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Gardens & Villa: Dunes 

For their second album, this Santa Barbara, Calif., quintet ditched the beach to record at the retro-themed Key Club in frigid Benton Harbor, Mich.

That contrast—and the forced sense of isolation and dislocation—guides the mood of Dunes, blending enthusiasm with uneasiness, energy with loneliness, as frontman Chris Lynch unleashes an eerie falsetto on top of the fat, rolling synth grooves.

Album opener "Domino" establishes the marriage of disembodied flute melodies and synthesizer immediately. It's a bouncing and skittering track that mostly serves as a warm-up for the one-two punch of singles "Colony Glenn" and "Bullet Train," edgy, pulsating songs that are also the album's catchiest.

Lyrically, they deal with disorienting changes and shifts; the idea that life is fleeting hangs hauntingly over both. On "Bullet Train," Lynch sings of burned-out young lives, those who worked too hard taking "magnetic rails to the stars."

Other highlights include the spiraling space-funk of "Echosassy" and the comforting solitude found in the pensive, piano-driven "Minnesota."

Dunes reveals the degree to which the band's 2011's self-titled debut reflected the eccentricities of producer Richard Swift. Now that they are working with DFA Records' Tim Goldsworthy (Cut Copy, the Rapture and LCD Soundsystem), Gardens & Villa sound more focused. There isn't necessarily more synthesizer on Dunes, but it has a more prominent and compelling role. Here, it's emphasis; there it was accent. The change makes for a stronger and livelier Gardens & Villa.

More by Eric Swedlund

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