Release Date: Feb 4, 2014
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
You’re driving along the treacherous winding streets of a California cliffside. You’re in the company of friends and the night is swelling with the expectant noise that vibrates between people who have long ago given up the desire to give a damn. The car and the outfits are modern, but the eroding rocks and pavement are archaic. You’re looking out on the unending sheets of crashing waves that make up the vast Pacific vista, and the wind is beating on the car with a consistent rhythm.
Danelectro's Grilled Cheese is a flimsy, mustard-yellow effects pedal that swallows up any signal fed into it and spits out a drenched, wobbly fuzz on the other end. It's a very '90s-centric distortion style brings to mind Superdrag's Regretfully Yours and even the Sundays' Static & Silence. The pedal itself was cheap and its sound abrasive, but hearing it again on the opening guitar riff of Gardens & Villa's “Echosassy” conjures up warm memories nonetheless.
After releasing an album in 2011 that was nice but not very distinctive, Gardens & Villa changed up their strategy enough to make their 2014 album Dunes a huge improvement. Still playing a wistful brand of indie pop with synths that are in turn dreamy and pleasant, the group turned to former DFA member/renowned producer Tim Goldsworthy to add some punch to their sound. His production gives the Dunes a snappy bounce that was definitely missing on their cleanly rendered debut, taking the uptempo tracks straight to the dancefloor.
For album number two, California outfit Gardens & Villa sought solace from the recording process in the rugged peaks of Michigan. The results of the quintet's mid-session sojourn are strewn across this 10 track affair, which combines spacious synth-led soundscapes with not-so-subtle hints of '80s pop. .
If you’re of the opinion that chaotic, bustling, urban melting pots are necessary to facilitate groundbreaking art, Santa Barbara, California will be of great service to your argument. The bucolic, oceanside city of nearly 100,000 is slow-paced, homogenous, and affluent—and since it’s near wine country rather than Orange County, it lacks the stifling suburbia that can generate great punk music as a response. It’s a college town as well, but UC-Santa Barbara ain’t exactly Berkeley in terms of fostering counterculture and political awareness; it’s known as one of America’s premiere party schools.
Urban sounds intrude into nature-obsessed pop music on the second album by Santa Barbara five-piece Gardens & Villa. Producer Tim Goldsworthy (Cut Copy's In Ghost Colours) toughens up the group's bucolic flower-power vibes with 80s analog synth glam that complements singer Chris Lynch's impressionistic lyrics about love in a retro-futuristic dystopia. Lynch's airy vocals and penchant for the flute were the band's signatures on their 2011 debut, but this time his instrumental gifts are used in service of straight-forward pop songwriting rather than elusive hippie-dippy ambience.
Shimmering synth pop gets a bad rep. Often derogatorily labeled as “bubblegum” or “cheesy,” pop songs laden with synthesizers, drum machines and earnest vocals are often more musically and lyrically complex than on initial listen, their pop beats hiding their inventive arrangements and lyrical intricacies. Such is the case with Gardens & Villa, a Santa Barbara five-piece synth pop band who put an unconventional spin on the much beleaguered subgenre by using falsetto vocals and classical instruments like flute on their ’80s-inspired songs.
To say that Gardens + Villa sound very now on ‘Dunes’, the follow-up to their 2011 self-titled debut, would be to mean they’ve perfected that balance of using late 70s / early 80s synth sounds, a bunch of instruments hitherto relegated to gathering dust on primary school classroom shelves, and for the most part not sounding all that old. It’s cool to use sonic Instagram filters, right?It’s espadrilles without socks, it’s chinos, it’s shoulder pads – on ‘Colony Glen’ it’s the theme to Knight Rider. There’s a flute.
California’s Gardens & Villa add synths and a flute to a traditional indie band set-up to create a sound that’s indebted to both ’60s pastoral pop and early-’80s new wave. Former DFA man Tim Goldsworthy has helped them find more sonic sparkle in the production of their second album ‘Dunes’, but they nonetheless remain a confused proposition. When they’re good, as they are on ‘Colony Glen’, ‘Bullet Train’ and ‘Echosassy’, they’re like an update of ‘Remain In Light’-era Talking Heads and vintage New Order.
Californians Gardens & Villa abandoned the sun and surf of hometown Santa Barbara for a recording studio set in the frosty Midwest to produce their second album, Dunes. That transition seems to have been an intense experience, having been locked away in that relatively far-flung space. Despite taking a break during recording to explore the adjacent wilderness and gather inspiration, the results seem tempered by the dramatic switch of environment from West Coast to Michigan.
Dunes is the second release from LA group Gardens and Villa. From the bright, breezy climate of their Santa Barbara base, this five-piece are transmitting waves of West Coast optimism to the rest of the world, with their own particular brand of electro-rock sitting somewhere between Local Natives and NZCA/LINES. Far from being just another quintet of lads who play synth, these guys treat the instrument with care and skill – see here for live, genuwine funk-infused brilliance.
Gardens & Villa Dunes (Secretly Canadian) After a three-year layoff, Santa Barbara quintet Gardens & Villa return with sophomore effort Dunes, 39 minutes of frontman Chris Lynch's airy vocals wrapped in a haze of synth. He enchants with a smattering of flute interludes, juxtaposing technology and nature on the astral "Chrysanthemums." Hypnotizing beats ("Purple Mesas") jump-start nerve endings, "Avalanche" winks at disco, and Lynch's delicate falsetto steals the show. The muted intro to "Minnesota" serves as a momentary reprieve from the mounds of bubbly electronics, helping the crew avoid overdose.