Between Foxygen’s recent output and this week’s debut of Jacco Gardner’s Cabinet of Curiosities, it’s certainly been a great month for 60s pop-psych revival. 24 years old, Gardner lives and breathes nederbiet, a Dutch strain of 60s pop-psych with overtones of early UK music from the Beatles and the Kinks. Cabinet of Curiosities is the collection he has been writing since he was a teenager, and it hallmarks his discovery and dedication to the nederbiet artists.
CoC also happens to have been produced with the same analog equipment of that era by Jan Audier, the godfather of nederbiet audio engineering. Gardner plays all the instruments himself, (except for some help by Jos van Tol on the drums) and recorded it all in his own studio, the “Shadow Shoppe” in the Netherlands. It’s a bit of a dream come true for Gardner, or anyone who yearns for the sound of a generation he or she was born after. But with this revival of niche ‘vintage’ audio recording and especially with Gardner’s album so closely recreating the genre he idolizes, a question emerges. Among the praise and tributes artists create, is it necessary to do more than just emulate? What constitues a fresh take on a classic style and what is repetitive imitation?
CoC is much more than mere imitation. It brings to life Gardner’s wonderland imagination, blooming other worlds of enchanted moons and mysterious forests on dark nights. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Gardner explains his choice of title, “It’s sort of a contrast between darkness and innocence, like an Alice in Wonderland girl who has her own collection of very strange and creepy and scary objects — scary to us not to her. And she has her own cabinet of curiosities that she collected through all her adventures. That’s the image I had.”
The dreamy fairytale quality of Gardner’s work finds a perfect medium in the sounds Audier mastered decades ago. Take for example “The Ballad of Little Jane,” a story about a lonely girl who sits at home waiting for her love to show up. Gardner and Audier use a rolling Mellotron and a baroque harpsichord to cast a quaint eerie shadow on the girl’s life. The iambic vocals bounce and echo in a sad little rhythm, giving you the impression that Jane might be waiting indefinitely. This formula is repeated throughout Cabinets, a melancholy carousel waltz churning under a sharper Old Brit melody.
It may sound familiar to concept albums by artists like Nektar, Kaleidescope or Nirvana (different one) but what makes Gardner’s world distinguishable from his musical idols, is the album’s drift back to reality. Although the track titles speak of a one eyed king, riddles, and puppets, the stories they tell are more down to earth. Gardner questions reality but never actually meets demons or woodland nymphs. Again, think of little Jane. Her narrative is more pathetic than magical. Her ballad has similarities to a twisted fiction but is in fact a sad existence.
Towards of the end of Cabinets, you wonder if Gardner is really satisfied with his creation or if at 24 he has reached a point of disillusionment. In “Chameleon” he questions, “Am I the only one with all these questions in my brain?” and admits that “I’m sitting in my dream not sure where I will stay.” This could all be a character, someone who feels very differently from Gardner. But maybe it is Gardner and he is realizing that mastering the music he idolizes isn’t enough. Where does he go from here?
Cabinets of Curiosities is out 2/12 on Trouble In Mind.