Wednesday 2 June 2021

Gatherer's Garden

It's been a while since we checked in with Academy Garden - to the point where I think last time I brought up their work it was still under the 'Celadon City' alias. I've kept tabs on the goings on though, albeit in that weird parasocial Twitter way - the name changes, new releases and dipping on Spotify in favour of bandcamp to name just a few. I've been trying to move more in that direction myself - both ideologically and from a tech standpoint too as Spotify's players are naff quality, only 30 seconds and not archived on the Hype Machine either but I digress. I'd been waiting for the release date to come up on this one so I could run through it all, so let's do that now.

Last I really took a dive into Academy Garden's work I was in my final years of Uni, staying up way too late doing freelance renders for international folks on muggy nights. Tracks like Summer Nights really capture that time period for me, even more-so now with the added passage of time. They've never stopped making though, just to my shame that I haven't checked a lot of it out. Which brings us to Gatherer - I made a point to return to this one (no doubt helped by the repeated reminders from AG themselves!) to see what time and changes had brought to the table. A quote from AG on the bandcamp page before we begin:
GATHERER is a collection of tracks that followed some reflections on coping with anxiety and the flow of thoughts that came out from having those moments noted. It's my first work that has almost all tracks involving lyrics and somewhat thematic.

As someone in the creative space as well, I get it. I've made visual works in a similar vein that have never been released to the public and were purely for my own catharsis - there's an admirable bravery to putting something like this out there. That evolution and methodology is present from the get-go, as much as I loved (and still love) Summer Nights, when compared with the opening track of Gatherer it ends up sounding naïve by comparison. Though not as dark as you might expect given the brief above, it's not quite as bright as the album artwork either - there's still an undeniable underlying melancholy to it. And it doesn't waste any time in getting the album started, beginning in a way that makes it sound like you've dropped in part way through already.

Not to say that it's all focused on that aspect, track 2 Stasis takes things in a short sharp uptempo direction - it pretty accurately captures that manic feeling that comes with the territory of the album's themes and a great demonstration of AG's growth as an artist in the years since I last kept up. Speaking of, I haven't mentioned the vocals yet - as AG said in the little blurb, almost all the tracks here have lyrical accompaniment. My bias showing again as they all have this lovely auto-tune treatment that I get could turn some people away but I personally dig it and think it plays into the overarching themes as well, I love that a tune like Berserk hides those lyrics behind a cheery sounding instrumental and the melodic mumblings of the auto-tune. Its used to great effect here as we get two juxtaposed vocal tracks laid over each other - one sedate and one shouty, and they play off each other really well.

If I was was left wanting some of that dreamy vibe of earlier works, then the latter half of the album sees to that quite nicely. Recall, befitting its title immediately brought back that lush and hazy feel that I mentioned way back. There are echoes here of that video game inspired streak that was so prevalent in those pieces (Hence the name Celadon City), especially on those bit-crushed crunchy claps. Maybe it's because I'm coming off talking about those Ghostly Swim compilations, but it very much feels like the kind of indie electronic that fits their brand - though admittedly I focused more on the hip-hop stuff in that post. Its certainly a much more refined version of AG's earlier work, but it still does a real good job of capturing that feel once again, coming out sounding like a little audio time capsule back to some years ago.

With that in mind, the latter half of the LP is a much more... quiet experience than before. I don't know if the album is presented in chronological order but listening to it front to back like this really gives that impression of growth - going from the frenetic Stasis to the relatively calm High Tide makes for an interesting experience. The intro to High Tide really shows off AG's ear for lush sounds, it's absolutely gorgeous in that Rei Harakami kind of way, a trend that continues throughout the rest of the runtime. This one feels like it ends a bit suddenly, but while an extended fade or some additional noodling would have sounded nice, the sudden steep fade is interesting and plays into the overriding themes of both the album and the lyrics themselves quite nicely.

That trend continues for the rest of the tracklist - Exhume following it in much the same fashion. This one in particular really reminds me of some of the solo work Kenuske Ushio does under the Agraph alias, especially from his debut A Day, Phases. If I'm honest there are a whole host of tracks on there that it reminds me of, I've picked out And Others which I think comes closest, take away the more glitchy ambient bits and it's almost there, though it doesn't have the beat of Exhume. That said, I'd love to hear AG take a crack at something more like that in the future - I got my wish for the extended fade on this one so it's worth mentioning!

Finally there is Tabernacle. Not to repeat myself but this, too, is incredibly lush - unlike the others we've talked about so far, the final track goes all in on the ambient side of things. Well, I say that but at risk of spoiling the experience for you, it's more similar in structure to a Post-Rock tune as it builds to a massive crescendo in the final quarter. Blurring the electronic lines a bit with the instrumentation as it gets almost orchestral at times but it makes for one hell of an album closer. If I may make one final comparison, the structure and mixture of electronic and acoustic evoke some of The Flashbulb's work - We Are Alone In A City similarly builds to a massive burst of sound that's just wonderful.

It's nice to come back and see an artist develop over time, if there's a silver lining to missing some releases and then catching up on their latest, it's that it makes the evolution much more apparent than if you'd been keeping up with every release. It obviously means a lot more when it's an indie musician too, especially one that you've gotten to know a little bit (again in that parasocial sense but still!). I hope you've enjoyed our brief excursion today, I'm attempting to get back on the promo train to get a bit of variety in my listening and on the feed and hopefully support some more indies along the way, just figuring out the best way to do it is all.

And as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.


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