Gardens & Villa bring a new philosophy to a retro sound on their latest album Music for Dogs. Similar to acts that first embraced, and then put their own unique spin on 1980s-sounding synthesizers in the 2000s such as Washed Out and Thieves Like Us, Gardens & Villa put their own twist on a retro synthpop aesthetic by adding staccato piano and live percussion. It’s a solid instrumental marriage that when mixed with vocals reminiscent of a more subdued Howard Jones, make for a decent collection of eleven mostly lovely and thoughtful pop songs.
Music for Dogs opens with erratic synths that sound like that pre-movie THX speaker test on acid. “Maximize Results”, the album’s proper opener, kicks things into gear with a driving guitar line and handclaps. Around the one minute mark, a pounding piano falls into the mix for the first time and makes an appearance on just about every song hereafter. On “Everybody”, between jazzy piano breaks, Chris Lynch sings, “Everybody wants the new you, no one cares who you are.” This isn’t the first reference G&V will make to the disposability of digital culture. A much more direct message, this one related to the lethargy often brought upon by handheld conveniences, can be found on the song “General Research”.
Undaunted, Gardens & Villa cut through the modern world’s wired and wireless wonders, aiming directly for listener’s hearts. The most effective of these moments appears on the song “Alone in the City”, a beautiful ballad that features sparse percussion and a soaring chorus that includes the line, “This place is a nightmare, when I can’t be right there in your arms.” Additionally, the track “Happy Times”, with its slightly treated vocals and cryptic narrative, that may or may not be about a successful threesome, reminds us that the human connection is the most important.
The album’s final song “I Already Do” blends the slightest distortion with light piano touches, providing a perfect backdrop for a song that’s wisely kept under four minutes long. The track’s sing-along chorus of, “I’m going to miss everyone, I think I already do” is appropriate for obvious reasons, but beyond being a solid closing statement, is one of the record’s finest moments, and smartly makes the listener eager for another go round.
Music for Dogs isn’t perfect. The song “Fixations” gets repetitive after the 2:30 mark, and “Express” and “Jubilee” temporarily abandon the more thoughtful lyrics present on the majority of the album, coming across as being a little too on the nose. Still, Music for Dogs is a good introduction to Gardens & Villa’s sound, and overall a better than average record.