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Jacco Gardner - Cabinet Of Curiosities (2013) review

Jacco Gardner "Cabinet Of Curiosities" (Trouble In Mind, 2013) 

When ‘Clear The Air’ was first released on seven inch single by Spain’s Action Weekend label a year or so ago, Jacco Gardner was being hailed in some quarters as the nu-psych wunderkind of these ultra-modern days. Rightly so in some respects too, as this was someone who obviously cared very much about the vibrant array of sounds a record bearing his name would represent. However, those who’ve been keeping their eyes and ears peeled for any flickerings on the psychedelic horizon these past few years will have also detected that this young, all-round musician and enthusiastic, motivated sound-scaper had also been one part of The Skywalkers, a gifted duo who had also issued their own quite tremendous album of pop-psych-style fixations courtesy of the mighty Grey Past label not so many years back. A native of the Netherlands, Jacco Gardner is someone who is particularly taken with the way records used to sound back in the 60s; getting that certain placement of sound in the mix of various instruments is very important to him, as this can also help determine, or at least accentuate whether any given song is just alright, or whether it’s gonna be able to blow you, the listener, away. A heavy influence here, and a mentor in some way for Gardner, is vintage recording engineer Jan Audier, whose work back in the 60s would include such legendary names as combustible beat punks par excellence, Q65! 

Whilst containing some bright, shining examples that assist in bringing forth high praise and acclaim, Cabinet Of Curiosities – Gardner’s debut long-player – isn’t without its limitations. Personally, I feel that some parts of it tend to be too samey, especially those passages that are decorated with a particular little staccato-like keyboard pattern which sounds cheesy, then (ahem) grates, and begins to annoy after a while, and yet seems to be in almost every song. Now and then too the material can appear a little shallow sounding and even somewhat hollow in places. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this album but I’m trying to offer a little critical analysis, alongside some good old-fashioned honesty. So while that hollow / empty feeling does kinda suit some of the more stark, sometimes jarring atmospherics that Jacco and his small group of cohorts display throughout the album – and that may also be the mood some of the songs are trying to convey – I just feel that there’s rather a lot of it going on and, for this listener in particular, it just sometimes gets in the way of the overall enjoyment! However, as I’ve already said, I do like this and think, as only one example of its accomplishments the song ‘Puppets Dangling’ is one of the set’s true highlights; innovative sounding, intriguingly crafted and played out, and wholly engaging to listen to.

I was trying earlier  to think of what it is that some of these vignettes, and also that type of sound being sculpted out here reminded me of, and after racking my brains, and dispelling with some of the more obvious Syd Barrett / Floyds and Kevin Ayers / Softs reference points, I came to the conclusion that what we have here is, at times, maybe closer to early 80s English nu-pop psychster of his time, Nick Nicely – he of ‘Vox Dreams’, and, in particular, ‘Hilly Fields (1892)’ infamy. In truth though, JC is not anywhere near as overtly bombastic and /or as over the top as Mr Nicely was but I have to say, now and again, there definitely are certain parallels within some of the rhythmic textures, the vocal phrasings and nuance, and too some of the overall musical ambience for sure; check out the likes of ‘Riddle’ and also’ The Ballad of Little Jane’ for starters.

So anyway, if you’ve not yet wrapped your ears around any of the sounds that young Jacco has been making, you definitely ought to try to catch the afore-mentioned, heart-stoppingly great single ‘Clear The Air’, and its counterpart ‘Watching The Moon’. ‘Summer’s Gone’ and ‘Where Will I Go’ are pretty fine and rather sublime too. And if those float your merry little craft then no doubt you will find much to be getting on with on this here Cabinet Of Curiosities too.

Gardner has also been out and about appearing hither and thon and halfway round the globe as well, and the feedback from those who have already seen the live show is particulary positive.

Review made by Lenny Helsing/2013
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