After releasing an album in 2011 that was nice but not very distinctive, Gardens & Villa changed up their strategy enough to make their 2014 album Dunes a huge improvement. Still playing a wistful brand of indie pop with synths that are in turn dreamy and pleasant, the group turned to former DFA member/renowned producer Tim Goldsworthy to add some punch to their sound. His production gives the Dunes a snappy bounce that was definitely missing on their cleanly rendered debut, taking the uptempo tracks straight to the dancefloor. The slower, more introspective tracks have a hazy stickiness and soft rock sweetness that send them right to dreamland. The album is split between the two, almost in an alternating fashion that gives it a choppy feeling and helps each track stand out. The increased energy and attention to sonic detail is very nice, but without songs that work, it's just a fancy package with nothing inside. Luckily, the band respond with some really catchy, hooky tunes that synch up well with Goldsworthy's production. The best of them -- like the very '80s synth pop track "Colony Glen," which gives Christopher Lynch's warbling falsetto a perfect spot to roost, the snaky "Bullet Train" that shows off the nocturnal side of the band and has some smooth synth sounds, or the pulsating dancefloor filler "Avalanche" -- are easily on par with most of the bands they've been accused of mimicking in the past. They show off a nice touch on the album's piano ballads, too, with both the aching "Chrysanthemums" and "Minnesota" displaying a welcome spot of deeply felt emotion to go with the chillwave detachment that pervades the rest of the record. Dunes is a perfect match of band, songs, and producer that works almost perfectly and should mean that the days of Gardens & Villa being compared to their peers are over. If they make more albums this good, other bands will soon be compared to them instead.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra