Words: James Frostick & Gregor Kompar
Artist image: Ellen Fairbairn
Naarm/Melbourne prog-synth individualist Gregor is today releasing his anticipated sophomore album Destiny through esteemed institution Chapter Music. To celebrate, Gregor is taking us through the record via a track-by-track breakdown, shedding insight into his headspace and how the album – an adventure into anomalous otherworldly soundscapes and an inquiry into the humanity that underpins it – came to be.
Anyone labelled as a ‘prog-pop eccentric’ is going to be hard to pin down stylistically. Gregor Kompar’s post-modern approach to composition has helped him carve out a niche all of his own in the Australian music scene, which doesn’t help poor writers like myself when they try to succinctly encapsulate what makes Gregor’s music noteworthy (aside from calling it ‘unique’). His new album Destiny is perhaps the best evidential artefact I could provide to prove my point – it’s a masterful work that contains within a striking beauty. If one were to superficially and nebulously place it within a genre, it would seep through the boundaries separating synth-pop and psychedelia, dip a finger into the realm of ambient sound and look twice at post-punk. As I’m typing, my words already don’t feel like enough.
Compositionally, Destiny’s inconstant stylistic nature showcases Gregor’s knack for complex ideas, yet also his canny ability to ground each track with understated simplicity. Repetition is a key device employed across the record. Lyrical mantras are echoed and restated multiple times in a single song, the passages gaining new meaning and weight each time it scores a repeated utterance. Melodies are looped and built upon, crafting towering and glittering sonic monuments that seem both intangible and incorporeal and yet permanent and enduring. At different points Gregor leads us through syrupy pools of sound and through tempestuous storms of strident sonority, often taking beats in between to rip off incandescent licks on the guitar – prismatic strips streaming off into the nether, glimmers fading into the gloaming.
To me, Destiny is an album about looking upward and looking inward, backwards and forwards. The expansive sky above (and the twinkling celestial bodies it contains) mirrors the complex infinitude of the self. The past informs the present informs the future. Gregor tethers the sonic splendour to emotional anchors – the heaving warmth of romance and love, the claustrophobic nature of fear, and the invigorating frisson of hope. It’s a record that feels deeply personal and also simultaneously much larger than a single person – it’s like an existential force courses through every shimmering note, reverberates with each velvety bass pluck, resonates with every percussive clack. Colliding nebulae resemble chemical reactions in the brain and the sparkles of colour Gregor’s instrumentation evokes are essentially bursts of endorphins rushing through our system. Conversely, allusions to elemental facets of nature (rocks, rivers, the sea) serve to tether the piece to the natural world, perhaps the earth reflecting our own body and its place in the scheme of things. The more I write the more I feel I miss the mark, which might be a result of not being able to check my own bullshit, or proof that Gregor’s music does defy concise analysis. I guess the best way to summarise it is like this: Gregor gives emotions that sit closest to the heart a sense of majesty. He utilises his considerable skillset to imbue each feeling and idea with an energy that makes them feel universal, expansive and all-encompassing. The minutiae of our mind is elevated and made beautiful, with metaphor and music enforcing the idea what what we feel is important, and our dreams and desires are tantamount to destiny.
Am I right? Who knows. What I do know is that you shouldn’t listen to me when you can listen to the artist themselves. Here’s Gregor’s breakdown of Destiny:
‘The Rock (And the Stars)’
Forgetting you were in a river and remembering you’re on a rock is a metaphor for time passing between taking moments to reflect on what has changed in my life. What occurs next is a realisation that these moments of reflection are the threads that connect me to myself in the broader context, like zooming in and out of Earth from space to see the bigger picture. The repeating eight note melodic line makes the chords shine in a way that they cannot achieve alone. That was written first, the chords later to fit.
‘That’s the Sky’
The sky trying to reach you is a romanticised way of speaking about fate, or destiny, about the feeling that positivity and love comes to you in the air and in the stillness of time. Brain chemicals are probably responsible for these psychedelic, romantic moments of clarity and hyper-sensitivity, but it’s a lot more entertaining to blame the sky. The sparseness of musical instruments and steady straight-line motion of the main ‘verse’ render an impression of these feelings much better than my attempts here at translation to English.
‘Mother of Spring’
Often my favourite kind of song is a forward-driving, harmonious, saturated, warm kind of sounding, triumphant song. If I hit that kind of direction, I will go with it. But it is not about triumph in any way, this one is about fear of losing someone forever.
Senselessness is a real word that doesn’t look right once it’s written down. Kind of like the narrative of overexcitement leading to excess and eventually regret. As wrong as it feels it’s a real issue that is difficult to remember until it happens. Some mistakes aren’t hard to learn from, and some just keep repeating. Much like the lyrics of this song. It can serve as a gentle reminder if nothing else.
‘The Morning Light’
Flipping the record after ‘Senseless’ to hear ‘The Morning Light’ commence is as symbolic as it gets. Something that I am beginning to remember better and better is the cliché of light at the end of the tunnel. It is in the darkest moments that it is hardest, yet most useful to remember. I would urge anyone and everyone to muster up the greatest effort in keeping that in mind. Musically, I try to paint a picture of shifting mindsets from gloom to relief and vice versa.
‘Love Echoes Loud’
The title nods to the tape echo machine I got from Tex Crick who resides and restores musical devices in Japan. This song was the first use of it when it arrived in the mail. And love does echo loudly.
‘A Shimmering Feeling’
This one is an exploration of musical elements, combining unlikely sounds and DIY percussive instruments into something emotive. The message is one of hope and endurance in times of adversity; courage in attempting things in defiance of personal fears of failure, as well as one of faith in good fortune or letting things come to you, hence, a shimmering feeling.
‘A Night in Neptune’
The planet Neptune has connotations of both deep (solar system) space and deep sea. Whether you abscond from reality by heading out past the planets or by descending into the ocean, the sun will become fainter and fainter until all you have is your memories, in this case, of someone you love. I was compelled to end the album by bringing back another memory – solos from my teenage guitar lessons.