Album Reviews

Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa

(Secretly Canadian) UK release date: 4 July 2011

There’s a lot to be said for the gentile side of post-rock; those hearty bands of buddies whose noisy adolescences quickly translate into something altogether more listenable, more relatable, more considered.

Santa Barbara five-piece Gardens & Villa are no exception, having ditched a previous punk persona and hitch-hiked up America’s west coast in their very own 21st Century echo of the beat scene’s celebrated vagrants, bohemians and hangers-on.

But how much of a young band’s life force is lost – or gained – when such travails are necessarily condensed into a 10-track LP? While a good few excel – Chief‘s Modern Rituals being an unexpected highlight of 2010 – there are far more that come across diluted, bland or uninspiring.

At the very least, Gardens & Villa come out of the traps at a pace: Black Hills, lead single and live staple, thrums along thrillingly, its simple-yet-textured composition coming across like a tempered, toned down Interpol, falsetto harmonies cutting like a knife.

Cruise Ship too seems to mimic the band’s predecessors at a reduced tempo, this time reinterpreting the mechanical minor chord magic of The Stills‘ earliest efforts, while singer Chris Lynch’s distinctive delivery apes Modest Mouse‘s Isaac Brock to varying extents.

Despite the band alluding to troubling times – “deaths, drug abuse and homelessness” – a great swathe of their album’s tracks court dance moves. Thorn Castles is one such cheery slice, its backyard-camping theme teasing the listener into recollections of their own, while the standout Orange Blossom channels Midnite Vultures-era Beck at molasses pace.

There remains, however, a suspicion that the Gardens & Villa policy is one of revision. The slightly ditzy Spacetime, as enjoyable as it is, feels like old ground retread in new shoes; Star Fire Power’s synth-rock is a fair idea that just about overstays its welcome; Carrizo Plain’s dusty coast-folk delights and frustrates in equal measures, its conviction paling next to the likes of Sleepy Sun.

The band harbour a sound intrinsic to their California roots – particularly elements of natural wistfulness seemingly drawn from the garden they lovingly tend – but it is a brand of soulful freewheeling that doesn’t always pay dividends: Chemtrails five-and-a-half minutes represent a beautiful evocation of the Gardens & Villa ethos, a tender juxtaposition of natural beauty and the human condition, while the same approach in Sunday Morning results in a plodding number reliant on the context of its trackmates.

Such criticism is, of course, a tad trifling: it is not entirely fair to isolate one particular constituent, especially one that is the cog of a coherent whole, the entire album afforded seamless continuity having been recorded live to analogue tape. If nothing else, its warm sounds gratify.

Gardens & Villa, though, is an album that casts light on its creators’ vices as much as their virtues, and, for all the honesty that implies, remains a drawn-out suggestion that the band ought one day to generate a long player more worthy of their principles. Still, not bad for a first go.

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