Gardens & Villa Capture Santa Barbara’s Sea and Sky

14 Feb

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Gardens & Villa is one of a handful of bands to emerge from Santa Barbara, an idyllic college town perched on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a leisurely hour-and-a-half drive north of glitzy Los Angeles. Not surprising, the band’s sophomore release, Dunes, captures some of the breezy, relaxed vibe of the town — with its glistening sea stretching to the horizon, inviting beaches and laid-back social scene — even though the album was recorded thousands of miles away in freezing Michigan.

Produced by Tim Goldsworthy — who has also guided bands such as LCD Soundsystem and Cut Copy — Dunes offers intricately layered, retro electro-pop full of shimmering synths, tight drum tracks and vocals that vary from soulful to disco-like. The sound is reminiscent of Depeche Mode, Lightning Dust, or at times, Broken Bells and even Earth, Wind and Fire — with updating for the 21st century.

“Domino” — not the Van Morrison tune — starts the CD with light and breezy, almost chillwave synth-pop. An unusual element is a flute, which one writer labeled a bansuri flute. I don’t know my bansuri from my banshee, so we’ll assume that he or she knows and go with it. The flute creates a floating atmosphere or a syncopated rhythm that’s perfect for the smooth vocals.

The next two tracks — “Colony Glen” and “Bullet Train” — are among the album’s best. “Colony Glen” is a pulsing, driving number, with a rapid-fire bass line and bell-like synths. The vocals are melodic and the song is really catchy. “Bullet Train” features a great interplay between a thumping drum and synth track and that flute again. This is where I hear Broken Bells’ vocals, especially in the verses. The band’s message is clearly spelled out — slow your life down — as lead singer, Chris Lynch, sings, “The young die young if they work too hard.”

In the second half of the album, I like “Avalanche” the best. The song features a flickering rhythm created by a jittery bass, drums and handclaps in a swirling synth landscape.

A few of the tracks get a little light for my taste. But glancing at the reviews at Amazon, the fans are finding little they don’t like about Dunes. Perhaps you will feel the same.

 

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