Gardens & Villa
Gardens & Villa
Label: Secretly Canadian
You can tell Gardens & Villa hail from the California seaside. It reeks in the woody, analog reverb, in Chris Lynch’s crooning falsetto, and in their inherent pysch-folk-meets-retro-funk outfit. The debut from this local cornerstone Santa Barbara act reflects the essence of the Gold Coast college town – chill vibes, parties galore, and of course, the sandy shores. An ideal album opener and introduction to the band, “Black Hills” is a fitting testament to this, one that inadvertently establishes itself as the quintessential Gardens & Villa song. Drawing on a history of pop genres, its Summer of Love majesty meshes naturally with humble synths, a slow, rolling drumbeat and minimal perky vocal layers. It emanates the ghosts of dreamy ’60s surf hits perfect for a convertible cruise down the PCH. The comparisons are innumerable (a folky version of the Beach Boys meets Joy Vision; the result if the Zombies, the Talking Heads and Earth, Wind & Fire formed a supergroup and added a splash of analog techno) and vary from song to song, showing a promising range of talent.
Gardens & Villa may have formed after the disbanding of their prior post-punk act, but they’ve reportedly toned down the noise. Even at its most abrasive, Gardens & Villa has some of the most lush new wave tracks this side of the New Millennium. In the midst of the dynamic range of instruments, including a hearty dose of acoustics, Lynch’s voice is quickly established the definitive driving force. The little flourishes of flutes, chimey synths and prolific percussion color in an essence of hipster fantasy, even on sexy late-night-appropriate tracks like “Orange Blossoms,” but are merely ornaments to Lynch’s foundation.
Gardens & Villa may be painting with too diverse a palette for their own good. This debut, though consistently competent and visionary, meanders on unstable territory. The album bears two distinct halves – new wave-beach-funk vs. dreamy chamber pop – thus creating a conflicting experience. The latter half of the record begins with “Chemtrails,” which, if you ever dreamed of slow dancing with a date on a moonlit beach, would be the ideal tune to perfectly complement the cool, salty ambiance of its conception. But this stark contrast to Gardens & Villa‘s introductory half inhibits the album’s seductive after-party energy with profound shoegaze melodies. A trifecta of melancholy tunes, “Sunday Morning,” “Carrizo Plain,” and “Neon Dove,” continues this pattern by closing Gardens & Villa with a mild, worldly flare. In any other context, they’re infectious stand-alone songs; positioned this late in the album, they just sound anemic.
Gardens & Villa‘s repeatability is best suited in bits and pieces for a variety of iPod mixes, depending on the occasion. Though the aesthetic elements of their music gel quite compellingly, their intentions don’t. What exactly are they trying to do for their audience? Energize them during a party? Act as a crutch for self-reflection? Background music for making love? If they can figure that out for future albums, they may become something more than just a Santa Barbara mainstay.
by Jory Spadea