It’s always baffled me that there exists truly good albums I genuinely disliked upon first listen. The Pixies Surfer Rosa for example. As a teen in the thralls of a purist punk phase I felt the music was sloppy, disconnected. Joey Santiago’s leads I thought elementary and dissonant and in my youthful ignorance thought even I could write better guitar riffs. It was not until a few passes that I realized this minimalist approach was intentional. A perfect marriage. Well thought out. A calculated formula. Though Music for Dogs is in no way the monolith that is Surfer Rosa, this was certainly my experience hearing the latest offering from the Santa Barbara, CA hometown heroes Gardens and Villa.
Recently downsized to the core of the group Chris Lynch (guitar, lead vocals) and Adam Rasmussen (synthesizer) the duo exude the familiar face of many great acts these days, channeling the past. As the album grows on me I’m reminded why I was initially thrown off by the frantic opener Maximize Results which invokes the air of vocalist Lynch engaged in a karaoke sing along to a Chemical Brothers B side. Following suit is the psych-pop, Tame Impala-esque Fixations. We finally see their true synthy colors peek through in track 3 Everybody. Finally in the fine fashion of an Elton John cabaret number, Paradise, does the bands hit their genre-bending stride and for me, this album truly begins.
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Melody and lyrics alike, Alone in the City hits on the track’s title and captures what it truly is….to be alone…..in the city. Addictively catchy and earnest, this sing along is sure to resonate with anyone who can relate to what it’s like feeling like a small stone in a very big, unfamiliar pond. Sure to please fans and early adopters General Research and Express retain the Modern New Wave (think Depeche Mode) mystique Gardens and Villa is not only known for but, a cut above the rest, have perfected. Segue into another unforgettable tune; a romantic “may I have this dance” circa 1985, Happy Times delivers along with Jubilee exactly that: excerpts from an 80’s sock hop, but with their knack of simultaneously presenting it with such modern flair…..and slightly European. The hasty 36 minute LP ends with what is perhaps the strongest and most memorable piece I Already Do. Again, heartfelt, Lynch croons in his benchmark falsetto “I’m gonna miss everyone, I think I already do”, the track taps into that innate, universal feeling of despair. The yearning for love and acceptance.
Quickly earning a spot on my regular rotation, they certainly received that recognition from me. In hindsight Music for Dogs accomplishes for me what is the most desirable of traits: No two songs sound the same while maintaining a theme, which in this album the theme is clear; staying true to your core self in a world of change. I know it’s easier said than done but my greatest hope would be that this desire is achieved with minimal effort. Without trying too hard.