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Gardens & Villa didn't wait too long to put this one out, and it's clear they wanted to write songs about many ideas. Countless themes were thrown at the wall, and Music for Dogs is everything that stuck and everything that didn't; the latter getting between me and the parts of the album that I really like. One part existential struggle and one part external musings - the narratives pass between each other with little reference to one another. Sadly for the band, this dichotomy has been done before with better results. The self-awareness of 'General Research' is reminiscent of the lamentations of Tim Kasher. However, Kasher's bands, at their best, broke up stories about relationships and personal songwriting critique in a way that relieved and reconciled one another. I'm happy to entertain that variety with Gardens & Villa, but there's a similarly stuffy overflow of instrumental ideas that suffer a similar fate.

As soon as I had played Music for Dogs front to back a couple of times, I realized there were few clues pointing to a cohesive sonic style. From the staccato piano dance of 'Express' to the flanging waves of 'Fixations', there are some fine arrangements. They're planted at the extremes of the band's palette, and could have been used as base ideas for the remaining songs. Instead we get unfinished experiments like 'Happy Times'. An awful chorus ride cymbal (which sounds more like amplifier buzz than an instrument) distracts from a peacefully simple verse that's also killed by a kick drum artlessly breathing into the microphone. It's a picky engineer's critique, but the song is the longest on the record at just four-and-a-half minutes - making it even tougher to gloss over. One of the shortest songs, 'Alone in the City', brandishes Chris Lynch's best vocal melody that beautifully rises for two minutes into an unmatched payoff that begs for bigger drums which remain exactly where they were when the song began. This lack of teamwork between vocal performance and production returns again on 'General Research'. A fantastic video game-like cacophony is frozen in time and crushed by strange intrusions of Lynch's rhetoric. Lyrics about vaporizing cigarettes, an onslaught of emails, and "working for the blogs" are natural to pen, but require a context and purpose that's lost on what could have been Music for Dogs's best piece. Even after several listens, I wanted to take scissors and glue to these 36 minutes.

As Lynch (lyrically) tries to please the masses on 'Research', he's simultaneously digging for tuneful lyrics on 'Jubilee', but mostly ends up sounding like a Pet Shop Boys rip-off. He then introduces imagery of fires and helicopters, reflecting the band's recent relocation from Santa Barbara to LA. I like the juxtaposition of boys and girls going out amidst a crime-ridden town, but as soon as I start to digest the combo, the idea of "American jubilee" is tossed in the mix to further complicate what was otherwise a smart observation with a puzzling "flash of mercury." This is intended to be a commentary on the internet age of music and how it relates to Gardens & Villa. However, they add scenes of romanticism and a final track about missing friends that abruptly breaks apart the tale.

Interestingly, the samples and arrhythmic errata on 'Everybody' and at the beginning of 'Happy Times' are enough synthpop thrift to carry the band. They're sadly bolstered and blown out of proportion as the band try out one too many keyboard tones between washy, Ducktails-sounding lines and a drum machine that's cannibalized on 'Maximize Result', where Lynch and a sputtering synth come together to establish a theme of excess and informational maximalism. Instead of using the rest of the album to break down the finer details of this idea, they merely continue to confer that that's the type of album they're trying to make. Take the lyrics about anxiety paired with overstimulation, the plunky and fun analog pianos on 'Express', the vocal delivery on 'Results' and 'Alone in the City', and hire a full-time electronic drum producer, and Music for Dogs could be something really great. Instead there's a million extraneous forces at play. It's doubly frustrating that there is something about each instrument and song that I truly enjoy (except the drums), but can't focus on due to imprecise mixing and half-baked ideas that block out a real connection between listener and artist. To its credit, it's very listenable and the band were having fun while recording it. However, the potential in lieu of this makes it that much sadder that Gardens & Villa didn't take more time to polish the sounds of last year's Dunes.

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