When Mike Paradinas set out to collaborate with Hannah Davidson, his motivation was melodic in nature. “I’ve wanted to collaborate with her for a long time, since [her 2010 album] Shark Carousel because she’d written some melodies that I wish I had,” he said ahead of Secret Garden’s release. By bringing μ-Ziq (Paradinas) and Mrs Jynx (Davidson) together, the listener is guaranteed a certain amount of melodic content to compliment the dub beats, slinky bass lines, and thick synthetic texture.
Secret Garden is meant to be a somber affair since both Paradinas and Davidson were grieving recently-lost parents while they were making it together. The strange thing is that it’s a much more fun and satisfying listen than Expert Knob Twiddlers, Paradinas’ collaborative album with Richard James, aka Aphex Twin. This album was supposed to be the ultimate meeting of the IDM minds. In Davidson, Paradinas may have found his perfect counterpart because Secret Garden succeeds in so many ways that Expert Knob Twiddlers did not.
You can’t take the “fun” adjective too much to heart because this is still a moody album. There are minor keys, bipolar synth pads, and hushed dynamics aplenty here. At the same time, the moods are accessible to the point of inviting. The first four tracks are a winning combination of electronic polyphony and soft enveloping sounds, with “Hi Jynx” standing out due to its highly syncopated dub rhythm and gentle melodic dissonance. “Jynxiq” and “Unheard Melodies” provide the bed on which the album can toss and turn while getting comfortable. “The Ballad of Darth Vader” brings all these things to a temporary halt as Paradinas and Davidson let things float in isolationist rubato for a spell.
“Afternoon Sunshine” has the album’s most outstanding bass line nestled deep in the mix next to the toe-tapping faux kick drum. This spritely little part is so good that it almost doesn’t matter what they drizzle on top. The ominous bass groove of “Philip Steak” comes in second, paving the way for mismatched harmonies played on keyboards that could be completely dated or absolutely timeless – it’s honestly hard to tell. “Hulo” comes the closest to ’90s techno with a bright synthesizer vying for attention against chiming chords and skittering beats. “Cocker Boo”, by contrast, turns the clock back to Krautrock’s heydays when electronic music could evoke feelings of lying in a green field on a spring day as easily as it could suggest a factory full of robots.
The album ends with “The Secret Garden”, a musical equivalent to the balm that the title suggests. Paradinas and Davidson take a leisurely stroll into their final resting spot, complete with bright, sun-kissed melodic figures and a playful beat. It’s a novel blend of the music’s subdued inspiration and its easy-going outcome, making it more or less the ideal coda to an album that celebrates to the same degree as it grieves. In the future, one hopes that Paradinas will connect with Davidson on more than just a few occasions because, in these downcast times, Secret Garden is the perfect answer to our collective distress call.