Fractured by Lunatic SoulRelease date: October 6, 2017
Riverside’s Mariusz Duda has a history of making music possessed of a singular kind of melancholy. His writing, as collected on the Riverside back catalogue and in that of his musical alter ego, Lunatic Soul, is replete with songs that barely contain a sense of disappointment, disillusionment and loss. Like all the best writers, however, Duda has always married that melancholy with a rich sense of empathy; he writes with rare power and insight about the misgivings we all share, but always with hope and the sense that this is a burden shared. As a result, Lunatic Soul’s albums have been rather more introspective and experimental than Duda’s work with Riverside, and Fractured continues in that vein. However, having found the inspiration to make an especially personal and musically increasingly sparse album in the shape of 2014’s Walking On A Flashlight Beam, Duda has elected with Fractured to change tack once more.
Fractured is Duda’s fifth record under the Lunatic Soul banner, and perhaps his most musically adventurous offering since the project’s eponymous debut. Where previous Lunatic Soul albums – notably its predecessor Walking On A Flashlight Beam – flirted with the use of electronica, and very successfully, Fractured opts to put the electronics largely front and centre. Whilst the atmosphere conjured by the album is familiar in its melancholy feel, the arrangements are perhaps sparser than ever, the electronic elements to make a strikingly spare frame for Duda’s songs. The effect is even more discomfortingly intimate than in the past, which lends the album a particularly haunting quality.
That there is a greater focus on the electronic elements is not to say that some of the more familiar components of Duda’s toolkit don’t make a welcome reappearance: Duda’s signature bass, with its warm, thick tone, underpins much of Fractured, allied with sparse acoustic guitar and the gentle thunder of drums. Allied with the increased use of strings, these more traditional, acoustic instruments collide deliciously with the harsher, electronic elements to create a certain tension that is the perfect soundtrack to Duda’s tales of personal loss and dislocation. For this, like its predecessor, is plainly an intensely personal record. Inspired by what, by Duda’s own admission, was a particularly difficult and painful year, Fractured delves deeper into the ghosts that haunt Duda’s worldview than any of his previous work.
Fractured is a word that infuses every element of this album: individually we are all fractured, our relationships with each other are fractured, societally we are fractured, our physical and spiritual worlds are fractured. Opening track ‘Blood On The Tightrope’ spells things out very clearly: we are all balanced on our own tightropes, desperately trying to stay upright in the face of the chaos below. Underpinned by skittering drums and a steady electronic pulse, Duda reminds us of our perpetual struggle not to fall: “every day, every night / We walk the line, trying not to fall / Every day, every night / We’re getting close / Then we lose control“.
Elsewhere, the record examines the entropy of personal relationships in the plaintive ‘Anymore’, our struggles with our own internal demons, within both the baleful ‘Red Light Escape’, which looks at the ways we try to escape our pain without actually trying to overcome it, and the largely instrumental title track. ‘Fractured’ itself, with its icy electronic pulse and inexorable rhythm, provides a perfect soundtrack to a voyage through a fractured psyche.
There’s a bigger picture to be addressed, however, and it’s to Duda’s credit that the link between these very personal stories and the larger issues he tackles elsewhere, never feels contrived. Hypnotic as the more personal stories are, musically and conceptually some of the more ambitious material is breathtakingly effective. Duda’s fears for his own child, brought to bloodcurdling life within ‘Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes’, are soundtracked by a wondrous, swirling string arrangement of the kind we’ve never seen Duda use before, interspersed with lambent guitar. His child provides much valued relief from the gloom of the world, but like so many parents, Duda’s discomfiture also draws power from the innocent life he helped to bring into the world: “You came to my gloomy world / Lightened up my sky / Thanks to you I’ve realized / What I am still afraid of / I’m afraid for you.” In ‘Battlefield’, Duda deals with the difficulties of surviving the dispiriting things that existence serves up, the human cost of holding back the darkness. The anguish in Duda’s voice is palpable as he stands resolute in the path of all that oppresses him. “What has gone to pieces will not take hold of me / Standing upright, with open eyes / When tears have turned to fists / Feel my time has come / And the broken hearts will not break through my mind.” The ebb and flow of the sea of electronica the song is built upon slowly gathers itself for a stirringly martial resolution, mirroring his determination.
If the album has a centerpiece, however, it must surely be the spectacular slow burn of ‘A Thousand Shards Of Heaven’, a powerful song of hope where Duda acknowledges the darkness of life but strives for positivity and strength to beat back the gloom. “I want to feel what it’s like / When sorrow turns into strength“, he sings, “I want to feel what it’s like / When what I lost comes back to life / To heal my battered heart.” Accompanied by acoustic guitar, and then once again by the strings of Poland’s Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra, Duda’s vocal here is perhaps one of the finest he’s ever committed to record, and the elegaic slow build of the song is extraordinarily powerful. Blend in a blissfully propulsive midsection topped off with strings, Duda’s inimitable bass and saxophone (courtesy of previous collaborator Marcin Odyniec) and a staggeringly emotive coda, and you have a masterpiece of mood and melody.
Duda mentions some specific inspirations in regard to this album, including synth rock pioneers Depeche Mode and the rhythmic urban electronica of Massive Attack, but of all the influences he specifies perhaps the most evident are two singer songwriters: Peter Gabriel and David Sylvian. Both men are especially bold in the way they arrange songs to put the voice centre stage, and frequently keep arrangements sparse to great emotional effect. Gabriel’s gift of building complexity and momentum via rhythm has also been a clear influence, as many of the songs on Fractured develop via the introduction and manipulation of rhythmic elements. Duda’s work always manages to be more than the sum of its influences, however – even with new stylistic twists up his sleeve, he never sounds like anyone other than himself.
The album ends with ‘Moving On’, which ties the seemingly disparate strands of the album’s narrrative together. The song works on a personal level, but also in terms of the world at large: “Intimidated and resigned, we wait / Turned away from each other, we failed / For we did nothing about us / Promises, empty, and full of lies“, Duda sings, as much about our increasingly fractured society as about any individual relationship. Ultimately, though, Duda chooses to leave the dysfunction and despair behind, to move beyond it.
This album continues the Lunatic Soul legacy in real style. Utterly modern, yet feeling almost ritualistic at times, Fractured is earthbound, yet spiritual; melancholy yet built on hope. It serves as one of Duda’s crowning achievements to date, and may just be the boldest and most satisfying Lunatic Soul album so far.