Swiss six piece Len Sander bring their ethereal indie synth pop songs crafted over a decade onto its self-produced debut full-length, Phantom Garden.
The band’s recommendation for listeners to immerse themselves into the album in the twilight hours before the sunrise proves to be wise. The unsettling opener Fluttering Lights (which takes the bold step of already saying the title in the album’s first line) is a bubbling cauldron of mist that casts a witchy spell with charmingly accented vocals from frontwoman Blanka Inauen, wistful percussion from Alessandro Hug and spooky guitar from Dennis Schärer. Simon Inauen’s occasionally discordant atmospheric synths add to the chilly suspense.
Electrocardiography may seem mechanical with its eerie intermittent beeps and rapidly panning percussion, but is given a beating heart thanks to Blanka’s bare soft purr. There is further unsettling juxtaposition on the wintry title track. Deadened pulses that sound like they’re reflecting off a darkened alleyway meld with warm, sympathetic synths recalling a Eastern European dusk (think Joy Division’s Atmosphere), steady drum machines and overall, a sparse yet uplifting musical arrangement.
Murky keyboards, a stop-start rhythm sometimes broken up by Markus Brütsch’s crashing drums, and almost prog-jazz instrumental choruses don’t make Ungrowing is an obvious single choice. However, emotionally bare verses and Blanka’s floating vocals at the choruses’ end captivate.
A recurring dripping water motif dominates the album on tracks like the desolate, unnerving Nightshade (whose otherworldliness might suit a Martian landscape) and The Bird. The latter is a powerful introspective selection, whose slight screech in the background can either be distant nails on a blackboard or a reaffirmation of a life force. Synthesizers flood the production ominously like water seeping through a carpet from underground.
Black Bryony’s decaying piano notes, mellow bass from Flavio Schönholzer and calming closing fade-out tingle the spine in portraying a mundane sense of calm before a storm of electronica ready to approach. That storm comes in the form of trippy penultimate track Mendrake. It crackles with electricity as it builds up its trance-like ambiance towards an unusually bouncing, sudden end. Closer Animal State of Mind marks a slight dip in musical engagement, as it doesn’t get to peak and be as welcoming as the morning sun (if listeners were to hear this from start to finish to the morning).
Len Sander’s first album effectively captures various feelings like isolation, connection, self-reflection and hope on this mostly evocative musical journey from midnight to dusk to morning.