Some film buffs enjoy collecting old home movies, because they’re fascinated by the tactile qualities of celluloid, and they like seeing the accidental abstract art that occurs when printed images of banal domesticity begin to decay. The Santa Barbara indie-rock quartet Gardens & Villa has a similar aesthetic, except that the band’s source material is more like import 12-inch singles of forgotten 1980s synthpop, overlaid with the blunt, hooky messages of socialist propaganda anthems and TV advertising jingles. And Gardens & Villa’s co-frontmen Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen aren’t waiting for the rot to creep in. The duo approximates the sound of 100 years from now, when some future generation might find the cultural detritus of the late 20th century all baked together in the California sun.
Gardens & Villa’s brisk third album, Music For Dogs, is barely over 35 minutes long and is dotted with songs like “Everybody,” which surrounds the half-optimistic/half-disturbing chorus “Everybody wants the new you / No one cares who you are” with woozy, heavy synthesizers that drag against the swift tempo. Lynch and Rasmussen’s juxtapositions are subtle but unmistakable. On “Paradise,” a wistful melody and lyrics about an almost-attainable utopia push are swallowed up by echo and synth-buzz, while on “Jubilee,” the recollection of some past nationwide party is rendered in a joyless monotone. Everything here is slightly out of sync—frequently beautiful, but veined with a sense of menace and loss.
Music For Dogs is more in the mode of the band’s self-titled 2011 debut album than 2014’s Dunes—the latter of which had a slicker veneer, crafted with the help of veteran dance-music producer Tim Goldsworthy. This time out, Lynch and Rasmussen and their rhythm section of Shane McKillop and Dustin Ineman worked with Jacob Portrait, who brought them back to their dusty, lo-fi roots. And while the songs on Music For Dogs aren’t as richly arranged and composed as those on the previous two albums, that may be by design. The “found artifact” quality of this record demands the uncomplicated core of a “General Research,” a droning track that takes an emotionally distant inventory of modern technology and communication. The art is in how Gardens & Villa muddies up that song, finding meaning in the spatter.