How to make an album — The Gardens & Villa way:
- Start with a little bit of this
- Add an ample serving of this
- Finish off with a pinch of this
- Stir lightly and serve at room temperature
Gardens & Villa play a blend of space-age retro-funk with one foot on the dance floor and the other in an opium den. The heavy, synthesized bass on “Cruise Ship” and “Orange Blossoms” easily recalls similarly disco-ready moments on Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut earlier this year. With the exception of a few fleet-footed outliers, however, Gardens & Villa is a much more ponderous affair. The four-on-the-floor dance beats tend to trundle along at a more lethargic pace, which drops to a barbiturate crawl on the album’s trippier numbers. “Chemtrails” allows singer Chris Lynch’s voice to languish amid a minimalist, molasses-slow drum rhythm and some sporadic keyboard effects, while “Sunday Morning” foregrounds Lynch’s falsetto and a spooky piano melody, only to undercut it with the occasional thrust of sinister horror movie synth.
Those two tracks, the ones that give themselves over entirely to psychedelia’s delirious embrace, are the album’s most successful moments. The band makes a solid attempt to vary their songs’ textures by putting an acoustic guitar front-and-center in “Thorncastles,” or by having a cartoony, echo-drenched voice monotone the song title during the chorus of “Spacetime.” Still, the mellow stoner vibes that permeate the rest of the album tend to suck out most of the bounce and energy. And it especially doesn’t help that Lynch’s lyrics are just a bunch of hippie shit: limp psychedelic images of marmalade skies and lovers who elevate the mind.
But getting back to my little formula above, the final nail in Garden & Villa’s coffin is the extent to which the group feels barely distinguishable in the current musical climate. It’s hard to justify this record’s existence when you can’t throw a rock in a record store without hitting the latest release by some retro dance outfit (or subsequently getting arrested for throwing rocks inside of a private business). Chris Lynch could be interchanged with any number of high-voiced front men, and the analog electronic melodies they craft could easily be mistaken for those of half a dozen other, similar bands. The only really original thing they offer is their persistent use of the flute — a novel embellishment, but one that gives the song a new-agey feel that makes my skin crawl. The album tries really hard to be the soundtrack to both your trip to the disco and your trip down the rabbit hole, but doesn’t offer any particularly compelling reasons for why you should make it either.