Gardens & Villa – Dunes

written by: January 27, 2014
Album-Art-for-Dunes-by-Gardens-and-Villa Release Date: February 4, 2014


The new year did not arrive quietly. Thanks to subzero temps, it’s hard to think of anything but the weather, and how to survive wind-chill indexes and black ice. Through it all, music is the best coping mechanism, so it’s a relief when a record comes along that promises the changing season — whether it’s melting ice, warm breezes or fading leaves.

In name alone, Gardens & Villa evokes greener pastures. (In fact, the name comes from gardens the band members tend on Villa Avenue in Santa Barbara, Calif.) The five-piece group brings the warmth and laid-back nature of the Cali coast to its new album Dunes, but this is far from feel-good pop.

The guys packed sweaters along with synthesizers for their sessions in Michigan with producer Tim Goldsworthy (DFA). Gardens & Villa’s second LP is a moody, introspective affair — or maybe end-of-the-affair.

Chris Lynch has a smooth, elastic voice that’s comfortable in a high register. It hangs in the rafters through much of “Colony Glen,” the record’s standout second single.

Whether the Glen is a boyhood vacation spot or the site of a romantic tryst, he remembers it fondly, cooing along with a brisk signal of Adam Rasmussen’s synth noise that brings to mind a montage in a John Hughes movie: an angsty performance and a bittersweet melody that draws in the audience’s sympathies.

While nostalgia is a key theme lyrically, the music is no throwback. The tropical beats and heavy bass lines by Shane McKillop are manna for many a European DJ right now, including Mickey, Aeroplane, and Tensnake.

On “Avalanche,” Lynch remembers a fast-moving love affair from a post-mortem place. His chorus skids along on a few repeating lines of electric piano and drum, an extended jam that pushes forward without a direct path, like the snowy crumble that inspired it.

Much of Dunes comes from a place of reflection – remembering love; growing older; winter and death. “I was so caught up,” Lynch repeats in “Minnesota,” of a past love. He’s frozen with the phone in his hand, ready to call her.

Down-tempo numbers “Minnesota” and “Chrysanthemums” add a change of atmosphere, but don’t quite gain a foothold. It’s trance-like “Echosassy” and slow-building “Thunder Glove” that show Gardens & Villa’s knack for deeply reflective songwriting — shaking with paranoia in every memorable guitar hook.

Sonically, Dunes is a departure from Gardens & Villa (2011). It contains similar dark-pop elements, but this time with the shades drawn, letting light in.

With luck, the world will notice the brighter side of Gardens & Villa, and the shimmering “Colony Glen” and “Avalanche” will be all over radio, lifting us from this winter slump.

Gardens & Villa – Dunes tracklist:

  1. “Domino”
  2. “Colony Glen”
  3. “Bullet Train”
  4. “Chrysanthemums”
  5. “Echosassy”
  6. “Purple Mesas”
  7. “Avalanche”
  8. “Minnesota”
  9. “Thunder Glove”
  10. “Love Theme”