Not to kick a state when it’s already down in so many ways, but Michigan isn’t that inspiring. At least, its supposed majesty and change in environment did little to nothing for Santa Barbara band Gardens & Villa. On their sophomore LP, Dunes, the group delivers some slick tracks ultimately resulting in forgettable hooks. Not a single synth nor harmony seems to reflect Benton Harbor, the small town that Gardens & Villa hunkered down in when writing and recording their latest endeavor. Opener “Domino” has the cascading elements and glissando action of a sonic domino effect in that it starts off so incredibly strong, only to topple.
From there, “Colony Glen” and “Bullet Train” feel rather generic. There are occasional clever bursts, as with the throwback ’80s dance blast of “Echosasssy,” but those moments are lost in an almost overwhelming layer of effects. Drum pads and high hat-heavy percussion would sound far more driving if it weren’t paired with almost cacophonous harmonies of organs and synths. Along with frontman Chris Lynch’s earnest vocals, the barrage of excess noise leaves little room left to even enjoy the track, much less take the sum of its parts in for a proper critique.
The album cools as it comes to a close with slower tracks like “Minnesota” and “Love Theme,” planted at the end of the album almost as a way to explicitly usher in its comedown. The subtleties that separate the quality bedroom indie rock from, say, your next door neighbor literally trying to record in bed, seem to feel all the more elusive to Gardens & Villa. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the group’s approach to music, especially given Dunes‘ crystal clear and clean sound. It’s the album’s lack of distinction that calls not only its quality into question but the future of the band itself.