Hypnophobia is the latest album from Dutch multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Jacco Gardner. It features an array of vintage instruments including a Wurlitzer electric piano, a vintage Steinway, Mellotron and harpsichord, and even an Optigan. Gardner plays all instruments except for the drums, with keyboards and acoustic guitars as the dominant sounds, and lyrical themes cover the nature of dreams and reality.
The album opens with an eerie keyboard figure straight out of a 1950s flying-saucer movie leading into the psychedelic pop of “Another You”, a song with strong echoes of The Teardrop Explodes. Other highlights include the beautiful ripping arpeggios of the instrumental “Grey Lanes”, the lengthy “Before the Dawn” with its Motorik rhythms and shifting chord patterns, the combination of dreamy soundscapes and electronic dance rhythms of the title track, and the stately harpsichord-led closer “All Over”.
There are strong echoes of lighter side of Steve Wilson’s various bands across this record; “Find Yourself” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a mid-period Porcupine Tree album, and parts of both the title track and the semi-acoustic “Face to Face” recall the sinister soundscapes of Storm Corrosion. But the marriage of progressive rock atmospherics with indie-pop songwriting also has a lot in common with Chris Johnson’s Halo Blind project, as do Gardner’s fragile yet melodic vocals.
Hypnophobia is an album that’s difficult to pigeonhole. It’s described as “Baroque pop”, and has elements of indie, psychedelia, pop and progressive rock, often in the same song. But none of those flavourings ever overwhelm any other, it goes from swirling layered atmospherics to stripped-down minimalism and back again. It all hangs together well as a coherent whole, and at just 40 minutes in length it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The result is an enjoyable work that draws from a rich palette of sounds and rewards repeated listens, with each play revealing further depths and subtleties.