Gardens & Villa

Dunes (Secretly Canadian)

Rating: NNN

Urban sounds intrude into nature-obsessed pop music on the second album by Santa Barbara five-piece Gardens & Villa. Producer Tim Goldsworthy (Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours) toughens up the group’s bucolic flower-power vibes with 80s analog synth glam that complements singer Chris Lynch’s impressionistic lyrics about love in a retro-futuristic dystopia.

Lynch’s airy vocals and penchant for the flute were the band’s signatures on their 2011 debut, but this time his instrumental gifts are used in service of straight-forward pop songwriting rather than elusive hippie-dippy ambience.

Bands that intentionally obscure their lyrics are often doing so to hide the fact that those lyrics suck, so it’s nice to hear Gardens & Villa’s discernible words they’re not just using atmospherics as a surrogate for substance. Goldsworthy’s highly layered mix of sounds maintains a pleasant balance between harder edges and winsome feel-good vibes. Fluttering opener Domino, the sparkly synth-funk of Avalanche and shuffling Purple Mesa are among the album’s standouts.

Top track: Avalanche

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