REVIEW: Jacco Gardner - Hypnophobia

Kelly Kirwan

Whether or not you filed into a Psych 101 class at some point in your academic career, you can probably reiterate its stock image—the tip of the iceberg. It’s become the unsubtle icon of the conscious mind, attached but maintaining a coyly distant relationship to the gargantuan subconscious hidden below. As I listened to Jacco Gardner’s new album, Hypnophobia, I kept coming back to this—the iceberg—psychology’s favorite metaphor.

A large reason for this was certainly the title, plucked straight from a psychiatrist’s manual: the irrational fear of sleep or hypnosis. (And, let’s face it—I was drawn to the double entendre of Gardner being hailed a “baroque psych-pop prince”). But more than that, the entire album feels like a dreamy exploration, one in which the synapses of the mind are a kind of smoky maze Gardner tries to navigate. This isn’t afternoon sunshine daydream material, it’s pensive nighttime reverie.

That much is conveyed by Hypnophobia’s cover, a slow-motion array of disembodied eyes and hands that could pass for a 60s horror film poster. It’s more of a statement than it is legitimately scary, just like the dark tones of Gardner’s album, which lull listeners instead of putting them on edge. That Gardner manages to pull off this dichotomy is a testament to his musical prowess, and he puts in the legwork to earn the badge of “solo album” by picking up nearly every instrument that layers his tracks.

His repertoire includes  harpsichords and throwback electric pianos like the Wurlitzer and mellotron—and if that wasn’t enough retro quirk, Gardner recorded the album in his home studio to the north of Amsterdam, a place known only as “The Shadow Shoppe.” On Hypnophobia’s first track, “Another You,” Gardner uses his vintage pianos to create an electric-tinged organ effect. It’s a spooky few moments, but once we pass the 28-second mark the song picks up into a repetitive, even catchy tune. It’s this melodic complexity which provides a counterpoint to his occasionally thin lyrics.

Take “Outside Forever,” with Gardner’s far-off delivery of, “I’ve been traveling / Through the changes I’ve been having / Skies are brighter more than ever / And remind me I don’t have her…” On paper they seem revealing, but Gardner’s ethereal delivery only vaguely floats over his chords. It's not exactly a bad thing. Hypnophobia is what I’d call a mood album, conveying the fluidity of a dream where the mismatched makes sense.

It’s no surprise that Gardner cites Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd as his musical inspirations, along with The Zombies and an outside comparison to Brian Wilson. As Hypnophobia and his debut album Cabinet of Curiosities have demonstrated, he is deeply entrenched in the psychedelic revival of late. However, true to the ethos of multi-instrumentalism, Gardner doesn’t shy away from pairing retro conceits with modern technology. It’s this hybrid of analog sounds and digital effects that give him a touch of originality and set him apart from the crowd. There's a lot going on beneath the surface, and Gardner's psychic iceberg certainly warrants some repeated listens and analytical exploration.


Hypnophobia will be released on Polyvinyl Records May 5, 2015.