In 2010 David Byrne presented a TED talk in which he put forward the idea that architecture is instrumental in inspiring music. In order to showcase his point he took us from the plains of Africa, and the birth of music, up to what he described as "the very worst music venue" the arena. It's a convincing argument, but I think it extends further than the man-made and that it is worth considering that even our natural surroundings inform and inspire us in our creative pursuits.

This environmental exaltation is evident on Dunes, the second album from Gardens & Villa. Their self-titled debut was a catchy collection of indie pop tracks that had more than a subtle nod to 60s surf rock and perfectly captured the image of Santa Barbara's sunny beaches. For its follow-up they headed to Benton Harbor, Michigan to record at Key Club studios. Trading the sunny beaches of home for the cold barren landscapes of Michigan in January, the band initially struggled to record the songs they had written, despite being surrounded by retro, analog recording equipment and assisted in production by Tim Goldsworthy (Cut Copy, LCD Soundsystem and Hercules & Love Affair). A trip out to a nearby state park and the snow topped dunes - which provide fantastic views over Lake Michigan - provided the necessary inspiration and a week later the band left the studio with Dunes, an album that is in many ways the antithesis of the debut.

Opening track 'Domino' glistens as Chris Lynch's flute flutters over Adam Rasmussen's deep synthesisers. Underneath is a beat that sounds like footsteps crunching in snow. There is a melancholic introspection to the lyrics as Lynch sings "Days are numbered, falling under, chasing all the dominoes - for too long." It's a long way from the summery optimism of their debut and reveals the darker direction their music has taken.

'Colony Glen', a track created from ominous synths that could easily sit on a Depeche Mode song, are perfectly matched to Lynch's lyrics of betrayal and of being haunted by the memory of what was a friendship. Meanwhile 'Bullet Train' with its muted flute takes a dystopian look a urban living in LA. The youth of LA are described as "young shillouettes" featureless replicas chasing a dream that's ultimately "doomed from the start". These themes run throughout the album as Gardens & Villa re-evaluate their relationship with home and the loss of youth that came with being on the road for the past two years.

Where Dunes really shines is on tracks like 'Chrysanthemums' and 'Minnesota', two beautiful piano-led ballads where Lynch's falsetto is complimented by a female vocalist. On 'Chrysanthemums' he sings of a vehicle breakdown; though given the use of images of childhood ("finger painting in the parking lot") which are juxtaposed with the rebellion of teenage and young adult life, its possible that the one accident is triggering the memory of the other. The combination of piano, subtle synthesisers and soft percussion further reinforces this idea of nostalgia, but one that is ultimately filled with sadness - especially in the image of the red light of a stop sign illuminating through rain-soaked windows.

Compared to their debut album, Dunes marks a step up in the band's sound. Their first album was characterised by a distinctly lo-fi sound (particularly for the vocals) whilst Dunes is far more polished and allows for Chris Lynch's vocals to really convey the range of emotion dealt with on the record. On 'Minnesota' his voice seems almost unable to hold back from cracking with regret. Musically, the band seem to be working much more comfortably with one another. Guitars and synthesisers are layered so that neither over-powers the other. 'Thunder Glove' is a great example of this, as a driving synthesiser melody sits alongside a bright guitar lead, each one occasionally lifted as and when it needs to be the focus. Meanwhile other melodies are faintly introduced to add depth and a touch of warmth to what might otherwise have been a bleak, cold record. The fact that Gardens & Villa have avoided this and managed to make a heartbreaking, yet also infectious electronic pop album just goes to show the maturity they have gained since 2011.