Syndrome Syndrome, the debut LP from techno twosome Gardland, has had more than its fair share of misfortune. Part way through recording the album, Australian beatsmiths Alex Murray and Mark Smith had much of their equipment thieved, forcing them to return to the drawing board and begin again. But, like true troopers, they did, and now bear the fruits of their labour proudly. According to sources, the two musicians originally bonded after thrashing off the shackles of mundane urban life in favour of a “psychedelic desert excursion”. So, a walkabout? Syndrome Syndrome’s conception is a beguiling one, but knowing the context makes it all the more fascinating.
Based in Sydney, the pairing coerce all manner of electronic dance genres into one record, delving into house, techno and ambient (and meandering through the sub-sections of each). On first glance, their sound bears similarities to Laurel Halo‘s recent effort, Chance Of Rain – both acts contort techno until it is riddled with oddball contusions and post-rock sprawl. They dabble in dynamics, using silence as a major instrument – often not tackled in dance music – and distance themselves from conventions of David Guetta-esque EDM club bangerz; whilst Gardland are ‘making dance music’, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to get a boogie on to it. Much more likely is the discovery of some reverent head bobbing as eyes glass over, or the soft ratatat of one foot tapping.
Psych-techno (psycho?) effort Trepan Hake rests on a solid kick metronome. The synths and crackling bass teeter on top, with off-kilter samples and squelchy squeals fluttering past every few seconds. Hell Flur is like a mutant Sigur Rós-cum-Crystal Castles bout of ambient gloomwave. It’s menacing, yet thoroughly engrossing. It works like a mammoth four minute anti-climax, building up and up, and just before the final crescendo, deflates into lucid nothingness. Ride Wid Me sees Gardland venture towards future-garage. It’s led by rapidfire beats and pulsing synth bursts, but where garage has seen a resurgence in popularity lately via lucid veneers and big dancefloor numbers, Gardland stick to an intense, slow-morphing rhythmic orgy.
The title track is a highlight. With primitive tribal percussion and soaring elegiacal synths, the track dawns slowly, but firmly. The deft crack of pitch-distorted handclaps and the torrid buzz of guitar eventually permeate the fray, and before you know it, the cut gets incredibly complex. It’s such a gradual build that you’re completely absorbed before you realise what’s going on. The use of guitars on the track is a nice change of timbre, and adds an organic level to the surgical electronics.
This is not a short album. Indeed, it’s actually very long – lots of tracks exceed five minutes – clocking in at 54 minutes for 11 songs. Listening to it all in one go will probably turn your brain into melty jelly; as techno, no matter how experimental, tends to be repetitive, it starts to blur after too long. It has an innate calming effect, but after 40 minutes of solid techno, anyone not pilled to the nines may find it warping into a throbbing white noise. The subtleties become too subtle, the minimalist details too obscured. A better way to appreciate the record isn’t in one beefy sitting, but rather in bitesize portions. Devour it slowly and you’ll be able to savour its flavour.