Three years after his last ornate psych-pop inner vision, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner offers something of a thematic flipside to his Hypnophobia. Overcoming the fear of falling asleep and giving into “the dream,” Somnium is a somnambulist soundtrack for the everyday journey.
“Return to the sphinx through the waves of illusion / Follow the wanderer crossing the gate / Shades are calling for a dance of diffusion / Travel the world that the watcher creates.” These aren’t lyrics to any one song on Somnium, but are the four lines printed on the inside sleeve of the album. They are unattributed and left to hang there over a blurry black and white image. No words are spoken or sung throughout the entire album, so this orphaned stanza stands alone, whether it be a skeleton key to a greater understanding of Gardner’s intent or simply an image that struck his fancy.
It is purported to be an extension of a Nietzsche quote regarding the relative nature of truth in the eye of the beholder. The relativity and perception of truth in these times has become a recurring theme across popular music, but Somnium doesn’t speak to the social and political implications of the modern flexibility of facts; it doesn’t speak at all. Instead, it presents 12 instrumental songs of bijou cinematic psychedelia designed to accompany a manageable trip, be it inward or outward.
In part inspired by walking around the hilly streets of Lisbon where he has recently been residing, Somnium was designed for wandering. Where the predictable first instinct might have been to double-up the crisp layers of Hypnophobia‘s sticky retro-ness, Gardner instead scales back. By removing the human voice from his songwriting process this time around, Gardner is going out on a limb and trusting the efficacy of his instrument arsenal and melodies alone to carry the narrative. His reverberating time tunnel vocals are missed at times, and it is not as if they had kept his music from functioning as a personal soundtrack before, but credit is due for doing the unexpected.
Aside from that element, the overall atmosphere of Somnium isn’t drastically different from Hypnophobia. Some recording for the album was done in Lisbon, but much was also laid down at Gardner’s Shadow Shoppe Studio back in his hometown of Zwaag in the Netherlands. The mode of psychedelia remains wispy and pastoral, though this time around there’s also a nocturnal edge to it, and a sci-fi slant given how its title comes from the Johannes Kepler story from the 1600s. Somnium‘s aim and direction are uniquely its own, its conclusion open-ended yet still satisfying.