Monday, February 11, 2013

review: jacco gardner- 'cabinet of curiosities'

The debut on Trouble in Mind from Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner sees him staking a pretty strong claim in the modern neo-psych world. It’s one of those rare records that sounds so familiar that it’s certainly been done before, but attempts to find examples come up short. A great deal of what’s considered psychedelic these days is mining more of the Spacemen 3-influenced minimalist drone/overpowering fuzz and noise type of sound. Gardner’s going for more of an Anton Newcombe-like limitless pastiche. Where Newcombe combines 60s garage with folk traditions and Eastern influences, Gardner is mining more in the way of the English folk oddities that a lot of the British groups of the 60s were combining with the blues and drug-influenced music. The only clear parallel that springs to mind is Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but even that doesn’t explain the baroque pop elements that are mixed in here. There are tons of Rhodes electric pianos, mellotrons, vibraphones as well as the occasional harpsichord and toy piano.

‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ greatest success is as an extended mood piece. There’s a fear and loathing in these tracks that’s hypnotic and terrifying in its magnetism. Listen to lead single ‘Where Will you Go’ and it’s the first thing to leap out at you—those eerie, lonely electric piano notes during the bridge, the driving acoustic guitars and maracas and the buried mellotron melodies. ‘Sleeping is a getaway from life as a fool,’ he sings softly. With so much over-romanticizing of the 60s these days, it’s nice to hear a sense of paranoia and dread mixed in with the druggy euphoria so effectively. These aren’t childish lovesongs either—a lot of them seem to be of the impressionistic image variety. Even the child’s laughing throughout the instrumental title track gives pause. The music goes from vaguely menacing to playful often in the same phrase. One of the favored tricks of English folk music has always been minor chords mixed with sunny melodies and major scales. Then there’s ‘The Riddle’ which is just plain carnival freakshow creepy.

In the way of hooks there aren’t many—at least not vocal hooks. The vocals, for the most part, are tucked neatly alongside all of the other midrange instruments. There isn’t much in the way of bright treble-y tones either which further allows the music to drift. Gardner doesn’t rely too heavily on delays or reverbs, though. The hazy feel of the record is more a bi-product of some interesting layering—melodies intertwine together in call-and-response, drifting in and out in cross fades. Often they come from instruments you didn’t know were there that then recede quickly. It’s a similar effect to Spiritualized’s ‘Lazer Guided Melodies.’ Despite the woozy, soft effects the production is remarkably clear. The lyrics, for instance, are never difficult to decipher. It brings to mind what White Fence might sound like if they were to record in a really nice analog studio. Where White Fence’s Tim Presley goes for an unfiltered mix of dazzling weirdness, Gardner goes for a more subtle, distilled odd quality. The record leaves you with a dreamlike feeling that you’ve experienced something strange and wonderful, but eerie and exciting yet you can’t really pinpoint what you found so strange about it.

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