The ambient hut: Garden Gnome

Garden Gnome
G.S.S.R. (Gnomewegian Soviet Socialist Republics)

Trust an outfit like Garden Gnome to take dungeon synth – a micro-genre already straining at fanatical irony’s leash – and shove completely up its own arse. This project started out as a relatively measured take on dungeon synth back in 2021, despite its obvious tongue-in-cheek attitude to the style. But as the releases and gnome puns rolled in, the bandcamp-download-code pills became harder to swallow. A sincere if light hearted parlour game? Or an attempt to railroad a genre that only needed a miniscule course adjustment to send it spinning into the postmodern void.

What’s perhaps most remarkable when picking apart the latest EP ‘G.S.S.R.’, is how restrained the music is. No hammy cover of ‘The Internationale’, no marching band music reinterpreted into the homely digital synthetica that dungeon synth takes pride in (for some reason).

There is percussion however, surprisingly busy, metallic percussion at that. Programmed drums sit beneath each track, lending them momentum and gravitas, offering extended fills and complex (given the context) patterns that would be at home on a doom metal or mid-paced death metal album.

This surprisingly competent (given the context) backing is set to hammy synth material notable not only for its recognisably melodic character, but also its darkness. Sure the setting is hammy, the packaging, track titles, and description all straining at credulity. But couched within this minefield of authenticity and cultural subterfuge, where humour is indistinguishable from farse, fragments of sincerity remain for those willing to expose themselves to its charms.

The tracks themselves are also structured more like basic metal songs than the usual suspended animation of dungeon synth. String attacks function as rhythm guitar, and flowery staccato synth patches flutter above this scenery with simple yet fully formed melodic fragments. On ‘Not Enough Garden to Gnome Around’ the percussion takes a backseat, and a fully formed – if brief – harmonic narrative is permitted to develop, guiding the listener on a clear, intuitive, linear journey of twinkly synth tones, high end strings, and chord progressions defined chiefly by their sense of yearning.

But once again we must stop and take a breath, because to engage in an analysis of ‘G.S.S.R.’ as a good faith critic is to feel duped. As if we have somehow failed to properly navigate the complex layer-cake of cultural and political reference points this EP lifts piecemeal from history for its own comedic advantage.

This perception prevails even if we book-end the substantive music chat with an explicit acknowledgement that we have indeed been cast adrift into the ironic void by the time we found Garden Gnome. A void arising from decades of networked meme culture that grew hand in hand with the rise of internet genres like dungeon synth, all paving the road that could only ever have ended with ‘G.S.S.R.’.

To drop the façade and fully engage with the raw content here even for a moment is to “lose the game”. The music itself – being for the most part transparent, direct, to the point – is indifferent to this three dimensional chess of cultural detachment. It may be the beating heart of this irony feedback loop, but it is also the only aspect of this pocket of culture we have any hope of sharing a genuine moment with. But – ironically – our access to this naked experience is barricaded off until we willingly pay our innuendo laden tributes to the relentless demands of postmodern play.

By trying to connect with this music – such as it is – on a more serious level I have “lost the game”, and you in reading this have also lost. In dropping my guard in front of Garden Gnome even for a moment I lift the veil from everyone’s eyes, and we are left standing exposed and sheepish, our sincerity showing as naked as the day we were born. You don’t approach an EP like ‘G.S.S.R.’ on your terms, but those of Garden Gnome. To assert anything to the contrary is to have been “had” by the Modern Industrial Ironic Complex.

One thought on “The ambient hut: Garden Gnome

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  1. no amount of words will make up for the fact that this is bad music made by a man who has given up exercising what little talent he had


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