Milwaukee math-rock duo The Gardener embodies its name quite literally.
In 2015, the band planted a musical seed that Benjamin Formanek (guitar, bass) and Kyle Hanneken (drums, bass) would continue to cultivate for the next three years — keeping many details surrounding the project relatively in the dark. The two were patiently writing, recording and watching their songs grow — one even skyrocketing into the ten-minute mark — until they were certain the album was ready for outsider ears.
On June 22, 2018, The Gardener released to the public the fruits of its labor: Differences in Distances — a cinematic-like trek through an emotionally-shaped dreamscape meticulously crafted by the duo. Devoid of any vocals or lyrics, listeners can script their own connection to the varying moods constructed by the four songs. As Formanek’s fingers dance up and down the fretboard in true math-rock fashion and Hanneken provides the crashing percussive accents to the songs peak crescendo moments, one can only lose themselves in the ambience of the music — so long as they aren’t overwhelmed by the sporadic song structure that abandons everything that pop music taught us to expect.
The album is currently available for free streaming on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp. The band is also raising money via Kickstarter for a vinyl pressing of the album. Donating to the Kickstarter page gets you a copy of the album on vinyl so long as you spend at least $35. Donating also comes with some environmentally-conscious benefits: 50 percent of every dollar spent on Differences in Distances is donated to the Urban Ecology Center.
“The both of us are quite interested and passionate about environmental preservation and education on ecology and what we can do as humans in the western world to make a change,” Formanek says. “The Urban Ecology Center is quite specifically doing that.”
Formanek also notes that the general theme of the EP explores the similarities between cultivation of the earth and human relationships. The name of the band speaks to this idea as well.
“Kyle and I had this analogy about entering into any sort of relationship with a human being,” Formanek says. “It’s like cultivating something and tending to it as much as you can — one may or may not consider it a healthy relationship, based on how much give and little reciprocation one might see in return, and that’s just kind of our perspective, at least in this conversation about what being a human being in a relationship is. Being patient with others, as well as yourself, can yield some truly special outcomes.”
Formanek and Hanneken don’t just share an eco-mindset. Their love for metal music initially brought the two together when past bands that the two were a part of performed at overlapping shows. After spending some time with one another, they realized that they also shared a passion for post-rock and math-rock.
“We then got together with no serious intent — just to jam around,” Formanek says. “What started as jamming developed into something that we began to take very seriously.”
While the length of time that the EP took to release is representative of the patience and attention to detail of the two members of The Gardener, Formanek and Hanneken also had school schedules to work around. Formanek was studying philosophy and Hanneken was studying music composition — both at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Their busy schedules led to a somewhat aura of mystery surrounding the project. The two had only made a couple of public appearances as The Gardener to play stripped down acoustic shows. The only music available to stream from the band prior to the release of the EP was a live studio performance in 2016 at PureVault. Even now, after the record has finally been released, the band isn’t playing shows — particularly due to the fact that Formanek is now pursuing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. But while that might sound like an all-too-abrupt end to a project that shows a lot of future potential for fans of math-rock, it’s not the last we've heard of The Gardener.
“Kyle and I agree that this our most rewarding music project so far,” Formanek says. “We both have intentions to write on our own and send ideas to each other. We’re really in no rush.”
Click here to visit The Gardener's Kickstarter page to donate. Those who pledge a $1 receive a digital download of the album. Those who pledge $35 will receive a digital download and vinyl copy of the album. Those who pledge $75 or more will receive a digital download, a vinyl copy and a very limited test pressing of the album.