Music

Gardens & Villa: Music for Dogs (take 2)

Music for Dogs strikes a delicate balance of emotional warmth and cerebral chill.


Gardens & Villa

Music for Dogs

Label: Secretly Canadian
US Release Date: 2015-08-21
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

Gardens & Villa have returned with Music for Dogs, their third album for Secretly Canadian. It’s a departure from last year’s Dunes, and that’s a reflection of changes both personal and professional in the last year. Songwriters Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen moved out of Santa Barbara, California to the artist community of Frogtown in Los Angeles. They now share a warehouse, dubbed Space Command, with other creative types. It’s a decision that’s really benefitted their art. While not a sophomore slump, there’s a sense that Dunes was not the record they envisioned

Lynch and Rasmussen have channeled the turmoil and changes of the past year into an LP of material that is at times frantic and foreboding. The brooding “Intro” gives way to “Maximize Results”, a cut that crackles with an underlying sense of paranoia and tension. It's the combination of a motorik beat, breathless vocals, and driving, urgent piano on the chorus. It’s romantic anxiety standing in for a more general feeling of anxiety. Lyrically, it picks up on the anxiety of living in a surveillance society. Like Neil Young on “Speakin’ Out”, sometimes the TV watches them.

The paranoia of “Maximize Results” gives way to “Fixations”, a bright, warm tune, whose melody and use of synths make it sound like a long-lost cousin to Surfer Blood’s “Dorian". It’s the sort of song you’d file away for use on a mix for your latest crush. The sequencing of the first three tracks shows an impressive grasp of tension and release. When “Fixations” begin, it’s like that part in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy walks out of the house, after it’s landed in Oz and the black and white starkness of Kansas is replaced with the bright and color land of Oz.

Subsequent tracks “Everybody” and “Paradise” don’t follow that approach, but differ enough in timbre, that the listener is never overwhelmed by a sense of sameness. Lynch and Rasmussen have a knack for surrounding their melodies in interesting and inventive arrangements. The arrangements are never intrusive and enhance rather than detract from the songs. The brevity of the song titles belies the lushness of the production.

Maintaining the structural template established in the first part of the record is a wonderful idea. It creates some great moments of tension and release. In addition, it reflects the fact that in life, progression in anything, is not necessarily a constant, upwards trajectory. There will be setbacks and frustrations. There will be days where things seem so bleak, it’s difficult to hope for something better. It’s not my place to make assumptions about the mindset of Lynch and Rasmussen, but perhaps their turmoils, personal and professional, coupled with the move to a new location, influenced the sequencing and songwriting for Music for Dogs.

It’s on “Alone in the City” where the paranoia and anxiety returns and it's full blown on “General Research”, a title that sounds straight out of the Krautrock playbook. The theme of technological alienation from “Maximize Results” returns, this time instead of television, the focus is on the omnipresence of email. “Express” features a mechanistic rhythm that at times recalls Field Music doing their best impression of XTC circa-Drums and Wires.

“Happy Times” as the name suggests, focuses on more pleasant emotions. It serves as a snapshot into a relationship, capturing the rush of feelings that come with hitting it off with someone new. It’s unclear if the relationship is platonic or romantic, but any interpretation is valid. It’s reminiscent of that easy sort of camaraderie between dorm mates that accompanies the early part of college, when most everyone is a little unsure of their place in the world and searching for a sense of belonging. The song ends with sounds from the street, a snippet of a mariachi band, evoking the influence of Latino culture on the sights and sounds of Los Angeles.

“Jubilee” picks on the thread of L.A. imagery from the preceding track, but focuses on the uglier aspects of city life, namely snarl of traffic and pollution. The refrain, “It’s an American Jubilee” calls to mind “I Love L.A.”, Randy Newman’s sarcastic ode to the city.

“I Already Do” ends the album on a hopeful note, it’s a wistful and nostalgic track, one that longs for the people and places of times gone by. Moving to a new location and leaving all you knew behind can be an isolating experience. And while the turmoil is evident in the lyrics of Lynch and Rasmussen, it’s also led to artistic growth. These emotions were channeled into a record that is vital and displays a great deal of thought and care.

At just over 36 minutes, Music for Dogs never overstays its welcome. While very approachable, the record does invite and subsequently reward repeat listening. Music for Dogs strikes a delicate balance of emotional warmth and cerebral chill. It’s the well-crafted and thoughtful piece of music that one expects from Secretly Canadian.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.