Over the last five years or so, Jacco Gardner has created a world dedicated to spreading the seeds of swirling psychedelia. His debut for Trouble in Mind leaped out of almost nowhere, preceded by a few singles that hinted at what was to come, though nothing could prepare for how dense and complete the vision of his debut album would be. With his follow-up and jump to Polyvinyl, he’d only deepen the hues and expand his Papier-mâché psychedelic wonderland. Both albums were anchored by Gardner’s grey-streaked vocals that carried with them a sense of melancholic weight, so its most surprising that his third LP takes the bold leap to strip them away entirely.
Inspired by a couple of key pieces of equipment, a Dynachord Echochord mini – a cheap echo unit – and an MS20 mini synthesizer, the album began to take shape in the wake of the release of Hypnophobia. Both of the pieces have a distinct quality and a dreamy voice, but more importantly they can both be overdriven to create a distortion that adds a lot of the prominent character to Somnium. Rooted in the burbling Kosmiche psychedelia of Cluster and Tangerine Dream and the often whimsical works of Bo Hansson, the record picks up a cue or two from the kind of episodic, story-heavy progressives of the ‘70s. At its heart, Gardner seems to be cutting this album from the same cloth that Alain Goraguer wrought La Planète Sauvage. While Somnium doesn’t play as an outright concept record, its definitely building its own sci-fi landscape that leaves the story up to the listener. Its an endlessly absorbing soundtrack that twists itself in slow knots for the listeners’ amusement.
Much like the recent work of Frank Maston, the album also owes a debt to the ‘70s library collections that dotted the television and film landscape, though Gardner is creating a far more cohesive statement here. He trips quite a few of the same triggers as Matson, but dives a bit further down the luminescent rabbit hole. The record is whimsical, without becoming too precious, poking at the telltale hallmarks of ‘60s psychedelia, without becoming a cartoon litany of blacklight mushroom posters in the process. While the album might lop off a good chunk of fans who’d come in the past for the psych-pop but would ruffle at the lack of vocals, it should also open up Gardner to the avid army of synth worshipers out there. As much as any lost Waxworks or Death Waltz soundtrack, Somnium is a heady trip carved out of dedication to the authenticity of synth as a terraforming tool to create psychedelic landscapes. In that regard, its well worth going back time an again to find new corners of Somnium to inhabit.
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