ROGUE SOUNDS: Fractal Love Jam really sticks to its guns
Warhol had soup cans. Bowie had space. Motley Crue had girls, girls, and lessee…. right, girls. Sometimes an artist just finds their thing and sticks to it.
Such is the case with Ashland band Fractal Love Jam. Every album cover is fractals. Every poster. Every show-augmenting projection. And the band works it into their music as much as possible as well on their new album, Flowers in the Dark, as well, with lyrics that trip the life fantastic over music tracks that combine electro-jam, world music, and dreamy ballads.
The band performs as a two-piece, with composer Martin Ball and vocalist Jesslynn Jones playing guitars along with sequenced beats. Rather than use the studio as an opportunity to incorporate more live instruments, the band ported that sequenced performance style straight into the studio. It gives Flowers in the Dark, a tight and focused sound, but one that often feels flat and lifeless without much dynamic range beneath the vocal melodies.
The title track, “Flowers in the Dark,” has an interesting retro bent to it, sounding a bit like late ’80s underground electronic music like LA Style.
The fourth track, “It’s a Beautiful Day,” is a goddamn tragedy. The scourge of corny nordic-white reggae now seems tragically unstoppable, as time has proved it impervious to good taste or self-awareness. But there is still a spectrum. and between the weak bland beats, synth horns, and uninspired vocals, it sounds like a cheap karaoke track.
The sixth song, “Pure Energy,” returns to reggae, and with less of the synth horns, and more filtered swirls of sound, it works better.
The lyrics throughout are a fairly purple, ramming the central themes home without any regard to subtlety or nuance. The band says those themes are universal love, self-discovery, transcendence, nonduality, and entheogenic awakening and exploration. That includes stuff like energy, wormholes, infinity, and of course, fractals. But without splitting hairs too much it can be summarized as shit you think of tripping balls and grinning like a dingus. That isn’t much of a surprise, as the band’s lyricist, Martin Ball, is also the organizer of the annual Exploring Psychedelics academic conference at Southern Oregon University.
Flower in the Dark closes with “Movement Underground,” another reggae tune that leans heavily on the fake horns for its opening hook. When the melody line ditches the horns for synth sounds, the melody is mega-hooky.
The thing that’s tricky to grasp is that Flowers in the Dark contains some remarkably complex composition with thick layers of sound and melody that go far beyond the average bass, guitar, drums and keys of most bands. And the band deserves credit for tossing out the bland three-chord, verse/chorus, verse/chorus formula. But a lot of the drum and synth sequencing is done with sounds about 30 years out of date, and not in a good way. It’s as corny as fall in Iowa. But when the album moves away from those sounds, it’s pretty solid.
In the end, here’s the thing with Flower in the Dark, and Fractal Love Jam in general. You’re either into it or you’re not. Not a lot of middle ground. But what matters is the band is into it. Like WAY into it. And whether you like what they stand for or not, they stand for something, and they stick to their love-guns. That’s a helluva lot more than can be said about a lot of bands.