Album review: Jacaszek, ‘Gardenia’

As a self-confessed ambient music aficionado, Touch Records is my go to place for all things soundscapey. Polish electroacoustic composer Michal Jacaszek has been releasing music on the label since 2014 and has established himself as a well-respected ambient musician within experimental music circles.

His latest offering – ‘Gardenia’ – is a sublimely crafted sonic delight. Incorporating natural sounds from the Limpopo province in South Africa, it is not merely a record of found sounds; the unusual environment provides a springboard for a new creative work.

‘Waterhole’ opens with insect noises, birdsong and high pitched atonal sounds. It is ominous and foreboding, with a depth of atmosphere that slowly draws you in before layers of dissonant distortion envelop the composition. It stops and starts in a way that leaves you feeling on edge, akin to being in a large cavernous space, not knowing what is around the corner. 

‘Mmabolela’ is a continuation of this theme. There is a deep reverberation hovering below, lending a certain expansiveness to the piece. Ever so slightly melancholy, microscopic melodies can be found amongst the textures as a sampled low-pitched voice cuts its way through the frequencies. A certain other-worldliness beckons you to come inside and rest for a while. ‘Riverbed’ is a more forthright track, with a sense of direction that carries you along. A choir occasionally punctuates the glitches, before abruptly cutting out. This is a cerebral composition, conjuring up images of the heavens. 

With track ‘Red Dust’, you are transported to the South African outback, with the sounds of crickets talking to the synthesisers in this immaculate piece. It slowly builds into a crescendo of ambience, the sound of mother nature ghostly and powerful. ‘Dawn’ is a more minimalist piece, with scattered rain-like sounds; lush, processed ambient melodies weave in and out of the composition and layers of distortion reach skyward before gently retreating. A bass guitar softly rings in counterpoint to the electronic glitches. 

‘Bones’ suggests the sounds of unidentifiable creatures, sucked into a vortex of drum-like reverberations, hammering away into dissonance. The track is anxious and fractious; there is a sense of something yet to arrive. This is a worried anticipation, preparing for tribal battle. ‘Nidus’ opens with a distant chorus of atonal ambience, before synthesised melodic samples cut into the composition. Another melancholy piece, it teases, pushes and pulls, suggesting but not quite stating outright. A truly beautiful and haunting track.

‘Nebula’ is a subtle, quiet arrangement. Synthesisers echo each other, as atonal melodies ping to and fro, a vocal sample permeating the composition like a distant memory. It gradually builds into a layered ambient symphony, recalling science-fiction as well as nature.

Final track ‘Ruins’ is filled with the sounds of nature, bird calls, and the atmosphere of the nature reserve. A deep bass sound and keyboard draw the composition towards melody and away from the environment, whilst processed, stop-start ambient sounds add atmosphere and trepidation. Atonal glitches bounce back and forth before suddenly cutting out, leaving the sound of the birds once again. 

Jacaszek has created a stunning work of ambient music with this album, making clever use of nature’s sounds without falling into the trappings of the ‘new-age’ genre. It is an album that you will want to play again and again, either listening with deep intent or to add atmosphere in the background. An outstanding album.

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