With their second album, Dunes, Gardens & Villa has crafted an experience that combines synthetic vibes and light backing flutes into a record that feels retro in its execution but uniquely fresh in sound.
Gardens & Villa is a Santa Barbara based pop quintet made up of Chris Lynch, Adam Rasmussen, Levi Hayden, Shane McKillop and Dusty Ineman. After their 2011 eponymously titled album, the band has re-honed and improved their unique sound of dream-like pop into an auditory treat that, while short, is definitely something worth listening to.
Recorded after their two year, 350 show tour spanning Europe and North America, Dunes is an existential and beautifully layered album which was written while the band was settled in their beachside property. However, it was put together in a studio in the much colder and distant town of Benton Harbor, Michigan.
The psychedelic lyrics, centered on the themes of loss and nature, could make the band easily dismissed as just another Cali-pop outfit but the addition of a heavy synthesizer makes Dunes a beast of an entirely different nature. The resulting album is a sound that is fresh and new but it is by no means perfect.
Dunes holds a lot of promise, but the resulting songs often feel like a mixed bag. Many tracks sound like the band is unsure whether they wanted to be synth-pop or something more drum and guitar based. The interweaving of synthetic sounds and more natural tones is somewhat harsh, leaving a unique mix that sometimes feels unsettling to the listener’s ears.
A complex album, Dunes sounds at times like light hearted pop while simultaneously feeling like an 80’s synth band. The album’s mix of enveloping tracks play in large contrast to their heavy bass tunes such as in the album’s debut single “Bullet Train”.
The third track on the album, “Bullet Train” opens with a steady drum kit and evolves into a concentrated flute solo performed by lead singer Chris Lynch. The rest of the track is then dominated by the drums, with Lynch’s vocals in the background as he repeatedly echoes “the young die young.”
Lynch’s androgynous voice is the true highlight of the album. In many of the tracks it is able to sound melodic and soft while in others it brings a surprising amount of strength to the otherwise quiet tones of the flute or piano in the background.
“Colony Glenn” is the second single from the album and begins with haunting and vibrant synths performed by Adam Rasmussen. In many ways it is reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s heavy synth lines. Lynch’s light vocals fluctuate between the foreground and background as the synthetic sounds and bass ebb and flow throughout the track.
“Chrysanthemums” is the strongest song on the album. A piano based track, the instrument’s dark and dulcet sounds are mixed with the high-pitched vibrating tones of the synths. The music is perfectly contrasted with the Lynch’s almost whispered vocals.
The last track on the album, “Love Theme” is by far its weakest. With none of the nearly-omnipresent soothing vocals from Lynch, it is instead a slow and melodious mixture of synthetic tones. The song doesn’t fit with the rest of the record and is an unnecessarily quiet tune on what is an otherwise vibrant album.
Gardens & Villa’s second album is a musical treat that at times is an entertaining mix of lyrical talent and synthetic-pop. Though by no means unenjoyable, Dunes’ unique sound is something that is sure to peak a listener’s interest — but it often feels like it could’ve been so much more than its end result.