Album Reviews - Reviews

Gardens & Villa – Dunes


When surrounded by the cold on all sides, it’s important to find appropriate mood music; something to either blast away the cold with promises of Summer just on the horizon or to revel in the abject misery and desolation of the whole season. With Dunes, recorded in the near arctic US Midwest, California-based Gardens and Villa are trying to explore the season. Whether or not they’re successful is a very different story.

Dunes operates on two primary settings: new wave/post punk- inflected electro boogies and slower tempo melancholic nuggets of ethereal emotion. Throughout the whole record the influences are apparent. The likes of The Cure, Depeche Mode and Gary Numan are mixed with contemporary groups such as MGMT and The Shins, all seen through the filter of New Order. Within the first of the two categories the choices cuts are the deliciously danceable ‘Domino’ and ‘Echosassy’, which conjures distinct memories of Head On the Door-era Cure. While much of the more energetic pieces are enjoyable, it is in the more melancholic moments that the album really comes into its own. It is here that the album, musically, seeks to become some kind of synthpop version of  Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska; cold and unrelenting, driven by a heavy heart and the cold gripping bones.

The motif is best represented by ‘Chrysanthemums’, the piano driven ‘Minnesota’ and the ambient ‘Love Theme’. These songs act as the album’s more intriguing tracks for two reasons. Firstly, these songs showcase the impact that the surroundings had on the band and the development of their sound, whilst also providing the music with a more definitive sense of origin, atmosphere and purpose. Secondly, they are better written songs. They’re loaded with more pathos, meaning and emotion than anything else on the record. These songs just seem to contain something which the band genuinely believe needs to be said.

Dunes, in spite of its many admirable attempts, never really rises above its station. It is a decent album, that much cannot be denied, but it seems content to be just that: decent. The songwriting isn’t up to par and many of the songs operate with a sort of interchangeable nature. Much of it doesn’t seem to say anything. There are really excellent tracks here, but they’re not given enough space or time to breath. The album can’t really decide if it is a sun-drenched, slightly moody California post-punk record or a bleak, icy hearted search for something deeper than the surface. This indecisiveness lets the record down. It’s too cold to be a ‘fight the winter blues away’ record but too bright to let the cold harsh truths sink in.  The warm sun thaws much of the ice, but not all of it, ultimately, leaving us with a damp squib of a record. Will Murphy