Jacco Gardner's debut album, Cabinet of Curiosities, is an impressive re-creation of late-'60s pop psych, especially coming from someone who's only in his mid-twenties. The Dutch studio wiz plays everything but the drums, and his music is full of harpsichords, organs, flutes, and Mellotron, taking in elements of the Left Banke, Sagittarius, the Zombies, and a thousand oddly named bands with at least one guy sporting a frilly mustache. The first track alone is like an encyclopedia entry for the sound -- "Clear the Air" is a frilly trifle with swooning Mellotrons, twinkling harpsichords, lyrics that take in ecological distress, war, and trippy dislocation, swirling background vocals, and minor-key melancholy. For extra psych points, Gardner uses the trick of singing in a deep, stilted voice in the chorus just like the Strawberry Alarm Clock might. The rest of the album follows suit with Gardner crafting pristine versions of gently pastoral psych that lend themselves to a healthy round of "spot the influence," but have enough of his own vision involved to turn out to be more than just pale imitations of a bygone era. The songs are more like Left Banke album tracks or cuts buried deep on a later volume of Rubble: they have the sound down perfectly and are mysteriously intriguing, but lack the hooks necessary to make the them stand out the way "Pretty Ballerina" or "She's Not There" do. That's a pretty tall order, though, and it's no mark of failure to say that Gardner isn't writing hits that will linger in brains and ring up sales. It's enough that he's made an album that sounds so good and authentically psych-like, and one that wraps the listener up in a warm embrace of misty melodies and cobwebbed arrangements. Play Cabinet of Curiosities back to back with a Nirvana (the paisley-clad U.K. version, of course) album and it will sound just right. That seems to be what Gardner is aiming for, and he succeeds. All he needs now is a mustache to go with the top hat he sports in the fuzzy photo that adorns the inside of the album.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra