Looking at the artwork for Jacco Gardner’s Somnium you’ll get vibes of David Cronenburg and Dario Argento, and that’s about half the record you’ll get. Mixing the worlds of vintage horror with a more lighthearted 70s romantic score sound, Gardner drifts between the dark and the light. While this record doesn’t have so many distinct pop moments, it shines by creating emotion in simple textures and riffs.
Gardner sets the mood of the record on the ascending tones of “Rising” as he shows the full range of his synth world, and in turn gives you the right headspace to listen in. Each new line oozes a horrific sci-fi unease that will leave you chilled by the time it wraps up. The synths open up to more rock-drive on “Volva” with a ripping central solo that brings it more into the realm of 70s Italian rock. In the floating energy of “Langragian Point” however, keyboards and guitars each serve their own ambient parts, a dream-like haze washing over the track. Simple running strums become nearly vocal in their hum for a track that is all about sonic bliss.
A more demented rock tone emerges on “Past Navigator” as Gardner elicits the feeling of a sinister force that keeps an air of cool around themselves. This harpsichord-driven emotion switches over the rasping keyboards and guitar on “Levania” where Gardner is clearly focusing in more on theme than a mood-piece. In this, he’s able to craft this kind of exotic allure of someone or some thing that attracts everyone. Though the drums keep the song rooted in a much more earthly realm, “Eclipse” takes on a retro space direction in its textures as it drifts through heavily tremolo-effected melodies and lets its grooves hold the piece together. If anything the track only suffers from being a tad long for what really feels like more of an interlude.
Gardner has a knack for capturing sounds from the past, and “Utopos” is one of those songs that shows how strong this talent can be. With its sense of mystical but otherworldly life in its keys and percussion, there’s something warm but totally unfamiliar within the song. “Rain” slow-drips this ear across a much longer run, as Gardner gets as close to a pure score moment as he will for the record, while still leaving you hanging on every detail. As things open back up into a groove, “Privolva” brings out lush dance rhythms and decorates that with so many unique sounds that you’ll be left in its wake of wonder.
Going into the closing moments of the record, Gardner whips out all his sharpest hooks, and leaves you on a hat-trick of strong themes. Halfway between John Carpenter and a 50s Theremin score, “Pale Blue Dot” is a love letter to science fiction. “Descent” shows a sense of humanity and almost longing in its notes while still holding onto something a little bit alien. With “Somnium” however, it’s spacey rock once again for a soaring guitar track that flies because of its extra, strange synth additions.
Words by Owen Maxwell