by ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)
The Garden, two twins from Orange County, California, have to be one of the most unique musical acts performing today. In the past, they have made an album of very quick, basic and catchy punk rock songs and created their own genre that they have titled ‘Vada Vada’. On their previous album haha, the duo took a different approach to their music that featured more synths and drum machines, adding a new dimension to their songs which had previously been largely just bass guitar and drums. Whilst the simple approach was catchy, it did not provide much substance; however, on haha it paid off and resulted in one of the most interesting albums of 2015.
Since then, The Garden have been releasing strange singles as well as an EP titled U Want The Scoop? which, for the most part, sees them take on the persona of jesters. This is reflected in much of the single artwork and music videos, as well as their ever-evolving sound which seems to become more theatrical with each release. These releases built up anticipation to see what direction their next record would take. In short, they have followed the over-the-top and theatrical direction and seem to be continuing to play the role of jesters. The experimental and unique tone of haha does shine through every so often and reminds the listener of the musical talent and potential possessed by the twins, as well as the occasional punk moment crashing through the theatrics, such as the second half of the track ‘😦‘ which sounds like a weird Black Flag cover.
Lead singer Wyatt Shears is known for having a very animated vocal style, fairly uncommon in other music releases in recent years. It’s not for everyone – at times, it can become a bit tiresome and overly cartoon sounding like on Bad News, but this is nothing new for a Garden track. Those who have listened previously will be acquainted with the style and will have decided if it is for them or not. On Mirror Might Steal Your Charm, the vocal performances are at their most animated and can range from sounding great to overly-animated whiny shouting, which is one of the inconsistencies heard throughout their albums. The same could be said for the lyrics, which can blend in with the quirky instrumentals but do sometimes come off as ridiculous and over-the-top.
This album is also the most electronic of their releases so far, with songs like Banana Peel and A Message For Myself featuring electronic beats that sound inspired by drum & bass. While the combination of genres is great to hear and has been executed in a new and interesting way, there are moments on this album where it begins to sound excessive and overly indulgent. A prime example of this is the first half of “😦“ where some of the puerile sound effects are comparable to silly keyboard effects used in high school music classes to annoy teachers; this is where these effects should be left. Sometimes, though, the addition of synths and other electronic sounds can create a more atmospheric and moody tone like on Make a Wish or Shameless Shadow, in which the electronic sounds and synths add another dimension to the song rather than side-tracking the listener’s focus.
Some of the better moments off this album come from The Garden twins finding the right balance of old and new. Using their punk roots and experimental drive they can create some great songs that sound nothing like anything you’ll be able to find anywhere else. On opening track Stallion, The Garden put their spin on an old punk sound that works really well. They sound as though they are truly in their own genre of ‘Vada Vada’, where they have no contemporaries and embrace their differences to create unique music. This can be heard on tracks like Who Am I Going To Share All Of This Wine With and the closing track No Destination, which both use a punk-sounding aggressive baseline and the great drumming of Fletcher Shears and combine it with the more theatrical side of their personalities. These tracks also provide examples of where the lyrics and vocal performances reach their peak, such as the chorus of No Destination where the vocal effects perfectly complement the tone of the track, merging well with the instrumentals.
Mirror Might Steal Your Charm sees The Garden continue to push themselves out into unknown territory, risking losing fans of their old material and coming off as gimmicky. Luckily for them, their musical talent is enough reason to still listen to their music, but there are times where they can sound over-the-top and seem to focus on excessive weirdness rather than quality, as well as coming off as all over the place and lacking a cohesive structure. The albums often feels closer to being a collection of show tunes than the punk rock that got the band their start, however it is interesting to see where this direction will continue to push them and, indeed, if it is sustainable. Whilst this newest release may not strike a chord like haha did, there are still some good tracks and solid moments throughout the album. Hopefully with their next release, The Garden can hone in on the special moments from this album and search for the perfect balance.