Gardens and Villa - Dunes

by David Bruggink Rating:6 Release Date:2014-02-03
By this point, the standard elements of synthpop and post-punk have been regurgitated so many times that it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff of the 80s revival. Working from a template that was essentially perfected 30 years ago by Depeche Mode, New Order and The Cure, new artists can sometimes struggle to say anything of interest with it.
 
Santa Barbara's Gardens & Villa fall into this trap a few times on Dunes, their second album, but its numerous high points also show that this young band has a good understanding of what made the formula work so well in the first place. Dunes' best tracks are stellar, reminiscent of the neon anthems created by their peers Cut Copy and Chromatics.
 
Opener 'Domino' gets the party started quickly with a squelchy, undulating bass line (sure to be fun in a live setting) and a repeating flute riff that's part 'Land Down Under' and part Peruvian folk music. Vocalist Chris Lynch, who provides more of an added texture than a leading man set of pipes, is a perfect fit for the heavily layered, synth-driven sound, at times conveying a refreshing earnestness and fragility (see the quietly intoned "Never gonna let you go..." toward the song's end). 
 
'Echosassy' is another winner, a delectable slice of New Order-inspired post-punk with dovetailing guitar and bass riffs and a bracing rhythm. As on the equally impressive 'Thunder Glove' and 'Colony Glen', the tracks with urgency and confidence have the greatest success. Problems arise when the tempo slows, the formerly driving guitar lines become languid, and the textures lose their sense of purpose.
 
'Bullet Train' fails to get enough momentum behind it to really take off, hampered by a halting guitar and flute arrangement. After the energy of 'Colony Glen', it feels a bit like swimming in jeans. Similarly, 'Purple Mesas' shoots for a vaguely tropical vibe, but Lynch's lilting vocals paired with a detuned synthesizer come off as an unnatural fit, and the song meanders without locking onto a compelling rhythm or melody. 
 
Dunes' weaker moments sometimes remind me of Efterklang's Piramida, which also features a complex palette of electronic sounds but often fails to connect with the listener in a meaningful or memorable way; there's no doubt it's agreeable to the ear, but it doesn't make much of an impression on you. This is an accusation one could make against many of the 80s-inspired bands, but thankfully Gardens & Villa also demonstrate that they're capable of writing some knockouts, and Dunes suggests that they've got a bright future ahead.

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