Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda’s 5th solo album presents a stripped back and calmer version of his Lunatic Soul work. Despite the occasional off lyric, Fractured has a strong claim to ‘masterpiece’ status, and is worth more than the hours’ worth of time it will take you to listen to it.
There is a distinctly different style here than on Lunatic Soul’s previous work, Walking on a Flashlight Beam. There is some influence from Riverside’s latest record, Eye of the Soundscape, a mostly ambient and optimistic album that itself seemed to be influenced by Lunatic Souls’ Impressions. Fractured often sinks comfortably into long instrumental passages – not to the same extent as the eponymous first single, which used vocals effectively as backing, but as sections which emphasize the meaning and emotion of Duda’s excellently utilized voice when it does come in.
Fractured wields slightly less of the Eastern influences shown on Walking on a Flashlight beam, focusing on incorporating more electronic elements, such as tremelo’d sub-bass and oscillating leads on “Battlefield”, or the synth equivalent of water droplets in the background of “Red Light Escape”. Duda’s signature palm muted, chromatic riffs are still there, here used as climaxes of nostalgia, the build up of each song releasing into a section of classic Lunatic Soul, before drifting back into the calmer, simpler, and softer tones that typify this album. These calmer tones are not surprising, given the themes of the album – in Duda’s words, “coming back to life after a personal tragedy”. We’ve left the oppressive atmosphere of Walking on a Flashlight Beam, and are in the melancholy and fulfilling stages of picking up the pieces.
The sparser approach works. The simple vocal harmony over a driving, progressive bass riff about five minutes into “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” is more affecting than some of the more complex parts of Duda’s back catalogue, and the break to drums and synth lead soon in to “Battlefield” captivates more than a heavily layered breakdown ever could.
It is sometimes tempting to view stripped back and simpler as pejoratives. It is tempting to lump Lunatic Soul in with the swathes of progressive musicians (let us not mention names) who notoriously simplify and lighten their work in bids to gain commercial success. Some have claimed that Duda has done this. That is not what has gone on here. This version of Lunatic Soul is less dense, less layered, and less heady. It is more repetitive, and the electronic tones do subtly remind one of more mainstream and even poppy samples. It is not any less accessible, though. If anything, in being sparser than his older work, this album needs more concentration and emotional openness to properly experience. The whole album is devoid of real chorus’ and vocal hooks as appeared on “Walking on a Flashlight Beam”, “Gutter”, or “Suspended in Whiteness”, and aims successfully at atmosphere building. This is not an album to be dismissed as a commercial cash grab.
For all the good Duda’s new theme has done for the music, it appears to have had a slightly negative effect on his lyrics. This is a plaintively beautiful album, with a plaintively beautiful message, that is sometimes marred by some rather cumbersome expression. Overly candid lyrics such as “Anymore”’s repeated refrain “You don’t talk to me anymore”, or the claim that ‘There’s no land of unicorns’ in the otherwise beautiful “Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes”, can be a little distracting alongside some of the truly hard hitting and emotional metaphors filling the album.
But we can look past a couple of lines in an hour of some of the most affecting and gorgeous music to be released this year
Notable Tracks: “A Thousand Shards of Heaven”, “Fractured”, “Battlefield”
FFO: Riverside, The Pineapple Thief, Chroma Key