describing themselves as "...an eclectic collective of entertainers..." Midnight Mosaic has poked the curious side of my cerebellum.  Never one to turn thumbs-down without at least a taste, Midnight Mosaic has my undivided attention this week.  Walking gingerly to the buffet for my first morsel, I find a song aptly titled "Underdog."  The song opens fairly abruptly--a "mini cacophony" of sound if you will-- brought together nicely with some sharp vocals. The drums sit just below the surface through the entire cut like a crossing guard, keeping everybody in line and working in unison.  An interesting beginning that could have the makings of an intriguing week...

With a bit more swagger in my step I return to the buffet for a serving of "Bazooka Gumption."  With an opening smooth like pressed suede, I half expect Boz Scaggs to be on lead vocals here.  The song quickly picks up speed, exposing undertones of  latter-day Genesis, Talking Heads,  and even a touch of Ultravox. The song is tight and the drums are the definite driving force, once again keeping the guitars in line and the vocals on point.

Liner Notes...Midnight Mosaic is A. t. Hunte on vocals, Trent Carter on guitars, Gil T. Brown on bass, Harrisyn Hartt on keyboards and synthesizers, AJ on drums, and DeeM on backing vocals.  Hailing from New Jersey, Midnight Mosaic started in 2011 and almost immediately had an impact. High energy, a strong groove, hard hitting sound, and band members that genuinely seem to enjoy their chosen craft apparently have a better chance of being noticed.  The boundaries of prog may be getting stretched this week, but I believe there is always room in the garden for new plantings...and Midnight Mosaic pushes the boundaries of prog in the right direction--far and wide.

Serving number three this week is a tune called "Old School."  Somehow this song just seemed the right choice for the moment...and it hits right at chest level.  With a nod to Marillion and Consider The Thief, I like the irony the song title throws in your face.  Midnight Mosaic leads with keyboards and drums--both of which outhit, outperform, and outlast many of the neo-prog bands I have listened to recently.  Harrisyn and AJ work exceptionally well together...but the key to the band's success I believe is Trent allowing his guitar work to be the thread holding the tapestry together rather than the tapestry itself; a rare thing indeed and a statement to not only Trent's confidence but also Midnight Mosiac's trust and belief in one another.  Midnight Mosaic has set aside the paradigms, traditions, and unwritten rules of what makes a prog band and lunged for the other side of the music listener's head...territory that needs more exploration if you ask me.  Learn more about Midnight Mosaic at http://www.reverbnation.com/rpk/midnightmosaic

The cut posted below is called "Right to Die." A fitting introduction for the next generation of what is growing in the prog garden.  Midnight Mosaic comes at you from many sides...showing their ability to be eclectic, loud, artsy, imaginative, and full energy.  Midnight Mosaic is able to channel an inner 10cc while coming off as serious as Klaatu; they are a shot of adrenaline sure to wake up and inspire more prog fans eager to venture into the arena.


Expanding boundaries is never easy, often daunting, and usually necessary if one desires to stay relevant. Midnight Mosaic is innovative, fresh, new, and exciting--something the prog garden can always use a strong dose of.  This was an exciting week for the concert closet; lots of listening and  learning going on.

New adventures coupled with the opportunity to discover stimulating new progressive sounds inspire me to search out bands like Midnight Mosaic--those making a strong case for moving the boundaries of progressive music.  One of the unexpected benefits of starting this blog was discovering bands that refuse to conform and actually prefer to challenge the establishment...that is the thought process that gave birth to prog in the first place.  In the search for all things prog one must be open to all things prog...until next week...


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fire Garden

Hello again fellow progheads!  Been spending  a lot of time stateside recently in my search for all things prog.
If you have been traveling with the concert closet since its inception, you know there have been several twists, turns, and changes along the way.  Last week I tilled new soil in the prog garden yet again, completing my first album review.  This week I continue on that course...and have been immersed for seven days in the newest release from Fire Garden, "Sound of Majestic Colors."

Fire Garden hails from Chicago, billing themselves as "...a modern progressive metal band with classic sounds...soulful melodies, skull crushing riffs..."  And just like the reigning World Series of Poker Champion, I am all in.  Having reviewed Fire Garden earlier in my prog blogging career, I am extremely anxious to fill the concert closet with their latest skull crushing riffs...

Dashing eagerly to the buffet this week, I start at the beginning with "The Joker."  Fire Garden runs right up to the glass door between your mind and your brain--and proceeds to crash right through.  The intro is dark and eerie and I suddenly realize why there are no clowns in my house.  The guitars pound their way through and hit you from all sides until the drums drive a spike into the back of your head.  Fire Garden seems to be releasing a lot of pent up energy in this first cut; I can feel the emotion coming through the headphones.
Imagine Dream Theater and Atomic Rooster sharing a stage and you start to get the feel for what type of vibe Fire Garden is putting out on this song...skull crushing riffs--check.

My second choice from the menu is a tune called "Redemption."  Sounding as if they are under water, Fire Garden comes out of the gate slow, cautious, and methodical--for about 30 seconds.  The vocals on this cut are deep and strong as the music expands into a four-act play; time and tempo changes  come quick and sudden and I feel as if I might be flung from an out-of-control carousel.  The sound is extremely tight;  these guys feed off each other as though they are telepathic.  Everything works as the song goes from ballad to metal frenzy to hard hitting rock 'n' roll and back again...Fire Garden channels some early Be Bop Deluxe on this cut...soulful melodies--check.

Liner Notes...Fire Garden leaps off the map from the Chicago area and is led by their founder Zeeshan (Zee) Baig on guitars, music, and lyrics.  Fire Garden rounds out the quintet with Kevin Pollack on vocals and lyrics, Frank Lucas on keyboards, Barry Kleiber on bass, and Chuck White on drums.  Those of you with long memories will remember in my original review of Fire Garden Chase Carter was singing vocals...with no disrespect to Chase, Kevin has taken the vocals on this album to a new level.  His voice carries with confidence up, over, and around all the guitars, drums, and keyboards the rest of the band relentlessly hurls at him.  

"Sound of Majestic Colors" is Fire Garden's second release, on the heels of their 2012 debut EP "The Prelude."  Extra credit for the mixing on  Majestic Colors--this sounds more like a release from a band with ten years under their collective belts rather than their first full length album.  Fire Garden has definite hints of Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree...but there are subtle aromas of Transatlantic, Opeth and Spock's Beard mixed in as well.  While Fire Garden enjoys challenging the listener's pallet and pushing the boundaries of prog, the life blood of the band is progressive metal--which can never be a bad thing.

Serving number three is a gem called "Echoes in Silence." Fire Garden made the conscious decision to convert everyone to a prog listener with this cut...and used heavy artillery from the get-go. The song opens hard, loud, and fast with Zee, Frank, Barry,and Chuck continuously raising the energy level as if they  were reliving a Clash concert.  Kevin joins the fray at just the right moment, toning it down a notch but never distinguishing the flames.  The band shows amazing range on this tune as well...running through more time and tempo changes while staying true to their distinctive sound.  Echoes ends in such sad simplicity as to make you feel the need to go back--in time if necessary--to stop the bleeding.  Classic sounds--check.

Another first for the concert closet; no video clip--above is a photo of the band.  Fire Garden is officially releasing this album next week and I do not have a clip to post...so do yourself, your friends, family, neighbors, and casual acquaintances a favor and pre-order the CD now and proceed to play it loud and often!  Go to http://firegardenmusic.com/ to learn more about the band and order the CD, a digital download, and other cool stuff.  "Sound of Majestic Colors" is also available through iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sound-of-majestic-colors/id878272569

Well fellow progheads, not only another week--but another month has fallen off the the calendar as June muscled her way into 2014.  So far I like the tangent this journey has taken and I truly hope you do as well. Progressive music is indeed alive and well, and a sure sign of its strength and sustainability is a band as intense and talent-laden as Fire Garden releasing new albums.  Fire Garden has cultivated their own acreage in the prog garden and continue to feed it with innovation and style..needless to say, keeping one foot on the throttle never hurts either.  The sound of Fire Garden's "Sound of Majestic Colors" is bold, vibrant, exciting, and animated.  The search for all things prog continues as we step back into the concert closet ...until next week...