Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Synth Pop
You got the sense that on Gardens & Villa’s previous two records something wasn’t right. The talent was there, but it sounded like the Secretly Canadian signees weren’t putting their knack for creating ear-catching sonic palettes, by deftly blending the organic and the synthetic, to good use. Instead, 2014’s Dunes found the Santa Barbara natives spending their time dabbling rather unwisely in oversaturated post-MGMT dance-pop, and the lukewarm reception from fans and critics alike doomed the record’s chances at breaking through.
Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen - AKA Gardens and Villa - have, in the last year or so had a complete creative overhaul; they moved to LA, renovated a warehouse, filled it full of artists and took their sound in a completely new direction. Starting an art collective in an increasingly gentrified neighbourhood of LA might sound like a hipster cliché, but if the goal was to find new ways to express themselves creatively, Gardens and Villa have achieved their goal. Their last LP (2014's Dunes) sat unashamedly in the electro-pop camp and was produced by none other than Tim Goldsworthy himself.
Gardens & Villa have returned with Music for Dogs, their third album for Secretly Canadian. It’s a departure from last year’s Dunes, and that’s a reflection of changes both personal and professional in the last year. Songwriters Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen moved out of Santa Barbara, California to the artist community of Frogtown in Los Angeles.
Gardens & Villa tweaked their lineup after 2014's Dunes, but still steered by singer/guitarist Christopher Lynch and keyboardist Adam Rasmussen, Music for Dogs retains its predecessor's punchy danceability and even kicks up the intensity with an assist from producer Jacob Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra). The first full song on the album, "Maximize Results," is representative of this commitment to momentum -- a decidedly catchy, hyper yet wistful, New Order-ish agitated club track. Listeners will go on to find the whole album is driving (at its most sedate still danceable), with some of the darker synth pop guitar and synth sounds mixed with real drums or a version thereof, à la Depeche Mode or, more recently, Painted Palms.
Gardens & Villa's Music For Dogs comes less than a year and a half after the band's sophomore album Dunes. Certainly there was no rush for the Santa Barbara natives to release new material, but that eager desire to create is reflected in the rushed, haphazard collection of songs that make up their third record. The slinky synthesizers and psychedelic flute flourishes have been toned down in favor of frantic pianos and increasingly spaced-out vocal echoes.
While it may not be apparent on a cursory listen, the synthpop group Gardens & Villa underwent a lot of change in the time between last year’s middling Dunes and their third album, Music for Dogs. The band relocated from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, and they reconfigured from a trio to a duo of founding members Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen. The two have spoken about the dissatisfaction behind the recording process of Dunes, largely borne out of pressure from their label and issues with their producer.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Gardens & Villa didn't wait too long to put this one out, and it's clear they wanted to write songs about many ideas. Countless themes were thrown at the wall, and Music for Dogs is everything that stuck and everything that didn't; the latter getting between me and the parts of the album that I really like.
Gardens & Villa are a synthpop band stuck in an existential funk, and we have the Internet to blame. "[We’re] feeling too connected and yet at the end of the day, disconnected from everything/everyone," frontman Chris Lynch recently told Noisey, "feeling like our modern lives are starting to resemble a sci-fi world." At this point in their career, the L.A.-via-Santa Barbara group have managed to carve out a psych-ier niche to set them aside from, say, Phantogram, but they’ve got a synthpop reputation nonetheless. The conflict between technological innovation and organic artistry is a given in modern music, but for digitally-reliant acts like Gardens & Villa, the tug-of-war presents a identity crisis.
Some film buffs enjoy collecting old home movies, because they’re fascinated by the tactile qualities of celluloid, and they like seeing the accidental abstract art that occurs when printed images of banal domesticity begin to decay. The Santa Barbara indie-rock quartet Gardens & Villa has a similar aesthetic, except that the band’s source material is more like import 12-inch singles of forgotten 1980s synthpop, overlaid with the blunt, hooky messages of socialist propaganda anthems and TV advertising jingles. And Gardens & Villa’s co-frontmen Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen aren’t waiting for the rot to creep in.