Release Date: Jul 4, 2011
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
Santa Barbara quintet Gardens & Villa craft angular electro-pop that offers no easy answers. Their self-titled debut is filled with unexpected flourishes: a spiky Britpop guitar-riff here, a 1980s synth-refrain there; its influences are all over the board—and delightfully so. From the mesmerizing harmonies of “Chemtrails” (think Grizzly Bear with a pinch more ennui) to the driving breakdown of “Star Fire Power,” multiple listens are required to unpack the layers of carefully constructed surprises.
On its self-titled debut, Gardens & Villa toss a hat into the crowded ring of new bands with an adoration for classic indie sounds. It goes down easy on first listen, a kind and gentle synth-pop, buoyed by Chris Lynch’s virtuosic tenor and the album’s steady sense of dynamics. With repeated plays the instrumentation proves to be nearly as elastic as Lynch’s singing, and the surprises will keep you fishing for more.
On their 2008 tour for Devotion, Beach House had a t-shirt for sale at their merch table featuring the album title spelled out in the sort of gothic font you see on death-metal album covers, creating a cheeky contrast between the grim presentation and the band's tranquil hazy-headed dream-pop. But those two aesthetic poles blurred into one upon hearing the striking debut single from Gardens & Villa. Ideal for summertime strolls through a cemetery, "Black Hills" pits vibraphone chimes against an icy synth pulse overtop an unnervingly steady beat.
GARDENS & VILLA play the Drake Hotel on August 2. See listing Rating: NNN You can't help but wonder if there would be lot more excitement about Santa Barbara's Gardens & Villa had they released their debut album a couple of years ago, before everyone got bored with chillwave and dreamy lo-fi revisions of 80s pop. It's hard to shake the feeling that they're chasing trends that have passed their best-before date, even if they've got more skills than many of the bands that beat them to the punch.
After recording in Starfucker's home city of Portland, Oregon, Gardens & Villa released their debut album on Yeasayer's label Secretly Canadian, and coincidentally, Gardens & Villa sound a lot like a cross between those two groups. Similarly, Levi Hayden, Shane McKillop, Adam Rasmussen, and Chris Lynch make warm indie pop with airy falsettos and retro synths. It’s a tranquil listen, even when a picnic song like the chillwavey “Orange Blossom,” with its pseudo-sexy hook “Think of me like a swarm of bees/Circling around your knees/To pollinate means ecstasy,” gives way into the chugging acoustics of “Thorn Castles,” a jam that's brisk enough for a jog on the beach.
Today’s repository of synth-laden bands continues to outbreak without a cure in sight. Conceivably due to generational appeal, it’s a form of music that defines a youth’s psychological make-up – it’s unbound, exciting, and impulsive without a required core of emotion. This applies to the ones who do it flawlessly: those who infringe our hearts and command a kinetic response.
How to make an album — The Gardens & Villa way: Gardens & Villa play a blend of space-age retro-funk with one foot on the dance floor and the other in an opium den. The heavy, synthesized bass on “Cruise Ship” and “Orange Blossoms” easily recalls similarly disco-ready moments on Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut earlier this year. With the exception of a few fleet-footed outliers, however, Gardens & Villa is a much more ponderous affair.
Gardens & Villa’s self-titled debut is good at aping the styles of many of indie rock’s hottest current acts, but the band fails at making any of those sounds their own. It’s a shame, because there are two stellar songs on Gardens & Villa, songs that show a ton of promise, but also make the rest of the uninspired filler on the album pale in comparison. Just because you can pull off a half-decent impression of Yeasayer doesn’t mean you should build an album around it.
Gardens And Villa’s name was inspired half by the Santa Barbara street where the band members live, and half by the garden that they tend in their backyard. These guys have a strong sense of place, and that certainly carries over to their self-titled debut. For the 10-song suite, Gardens And Villa takes ’90s Brit-pop, funky bass lines and new-wavey synth work, then plays it all together with the sort of laid-back, coastal sangfroid that you’d expect from five college buds whose promo photos abound in tank tops, shorts, and wayfarer shades.