Fractal Cat's psychedelic vibe hums on third album

Howard County Times
Fractal Cat's psychedelic vibe hums on third album

With the release of its third album "The Tower," the band Fractal Cat, which has two members who are Columbia natives, delves deeper into the neo-psychedelia that is its trademark sound.

From the kickoff song "Be Careful What You Dream," a rocking slice of foot propellant, to the epic spaced-out "Streets Are Burning," the new album evokes both the old, like the Beatles and other British Invaders from the 1960s, and the new, like My Morning Jacket.

To earmark the local connection, the album cover features an exploding Bromo Seltzer Tower.

The album release party is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 26, in the studio of WTMD radio station in Towson. The album's single "Have I Lost My Way" has been in regular rotation on WTMD since December.

The band is a regular on the Baltimore-Washington club circuit, but has also ventured into Pennsylvania and West Virginia for performances.

Miles Gannett, the band's founder, said he considers the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt to be the group's home base venue.

Gannett, who once could be found roaming the halls of Oakland Mills High School, said one of his personal goals is to eventually perform on the stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

"I have seen some great concerts there and would love to play there. One memorable show was Radiohead about 10 years ago. What a powerful performance. It had analog keyboard instruments and an impressive light show," he said.

His is a musical journey that began in a household where his father played guitar and taught him to play "La Bamba" on an organ. He got his first guitar at age 6 and began playing chords and writing songs.

"I've been doing it ever since," he said.

The origins of the band stretch back a decade.

"It was my idea to start the band back in 2007. I had a bunch of sound equipment. I invited Jason (Baker, also a Columbia native), our drummer over and that's how our first album started. We decided that in order to play live we needed to get some band members."

The band's current line-up has solidified into a seven-piece group. In addition to songwriter-guitarist Gannett and percussionist Baker, Fractal Cat includes songwriter-guitarist Keith Jones, bassist Kevin Morris, saxophonist and flutist Kim Gravatt, keyboardist Joshua Lilly and, on French horn, violin and cornet, Sean Finn.

Although the shorthand version of the band's genre is psychedelia, the group's influences are all over the map.

For Gannett, a touchstone musician is Syd Barrett, the "doomed genius" who was the original frontman and songwriter for Pink Floyd. Barrett left a much-admired body of work before quitting the music business to pursue painting and gardening.

Currently, Gannett is a devotee of singer-songwriters Sturgill Simpson and Townes Van Zandt and the rock band Dr. Dog.

Gannett, who was the original lead guitarist for the Baltimore fusion band Telesma, has also listened to a lot of New Orleans music, electronica, Motown, jazz and funk. Throw in the Moody Blues, and you have quite an eclectic mix. In the past, his kitchen sink approach to instrumentation has included an electric egg slicer and a shortwave radio.

"The Tower," which is entirely originals, marks an evolutionary step from the band's first album "The Eye of the Dawn" in 2012 and second album "Lovingkind" in 2014. Gannett said the new material should appeal to the band's fans.

"The different circles we perform in are pretty diverse in their tastes. They (fans) seem deeper than the mainstream. Our fans dig a little deeper," Gannett said.

His fellow songwriter Keith Jones has his own intriguing origin story. A relative of Patsy Cline, Jones started out playing in coffee houses in Shepherdstown, W.Va. He released an album in conjunction with musician Bert Wray and co-founded the experimental band Plans Plans, which released two albums.

A search on Youtube will turn up two Fractal Cat videos that effectively give off the band's vibe. One is "As You Fly," which features band members cavorting in a meadow at Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, and the other a live jam of "Not Fade Away/Mona" filmed in Baltimore's Patterson Park.

Google the name "Fractal Cat" and you will find references to "Seymour the Fractal Cat," a sci-fi/comedy radio serial that aired on England's BBC.

Gannett said the name arose out of some verbal horseplay by band members as it was starting out. He said they only found out later about the BBC serial containing the same name.

For more information about Fractal Cat, including future performances, go to the band's website at fractalcatmusic.com. The album, "The Tower" is available at Second Edition Books and Music in Columbia.

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