Ultimately, Lynch and company have a lot going for them. They’re equally comfortable fashioning something danceable as they are crafting silky, slow numbers — and they’re gaining momentum.
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Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang News music columnist.
After its self-titled debut release in 2011, the members of Gardens & Villa had no shortage of options. It could have doubled down on the album’s spacy weirdness and carved out a career on the edge of trippy, stoned synthpop. It could have embraced earthy mysticism and elevated frontman Chris Lynch into a woodwind-wielding prophet. Instead, it found its voice with Dunes.
The second album from the Santa Barbara band finds Gardens & Villa infinitely more measured and self-assured than the first time around, and that newfound confidence is quickly apparent on opener “Colony Glen,” which doesn’t waste a single second making the band’s position known. Over Shane McKillop’s bubbly, spastic bass and swirling synthesizers, Lynch’s wooden flute floats over the top as if to say, “Chill out. I got this.”
It’s immediate and danceable. Even in the middle of the album, where Gardens & Villa struggled, nifty slices of dancepop like “Avalanche” are carried by Levi Hayden’s confident drums and an effortlessly cool vibe. The band wears its New Wave influences on its collective sleeve, with Tears for Fears being the most obvious (and welcome) inspiration, with Lynch’s deliberate, soft voice acting as a constant stabilizer.
Though initially founded in Santa Barbara, Gardens & Villa has moved to Los Angeles. The city shows itself in new producer Tim Goldsworthy, whose previous work with Cut Copy and LCD Soundsystem make him more than qualified to cut a sharp, danceable album like Dunes. On the appropriately Californian “Bullet Train,” Lynch gives his own account of his home state: “Speed up to L.A., slow motion in the Bay / Get lost in L.A., devotions in the Bay.”
The clearest example of the leaps and bounds Gardens & Villa has made is found in the spacy, piano-driven “Minnesota,” where a featherweight touch and Lynch’s floaty falsetto brings the band into territory usually inhabited by Grizzly Bear and L.A. counterparts Local Natives. “Minnesota, when I sober up, I’ve got a number and I’m calling it up,” he sings as he paints a picture of the lonely but hopeful aftermath of a night out.
Gardens & Villa is clearly working hard to make sure it doesn’t become a band defined by the curious novelty of Lynch’s wooden flute, but when it does make an appearance, it fits in seamlessly with the spacious dream-pop that covers much of Dunes. It’s most effective as a weapon on “Chrysanthemums,” where the flute’s loops and effects on the intro start the track off with a suitably cold flurry.
If there’s a knock on Dunes, it’s that the album lacks an absolutely showstopping track. Occasionally, it drifts a bit too far into the nature-spirit zone.
Gardens & Villa loves natural landscapes and has an annoying penchant for naming its songs by combining a color and bits of nature (see the debut’s “Orange Blossoms,” “Black Hills,” and Dunes’ “Purple Mesas”). The imprecise, ephemeral focus of these tracks is moderately frustrating, especially considering Lynch is a much better lyricist when he focuses his attention on human subjects like those of “Minnesota” and “Echosassy.”
Ultimately, Lynch and company have a lot going for them. They’re equally comfortable fashioning something danceable as they are crafting silky, slow numbers — and they’re gaining momentum. It’s hard to tell where the ceiling is with Gardens & Villa, but it’s certainly going to be exciting to find out.
Dunes drops on Feb. 4.
Listen if you like: Local Natives, beachcombing, pagan rituals | Skip to: “Bullet Train”, “Minnesota”, “Avalanche”