The Garden - Haha (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Garden

Haha (2015)


With the release of their previous album, The Life and Times of a Paperclip, The Garden faced an issue that many unique and eccentric young bands face. Paperclip was a sort of “perfect” album in that it had a core theme- two twin brothers blasting out hyper short songs with just a drum and bass- and it executed that theme to its fullest potential without overstaying its welcome. Bizarre tracks like “I am a woman” and “Apple,” which, who can say what they were about, lingered long after their playing time due to their inherent aggression and catchiness. But, the thing with a minimalist like Paperclip is that you can really only do it once. There’s only one Pink Flag and Pope Adrian 37th Psychristriatric for a reason.

So, after the release of that album, the usually ultra-prolific band laid off the recording studio, touring all over Europe and Asia, and diving into some deeply experimental tracks with their side projects, Puzzle and Enjoy. In the meantime, the band quietly released the larvae of their newest songs, early versions of tracks like “Crystal Clear” and “We be Grindin’” which found the band experimenting with electronic music. At times, those frantic tracks seem to be just their vicious bass and drums side stapled to the electronic side in a sort of purposefully garish combination. The band was weird- or even weirder than they were before- but there seem to a sort of herky-jerkyness in the new recordings. That is to say, the singles and EPS following Paperclip were unique, but not the systematically geometric snappers of earlier days.

If anything, Haha, the band's new album, somewhat surprisingly released on Epitaph (and Burger), shows that all the road work was worth it. At the forefront, the band showcases the final forms of earlier tracks like “Crystal Clear” and “This Could Build Us a Home.” Where those songs used to be discordant, they are now as aerodynamic as the band’s earlier songs, but more complex and fractured.

“Crystal Clear” itself is something of a masterpiece- as well as a skillful merge of the analog and digital. As the ambient synths drift across the speaker, only to be made threatening by Wyatt Shears bass, it sounds like Kubrick’s Droogs are circling around an unsuspecting victim. And then, when the song kicks into its muscular groove, it sounds like the inevitable attack. Not only has the band merged their two halves, but they traded in their psychotic paranoia from Paperclip for a more menacing outlook on life.

One looks to a song like “Vexation,” which the band stated is about sexual assault. The song, from the bad actor’s perspective, is cold and weirdly invigorating. The band is both competent and daring enough to look at bad deeds from the bad guy’s eyes (instead of mere finger pointing) in an effort to explore what makes some people such assholes.

Even when the band is less literal and more obtuse, as they are wont to do, there is still a certain, cold viciousness, thanks to how the brothers lock Wyatt’s thick, Amphetamine reptile bass with Fletcher’s sharp, cracking drums. A lot of hardcore bands talk about how tough they are and how they can beat up people, but despite all that kind bluster, the brothers sound infinitely darker and infinitely more scary with their bending-and-collapsing-steel-pylon texture.

Perhaps this is in part to their new found boldness. Whereas previous songs were so short, they never really had time to completely breakdown, here, when the brothers inject dark synth lines into their music, it often feels like the whole sphere is about to shatter into hundreds of uncollectible pieces. Sometimes they pull back on the reigns before the song can shatter into cacophony, like on “Egg,” and sometimes, during the albums most thrilling points, they release controls and let songs fall into a neo-synth-punk mania. Instead of retreating or cutting off the mess, they roll through the wreckage and come out more dangerous and weirder. Check out “Together We are Great,” wherein the band constructs their own universe, “Vada Vada Verse,” a place that is dangerously chaotic and in which the brothers seem to draw energy from said chaos.

Haha is a more daring record than Paperclip (which was pretty daring in its own right), all despite the fact that Haha’s songs are more conventional in running time and structure. That is to say, while Haha might be difficult to comprehend at first, once one accepts the brothers’ weird logic (or jump into the Vada Vada Verse as it were,) the chaos here not only makes sense, but has a certain truth to it.