On Hypnophobia, Jacco Gardner, the baroque pop artist who sounds straight from the late 60s, early 70s movement of psychedelic rock, pushes the boundaries of his short-attention span but finds himself lost among the clutter. His last album, Cabinet of Curiosities, came out in 2013 via Trouble in Mind to some light, but positive reviews for his unique, short storytelling approach. Hypnophobia will be released in North America via Polyvinyl Records, who represents Alvvays, The Dodos, Japandroids, of Montreal, and STRFKR. Although the album sounds referential to great, trendsetting bands like The Beatles, Tame Impala, and Kurt Vile, Hypnophobia does little to set Gardner aside from what we already know about the psychedelic rock genre.
On a positive note, Jacco Gardner’s gentle whisper-singing combined with vibrating guitars is a surefire way to set up a trippy, The Zombies-like effect and he’s proven himself as a great and talented multi-instrumentalist. There’s no denying the young man’s talent. On “Brightly,” Gardner glows with his beautiful delivery and straightforward songwriting. He repeats a great catchy hook, “In the beautiful life / find the darkness in high / shining brightly it seems / while it’s cold in my dreams.” It’s visual and moody and captures the essence that sets Gardner on his own and most determined. However, most of the album is a little too muddled to capture this spirit throughout.
“Another You” feels dated and regiment. It has an incredible face, great bone structure, and everything should be perfect, but it lacks any personality. “Face to Face” begins with a soft, elegant, high-pitched keyboard line, but it’s mellowness and disproportionally layered vocals distract from its core. “Before the Dawn” is built up to be an epic, dramatic story, but it capsizes under its mere weight. Gardner tries to be whimsical and silly, but taken seriously at the same time. It’s a hard balance that Gardner doesn’t have the capacity to completely fulfill.
Ultimately, Hypnophobia, loses itself, as it is rather forgettable. As Cabinet of Curiosities was intriguing, quick, and determined, Hypnophobia feels overdrawn, boundless, and a little directionless. It is in no way a bad album, as Garnder proves his musical capabilities, and we know he has a long career ahead of him. As listeners and fans, we are simply going to have to wait and watch as he grows and sheds his shell and comes into his own over time.