Through your stormy waves
Through your crumbled walls
Through your broken sky
Through your fractured soul
How does one approach reviewing a new album from their favorite musician? I find it almost impossible to be objective about anything that Mariusz Duda releases, whether that be Riverside, Lunatic Soul, MGD, or his guest appearances. To be sure, I don’t rate all of his albums at a full 10/10, but I absolutely love everything he has ever done. His music simply speaks to me. So, the new album from his musical alter ego, Lunatic Soul, is probably the best album of the year for me, and I’ve tried to examine it both subjectively and objectively. “Fractured” releases on October 6th, and it is one of the best Lunatic Soul albums yet, if not the best.
One of the reasons that this album has jived so well with me is the fact that Duda has moved into a new style of which I already happen to be a huge fan. Yes, Lunatic Soul has changed in very noticeable ways, but its heart remains the same. Duda has left behind the haunting, otherworldly soundscapes of the first four albums to embrace a more electronic, synthetic sound that is definitely influenced by 80’s progressive pop. That means there is plenty of synth, programmed beats, loops of Duda’s voice, jazzy portions, Duda’s signature complex bass grooves, and even the odd electric guitar solo, which is something different for Lunatic Soul. Furthermore, an eclectic array of instruments and sounds is still utilized, so Lunatic Soul might sound even more varied than ever. Mariusz Duda is also joined by Marcin Odyniec on saxophone and the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra on two tracks.
Even with this huge change in style, Lunatic Soul remains the same in two very important ways. Lunatic Soul has always been about layers of sound, and this album is no different. Most of the songs are crafted to start out with more simplistic melodies or rhythms that then build slowly into several layers of melody that altogether sound absolutely astounding. So, the compositional style is still here. For a quick example, the opening track “Blood on the Tightrope” demonstrates this building of layers, as the song starts with a vocal loop, adds electronic touches, and keeps building with new rhythms to a hugely satisfying conclusion.
Additionally, the heavy emotion of the lyrics is still a major part of Lunatic Soul. Duda has moved from the realm of the afterlife into the realm of his own heart. While the first four albums conveyed a trip through the afterlife that was rife with sadness and wonder, “Fractured” is the direct result of Duda’s own personal burdens over the past couple years. Everything from the passing of his father to his relationship struggles to the more publicized death of his friend Piotr Grudziński from Riverside, Duda has been through so much lately. In a way, though, “Fractured” is less about the fact that he feels broken and more about expressing his feelings and looking to the future with hope and light. So, while the lyrics are immensely saddening, there is a certain hopefulness to them that reminds me of Riverside’s “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”. I do have to say that this hope is tempered by sheer willpower and determination, however.
This is the point of the review at which I try not to go in-depth on every single track, for sake of length. I probably will fail. Every single song on this album is masterfully crafted, and they do indeed feel pieced together with lots of components, ideas, and textures. I’ve already mentioned “Blood on the Tightrope” and its climactic structure, so I’ll leave that be. Next comes “Anymore”, which has really become a favorite. It is a direct response to the passing of Duda’s father, and there is this almost child-like innocence to it that I identify with closely. On top of that, the melody is off kilter, but also very addictive and hummable.
“Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes” follows and is very atmospheric musically and painful lyrically, and it’s a real grower. However, the next song is called “Red Light Escape”, and is difficult to describe for me. The reason for this is that the song is so incredibly good that I feel like my words are not doing it justice. This track is definitely one of the best songs on any Lunatic Soul album. It is atmospheric, melodic, and beautiful; but then transitions into an instrumental that showcases electronic rhythms, an awesome keyboard line, a bass groove that reminds me of the “Walking on a Flashlight Beam” album, and some incredibly dirty saxophone work. I honestly get goosebumps just thinking about how good this song is. My only complaint? It ends a little too soon because it just leaves me wanting more.
“A Thousand Shards of Heaven” continues the album, and is one of the most beautiful songs Duda has ever written. This is not only because of the more orchestral and jazzy nature of its composition, but also because Duda’s voice has possibly never been so pure and sincere. It is also the longest Lunatic Soul to date, meaning that the song progresses in very mature and gorgeous ways, from an orchestral section that builds to Duda’s vocal harmonies that ends up including a jazzy layer of sound, too. It just keeps building and building.
The album ends with “Battlefield” and “Moving On”. “Battlefield” is a song that makes the biggest impact through its lyrics. It revolves around this idea that life has been a battlefield of loss and regret, but that Duda’s “tears have turned to fists”, signifying his resolve to fight for light and hope, though he may also be cold and numb. It helps that the song has a beautiful melody that punctuates the words, too. “Moving On” completes this work, and is a more straightforward progressive pop song with lots of melody and an absolutely killer vocal hook, while also finalizing the willpower that Duda is expressing.
“Fractured” is a different experience than the previous Lunatic Soul albums, but it most certainly retains the spirit and emotion that might be the most definitive aspects of this musical project in the first place. Mariusz Duda outdoes himself with a stunning vocal performance, complex bass lines, an eclectic and interesting range of sounds and textures, and especially with passionate lyrics that shed light into his world as well as capturing the memories and personal struggles of the listener, too. This is my album of the year thus far, and I honestly don’t see that changing.