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Album Review

After releasing an album in 2011 that was nice but not very distinctive, Gardens & Villa changed up their strategy enough to make their 2014 album Dunes a huge improvement. Still playing a wistful brand of indie pop with synths that are in turn dreamy and pleasant, the group turned to former DFA member/renowned producer Tim Goldsworthy to add some punch to their sound. His production gives the Dunes a snappy bounce that was definitely missing on their cleanly rendered debut, taking the uptempo tracks straight to the dancefloor. The slower, more introspective tracks have a hazy stickiness and soft rock sweetness that send them right to dreamland. The album is split between the two, almost in an alternating fashion that gives it a choppy feeling and helps each track stand out. The increased energy and attention to sonic detail is very nice, but without songs that work, it's just a fancy package with nothing inside. Luckily, the band respond with some really catchy, hooky tunes that synch up well with Goldsworthy's production. The best of them — like the very '80s synth pop track "Colony Glen," which gives Christopher Lynch's warbling falsetto a perfect spot to roost, the snaky "Bullet Train" that shows off the nocturnal side of the band and has some smooth synth sounds, or the pulsating dancefloor filler "Avalanche" — are easily on par with most of the bands they've been accused of mimicking in the past. They show off a nice touch on the album's piano ballads, too, with both the aching "Chrysanthemums" and "Minnesota" displaying a welcome spot of deeply felt emotion to go with the chillwave detachment that pervades the rest of the record. Dunes is a perfect match of band, songs, and producer that works almost perfectly and should mean that the days of Gardens & Villa being compared to their peers are over. If they make more albums this good, other bands will soon be compared to them instead.

Biography

Formed: 2008 in Santa Barbara, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

In 2008, synth-driven indie pop group Gardens & Villa formed in Santa Barbara, California. With an album's worth of sugary, celebratory tunes under their belt, guitarist Christopher Lynch, keyboardist Adam Rasmussen, bassist Shane McKillop, and drummer Levi Hayden traveled to Oregon to record their self-titled debut. Gardens & Villa was completed over the course of two weeks under the supervision of Secretly Canadian labelmate Richard Swift, and released in the summer of 2011. Around this time, Dustin...
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Dunes, Gardens & Villa
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Contemporaries