IN THE CASE OF Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner, the time-honored traditions of baroque pop have not fallen on deaf ears. The 25-year-old's debut album Cabinet of Curiosities—released stateside in February through Trouble in Mind Records—lives up to its title, excavating densely layered arrangements with an ear toward the bizarre, fanciful realms of Syd Barrett.
Cabinet is an eerily natural extension of Gardner's boyish experiments with sound. Make no mistake, however; though Gardner's feet are firmly planted in the roots of liberally applied harpsichords, mellotrons, and the warm keys of his heroes, his sights are set higher than mere soundscapes, to encompass trickier feats of twisted melody. Even if he isn't quite sure how they materialize.
"I don't really understand [how I write], myself," explains Gardner from his Shadow Shoppe Studio in Zwaag, Netherlands. "It always feels like filling in a puzzle. I have an idea in my head, but it's not there yet, so I try out stuff that I think might be right. It works or it doesn't work."
On Cabinet of Curiosities, it most definitely works. On the single "Clear the Air," as well as a recently released non-album single "The End of August," Gardner builds lulling instrumentals from barebones, classical-leaning structures. Gardner recorded the entirety of the album at his studio and played every instrument save for drums, which were handled deftly by Jos van Tol.
In the live setting, Gardner mans the keys and sings, employing a full band to flesh out the intricate patterns of sound found on Cabinet. He admits that the impossibility of parlaying the details from such a labored-upon studio project is more of a challenge than he expected during the scant year or more he's been taking his show on the road all over Europe and the US.
"For me, when I listen to a recording of a show, I really can't stand it because of the missing details," says Gardner. "But while I'm doing the concert, I enjoy myself because I can really be in the moment and share the feeling of the songs with so many people."