When Gardens & Villa first came onto my musical radar I was pretty impressed. Though their sound was relatively simple, it was very well-crafted, fun-in-the-sun music with a psychedelic twist. In all, the California band is deeply committed to their sunny sound and it's the reason their debut self-titled LP earned them a strong youthfully-skewed following.
Today, the group released their follow-up LP Dunes for public consumption and this time we find the band...very much the same. Frontman Chris Lynch still sings in that unfettered falsetto, guitar lines shiver throughout and their sound exists somewhere between psychedelic and electronic.
What drew me to first album was how deeply imaginative it was. Breakout single "Orange Blossom" approached sexuality from the perspective of an eager honey bee and "Star Fire Power" was their take on Earth, Wind & Fire's hyper-positive message of a song,"Shining Star." Gardens & Villa has always been a bit silly, but it's still easy to get taken away with their music.
This time even though the sound is the same, the band seems different. Unlike its predecessor,Dunes has to grow on you, which is difficult in an age where we expect immediate results in almost every aspect of our lives. The first half of the album comes on strongly, pumped up by synth-soaked songs like "Echosassy" and "Domino." It feels hyperactive instead of energetic. The carefree feeling they're going for feels forced. But once you come around for a second listen and acclimate to the mediocre pacing, it becomes enjoyable.
Things drastically improve with the album's second half, which begins with "Purple Mesas," a sultry percussion-driven track. It feels most like classic Gardens & Villa. Ironically, the West Coast-influenced album's highlight is the piano-laden "Minnesota," which seems to be as far as the band is willing to get from their beach-friendly sound. From there, Dunes includes one last electronic cut, "Thunder Glove," which silly name aside is pretty catchy and borderline beautiful. The whole thing ends with the dreamy if unoriginal "Love Theme." And that's when you have to go back to the beginning, back to "Domino" and give it another try.
Is the Dunes better than their first? No. But if you're more attached to how an album sounds than the bigger picture (i.e. what it does for the listener) than I see this fitting nicely into a lazy afternoon on a distant rooftop. Still, it's kind of hard to fully appreciate Dunes and dream of summer when winter's hold is so tight.