With their second album, Dunes, Gardens & Villa, an indie, synthpop group from Santa Barbara, California, produced an all-too-familiar sound.
Their record is composed of monotonous synthesizer samples, light keyboard decorations, and pithy statements for lyrics, such as “the young die young if they work too hard.” As you listen to the album, it is clear that Gardens & Villa has fallen victim to a regrettable trend that has hit the alternative rock world and has prevented many artists from producing anything distinctive.
Unlike their former, self-titled album—a brilliant and successful mix of electronic beats and punchy guitar riffs—Dunes takes an ill-fated departure from the previous, more gritty and interesting sound. In the opening track of the album, the listener must become accustomed to what seems like an conglomeration of Washed Out and Youth Lagoon, two lo-fi bands that create synth-heavy, and computerized music with droned out vocals. Even a bit of Chromeo, electrofunk duo from Canada with 80’s vibes, seems to have arisen in the mix.
All that being said, the album does boast several positive attributes. Lead singer Christopher Lynch’s androgynous, yet sultry vocals show great range and improvement as compared with the last album. His impressive flute playing, as well, merits some praise. Songs like “Chrysanthemums” and “Minnesota” present breaks from the synth-focused album with tolerable piano ballads.
Moreover, the band demonstrates a generally matured sound. Songs like “Domino” highlight Garden & Villa’s musical skill and flexibility. Individual members of the band seem to feed off of each other’s energies much more than in the previous album. Despite these obvious improvements, though, the band’s decision to move away from the more improvised and fresh rhythms of their first album was a poor one because it took away unique elements from the music.
Overall, Dunes explores the same-old themes of adulthood, loss of youth, failed dreams, heavy nostalgia, and city life that have made an appearance in the work of nearly every other lo-fi, indie-rock band turned synth-heavy pop group. Garden & Villas has developed an easy to listen to and enjoyable album, riddled with fun, whimsical and dreamy tracks that are, however, neither distinctive or spectacular.
Voices Choices: “Colony Glen” and “Domino”