CD, Bazooka Joe, 2010
For those not in the know, Phillip Münch, the man behind The Rorschach Garden, has been active as a musician since the mid-’80s, and has been a prolific artist in the field of experimental music. Though perhaps best known for his work with Synapscape and Ars Moriendi, Münch has a playful side of sorts, which finds its outlet as the decidedly pop project The Rorschach Garden.
Twenty-two years on, this project is still going strong and is still capable of bringing something new to the table, as the new album aptly shows. Titled after Phillip’s age and maybe even a nod to Douglas Adams, “42 Times Around the Sun” is perhaps the Rorschach Garden’s most interesting release of the past few years. Merging old-school ’80s synthpop references and moving the sound towards the early ’90s (hints of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Morrissey and Beborn Beton come to mind) this new album also counts the participation of a few of Phillip’s friends that one would not expect to hear contributing to such a pop-like release – the most obvious of which is perhaps Dirk Ivens of Klinik and Dive fame.
As if the album’s title wasn’t indication enough, “Automatic” (the opening track) certainly confirms what the listener is in for: a ride of superbly-crafted ’80s nostalgia properly adapted to current times by someone who actually lived the ‘Electronic Eighties’ and has a clue of what they were about. Roughly alternating between catchier uptempo songs and colder synth-ballads, “42 Times Around the Sun” evolves at a steady pace with something of a narrative feel – lyrically looking at the world of today with the good judgement of yesterday, with a certain melancholy progressively settling in but never losing sight of a glimmer of hope – and culminates with the modern-sounding synthpop piece “Rejection” and a decidedly upbeat and surprising remix by Memmaker. Not only does Phillip Münch seem quite at ease playing with all the nostalgia references and building upon them, but he also succeeds in crafting witty lyrics for the songs in this album – lyrics which, despite a certain feeling of naiveté, can well be food for thought – delivered in his unmistakable signature vocal style (which some may find somewhat unnerving).
As with any synthpop album the immediate stand-out tracks will be the catchier ones and, after the opener, songs like “The Red Light”, “How To Become Invisible” (featuring an excellent contribution by Geneviève Pasquier) and “Micro Machines” (featuring not-so-distorted vocals by Tim Kniep from Synapscape) are bound to stick in one’s head. But there are other pearls to be discovered, like melancholic “The Law Of The Wolves” and the excellent “Some Reasons To Call This Time The Hate-ies” which make this album shine even more.
Admitedly, retro-flavoured electro/synthpop may be an acquired taste. However, even taking that into consideration, “42 Times Around the Sun” is a solid album worthy of discovering, which can even become somewhat fascinating if given enough chance and approached with an open mind.
— Miguel de Sousa