The latest and greatest band to come out of Santa Barbara, Gardens and Villa, played to an enthusiastic crowd at the Barn Wednesday night. The band was the headliner for the highly anticipated “free secret indie concert,” which was not announced publicly until April 24.
The group’s rise has been quick. After leaving their hometown of Santa Barbara (the name “Gardens and Villa” comes from a street near where they lived) they moved to Oregon to record their debut album. They were featured at Coachella 2012, and are now continuing to tour the United States with wild success.
Gardens and Villa has a compelling sound, since they manage to blend so many genres into each individual song, resulting in something all their own. There is definitely a 90s Britpop tone to some of the songs, blended with an 80s synthesized vibe. Frontman Christopher Lynch‘s signature is to add a traditional Native American flute to the songs, playing in harmony with the other instruments and occasionally breaking off into a solo, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The opening band, Milo Greene, set the stage for the evening perfectly. Milo Greene will be releasing their debut album this summer, and judging by the crowd’s reaction at the Barn, they are off to a great start. Their easy listening indie folk sound is difficult to dislike, and they had a great stage presence that kept the crowd moving along with them. In addition to their originals, Milo Greene also performed a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ classic song, “All Things Go.” The group truly made it a new song that is much heavier than the original.
Headliners Gardens and Villa opened with “Thorn Castles,” which prepared the audience for a unique show. The track could be best described as 80s electronica with Native American traditional flute. Somehow it worked. While there were some technical difficulties with overpowering bass, the audience response was still positive, with one member yelling “We like it!” when a band member pointed out the faux pas. The band member then agreed, saying, “yeah, I think we kind of like it too!”
One audience favorite was “Black Hills,” one of the band’s more contemplative songs. This has been a highly successful single, and it is easy to see why. “Sunlight” was crooned like a mantra or chant, alongside synthesized drum beats. It is very clear that Gardens and Villa focuses on vibes and harmonies rather than lyrics, holding long vowel sounds and incorporating intricate harmonies. While the lyrics are simple, usually about nature, the universe, or an abstract philosophy, they are certainly fascinating. “All through the night I was a redwood before your door… sunlight through the blinds, black hills, white nights,” Lynch crooned in “Black Hills.”
The group ended the evening with another successful single, “Orange Blossom.” With a slow, spacey vibe, the song felt dreamy and light, with a much slower bass than usual. The casual percussion creates a relaxed mood as well. To me, the popular song was reminiscent of Prince albums “Sign O the Times” and “Around the World in a Day.” As could be expected, the audience did not want the evening to end. The room broke into chanting as all demanded “one more song.” The band seemed more than happy to accommodate the request.
Though the band recorded in Oregon, their sound is pure California—breezy, whimsical and unique. This laid back, natural vibe permeates through the electronic beats. UC Riverside was fortunate to get this band straight from Coachella, and I can hardly wait to see what Gardens and Villa will come up with next.