Gardens & Villa
There’s a quote tucked into the recent documentary film about the iconic design duo Charles and Ray Eames, commenting on the symbiotic nature of Charles and Ray’s marriage, their work life in Venice Beach, their home life not too far away, and their creative life: “Work is art is life is work is art…” It’s a concept so simple a small child could dream it, yet it’s one we tend to lose in the strange, abstract grind of modern life and modern ambition. For Gardens & Villa songwriters Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen, a return to this very harmonious relationship of art/work/life and a rediscovery of the DIY ethos that once defined the pair’s formative creative years mark the defining thread of their head-turning new album, Music For Dogs.
The revelation that we hear play out so inspiringly across Music For Dogs is one that came at a make-or-break moment for the band last year. Pushed to fall in line as an indie-pop act while their artistic interests lie as much in the avant-garde. Pushed deeper into debt just to keep their band alive. Pushed from within to leave the comfort zone of their longtime home base in Santa Barbara and set up a new HQ in Los Angeles. Lynch and Rasmussen responded by bucking the idea of “art as a career” and making art their very way of life. With a top-to-bottom renovation of a warehouse space in LA’s Frogtown neighborhood they’ve named Space Command and shared with visual artists, designers, and creatives, the pair began to live and write music on their own terms, just as they’d done before their music was placed “on the marketplace.”
Music For Dogs is a deeply personal album that pokes, prods, and even strangely celebrates the zeitgeist of music commerce, pleasure culture, technological advances and the new home they’ve found in Los Angeles. The New Age and Eastern Religion sentiments that rippled across their first two albums (2011’s Gardens & Villa and 2014’s Dunes) have been swapped out with a new sort of zen pop-Nihilsm. What’s Nihilism anyway but Buddhism with a fuck-it attitude? They’ve found a way to live on the firing line, a way to actually harvest creative energy from our sad Internet tendencies, the uncertain future. “My whole life fixation/See if we can make it underneath the radar,” goes Lynch and Rasmussen’s respective call-and-response on “Fixations,” a song about the beauty in bottoming out and then finding the false bottom. Lynch could mean living as a creative in the underground or living outside peripheral view of the NSA — or the absurdity of feeling a disconnect from a world that is so very very connected. Under the stewardship of visionary producer Jacob Portrait and with irreplaceable rhythm section Dusty Ineman (drums) and Shane McKillop (bass), “Fixations” — and a great deal of Music For Dogs — is really just Gardens & Villa doing what it has always done best. G&V creates Byzantine melodies and richly interwoven arrangements for synths, guitars and vocals that work incredibly well on a cerebral level, but wouldn’t upset a late night Korean karaoke outing either.
The jaunty, jarring piano and bass that begin “Everybody” perfectly frame the song’s anxiety-riddled themes of 21st Century voyeurism, surveillance and the turnstile of avatars intended to represent our true selves. “Everybody wants the new you/No one cares who you are,” Lynch sings in a repeating chorus before the band collapses into a lovely out of time mall piano breakdown, which itself drops effortlessly back into the jaunty verse section. And the speedball ripper “Maximize Results” that begins the record is perhaps G&V’s most ecstatic, vulnerable moment laid to record to date. It alone is worth the price of admission.
The influences behind Music For Dogs aren’t trying to hide anywhere— Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Bowie’s Low, Bill Nelson’s Chimera, Cleaners From Venus. But the album doesn’t feel wired into a particular 74-84 purview. Music For Dogs maintains a much wider scope, sounding as much like tomorrow as it does ’76. Time is a flat circle anyhow, right? A flat spinning, oblique piece of vinyl. Flip it over. Play it again. Time is a broken record. In our latest, greatest End of Times — here in this Internet Cat Driven Economy — we need Music For Dogs.
L.A.'s De Lux are a post-disco dance-punk DIY duo that sound like they could have come out of 1979 or 1982 just as easily as 2013. Founders and multi-instrumentalists Sean Guerin and Isaac Franco didn't meet so much as simply appear to each other, sometime before high school ended and after learning to correctly fall off skateboards began. Even at age 18, however, it was the kind of connection that had been years in the making. Sean had been writing songs since he was 15 and had spent recent years recording and re-recording his own songs. And Isaac had been on a strict diet of classic and obscure disco and boogie music since he too was 15, figuring out the original source of hip-hop's greatest samples thanks to an older brother with a DJ sideline and an enviable collection. They both were after the same thing in music—the groove, they say, where the bass and the beat align in a perfect way that makes you want a song to go on forever. They were even in a band together, but it wasn't De Lux. But you can hear the exact moment De Lux became a band when you listen to "Better At Making Time," the song they built from Isaac's out-of-nowhere bassline just before practice for that other band was supposed to start: "Sean was like, 'You should record that!'" says Isaac, "and I was like, 'What, really?'"
From lead track "Better At Making Time," De Lux roars through Psychedelic Furs or Duran Duran-style pop ("Love Is A Phase"), delivers shouts and whispers like James Murphy at his most frantic ("Make Space"), sinks into Eno-esque moments of bliss ("On The Day") and rockets through the agit-funk David Byrne-style rave-up finale "Sometimes Your Friends Are Not Your Friends." And this is all from the first-take—they never re-record, says Sean. If they don't perfectly catch that beat as it happens, they let it go. That's probably why Voyage sounds as wild and alive as it does. Just like on that surprise recording "Better Making Time," you're not hearing a band come together. And just like how they met, you're hearing a band appear.