Maybe the title of Jacco Gardner’s Hypnophobia finally explains how he’s been able to master so many instruments (he plays everything but drums on his recordings), in addition to putting together a spot-on paisley psych impression: He’s working all those late hours, afraid to sleep. But if that’s the case, the fear doesn’t show through; the Dutch psych popper’s sophomore album is more Wes Andersonian ’60s pastiche than Nightmare on Elm Street terror.
Here, Gardner adds a few more tricks to his already deep toolbox. Tellingly, he reached out to Julian House, an artist known in the music world for working with Stereolab and Broadcast on their packaging, to design the album’s cover. That burbling, twee electro-prog shines on the eight-minute “Before the Dawn”, in which Gardner’s imitative power dips gleefully down into the uncanny valley.
The resonant bass and curtains of glockenspiel weave together into a swirling core on the album’s title track. Throughout, Gardner develops glistening psychedelic tunnels between baroque pop hooks. While the hooks and narrative structures were the greatest strengths of his 2013 debut, Cabinet of Curiosities, they smear considerably on Hypnophobia. The emotionally salient tales sink almost unreachably far down into the glittery psychedelia.
Hypnophobia doesn’t grow much out of the groundwork Gardner’s laid on past releases, and neither does it hide its deeply studied inspirations. But when you sound as natural and masterful in that indebtedness as Gardner does here, it’s hard to deride the homage. Though he pushes deep into that professional retro sound, he’s exploring caves that have very little darkness, and the continued warmth and prettiness loses some of its shine due to the lack of contrast. Hypnophobia is a pleasant listen, but it passes by as quickly as a warm breeze on a spring afternoon.
Essential Tracks: “Before the Dawn”, “Hypnophobia”