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If you’re to believe the PR, the Gardland project came into being after the duo of Alex Muray and Mark Smith abandoned the urban confines of their native Sydney, Australia, for a “psychedelic desert excursion”. What happened on this excursion is left to the imagination, but the phrase neatly captures the mood of ‘Syndrome Syndrome’, their debut album for RVNG Intl., conjuring images of spirit journeys, sweat lodges, and substance guzzling. Upon returning to Sydney the duo were galvanised by a newfound creative energy that was channelled into the 11 hardware-recorded techno tracks that make up the album.
Listen to ‘Syndrome Syndrome’ with this in mind and it’s all you can hear. Heat emanates across the record, as if the machines are being driven to their limits – touching the drum machines would be like putting your hand to a radiator. The colour hues are all burnt umbers. Track names allude to ancient spiritual practises like trepanning. Synth wig-outs sound like wailing guitars on Ride Wid Me and Nothing But Zero, echoing cavernously. The rhythms of Syndrome Syndrome are non-specifically “tribal”, while One In None has a gurgling TB-303 bassline, where the dual meaning of the “acid” sound seems particularly apt. It’s back-to-nature techno, far from the sleek, European-inspired futurism of the genre’s early days. Whether this is actually true or not is perhaps beside the point – it’s far more romantic to imagine it being made this way, rather than slavishly sequenced and edited on Logic.
The problem with the album is that it isn’t actually that much fun to listen to end-to-end. Generally, the tracks follow a familiar formula, and while the sound design is impeccable (the record sounds great, overdriven but still within limits, rather than the messy breakdown that’s become commonplace following the popularity rise of labels like L.I.E.S. and Opal Tapes) it’s hard to distinguish one mid-tempo techno track from another. This might have been intentional, its repetition an attempt to echo transcendent, ecstatic musics – and at points this seems to make sense. Tracks like Trepan Hake are minimal to the point where there’s little more than a kickdrum and a sound effect playing, creating a sense of time travel, where you might’ve been listening for three minutes or 15 minutes. But the two ambient tracks that lazily open and close the album make me doubt this – they seem less like markers of the beginning and end of a “journey” and more an attempt to round off an album that demands a lot of your time with little reward. It's odd that a free-wheeling, psychedelic record should feel so regimented.
Still, no track on the album is categorically “bad” when taken individually, and the sound that Gardland display is genuinely unlike anything else anyone is doing right now. But at an hour long, ‘Syndrome Syndrome’ just feels like a slog where it needn’t be.
RVNG Intl. released ‘Syndrome Syndrome’ on October 28th 2013. Gardland will play at London’s Corsica Studios on November 12th 2013 with Teengirl Fantasy and James Ferraro.