Artist: Gardens & Villa
Label: Secretly Canadian / Cargo Records
The crystalline, aha moment, if you can picture it, comes after a month of dogged recording in a converted warehouse in the middle of the bleak Midwest winter — foreign and dissociative terrain for GARDENS & VILLA, whose members are more accustomed to the warm breezes and surf of their Santa Barbara, California, home. The recording situation itself couldn’t have been more ideal for unbridled creativity, as G&V was locked away with acclaimed producer Tim Goldsworthy (CUT COPY, DFA Records, HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR) and was given full access to gear-nerdery like SLY STONE’s custom-built Flickinger recording console (used throughout There’s a Riot Goin’ On). However, the band had only stepped out from this recording studio spaceship but five times during the month, lost in a black hole of music-making that grew increasingly counterproductive. They found themselves suffering from a creative slump which needed a natural remedy — an escape into the wilds of the Michigan winter. “Dunes” can be summarized by the one defining visage which serves as G&V’s sophomore triumph’s namesake.
Members Adam Rasmussen, Chris Lynch, Dusty Ineman, Levi Hayden and Shane McKillop traversed across the winding roads and frigid tundra of Benton Harbor, MI, stopping only when they found its highest point. Their bodies, rigid and depleted from weeks without exercise, worked with extra fervor as they summited an expanse of snow-covered sand dunes. The view at the top left them breathless. Here was the great wide world, in sharp contrast to their narrow-minded recording haze; with the ice crunching beneath their feet, they saw Lake Michigan, stretching across the distant horizon, an awe-inspiring reminder of the oceanside they missed so dear, as well as the passion to which they have dedicated their lives.
“Dunes” takes both album title and reinvigoration from this one scene – but beneath the immediate lies a milieu of influences: bizarre conversations with strangers, hundreds of VHS movies, British tea rituals, and explorations of consciousness with a new age lean. Opposing methodologies between band members make for wonderful tension in songs about the importance of isolation as well as connection, on being the last generation (?!) to value the beauty of analog. With the expert assistance of Goldsworthy, “Dunes” is a record abundant with contrasts, and notably less straight-forward than GARDENS & VILLA’s previous output. The band’s vibrant rhythms, fluttering flute melodies, and pulsing synth lines now intersect more nuanced and serpentine than ever before. In a single stroke on standout “Bullet Train,” G&V gives an eerie artificiality to Lynch’s flute and gives Rasmussen’s synth bassline all the physicality of played PVC piping, flipping the physical and digital. At different points, the record recalls the jerky, blissful funk of PRINCE (“Bullet Train”) and the cold-wave of DEPECHE MODE (“Colony Glen” and “Thunder Glove”) in its outwards-facing dance jams, while piano-heavy tracks (“Chrysanthemums” and “Minnesota”) feature complementary melodies that inspire introspection.
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