There's a part of my reactionary indie rock psyche that automatically categorises all the new-fangled electro pop outfits flooding today's airwaves as opportunistic money-chasing harlots tailoring their output to the artistic middle ground in the hope of snagging themselves a lucrative deal soundtracking adverts for smartphones or flatpack furniture. The music itself isn't the problem, it's the sanitised removal of raw emotion and visceral realism in favour of an antiseptic swoosh of inoffensive synths and emasculated falsetto vocals - if 'Overkill' era Motorhead is the aural equivalent of spending August wearing the same pair of leather trousers, the wave of hipster vegan electro outfits doing the rounds right now would be a more fitting soundtrack to reading Grazia magazine whilst having your arsehole bleached. But like all plagues to have raged across the music world over the years, resistance can only be achieved by acknowledging the pestilence and raking through it until you find something worth listening to - last year saw the unfeasibly bitchin' 'Tides End' LP from Brooklyn's Minks shine forth like Renton's lost suppository from the betting shop scene in 'Trainspotting' as a deeply satisfying hit of gorgeous electro pop and scene queens the Pet Shop Boys rolled back the years with the reassuringly human return to form 'Electric' album bolstered by the single 'Love Is A Bourgeois Construct' which should have been their biggest hit since 'It's A Sin'. The key is both cases was an anchor in cynicism and down to earth humour, a chink in the polished armour that reminds you that the creators of the music are resolutely human, faults and all - hooks are all well and good but they cease to amaze if it feels like they've been churned out by a computer programme.
Santa Barbara's Gardens and Villa might just be the next addition to that illustrious roster on the basis of their second LP 'Dunes' which landed last month on the back of some stellar singles - their debut drifted into focus back in 2011 with little to distinguish it from the pack but they've put their time to good use since then and pared their songwriting chops back to a potent blend of infectious electro melodies and classic 80s pop dynamics. Like all decent pop records there's a litany of potential singles and precious little fucking around, kicking straight into gear with a rush of memorable four minute marvels that recall mid 80s Thompson Twins and Human League at their instantly accessible peak. They're swimming in the sounds and styles of that golden era of stick microphones and pink neon, lifting the studio polish and debonair poise of 1985's pop monarchs instead of merely pilfering their material for a couple of recognisable samples and the shimmering cuboid twang of 'Bullet Train' plants its flag at the crossroads of new wave indie and synth pop to stunning effect. They use their electro hooks sparingly enough to avoid saturating the material, instead letting the chiming guitar lines and bulbous rhythm section lay the foundations for their radio-friendly triggers to provide the lethal finishing touch - the glut of hits in waiting that opens the record gives way to the night-drive glide of 'Purple Mesas' only for the cassette funk pop of 'Avalanche' to emerge like a neon sign in the middle distance and the closing run signs off like the polished soul pop of mature ABC and Spandau Ballet, factoring in influences from across the musical spectrum for a deftly-crafted slab of streamlined synth pop. They keep it trim and the next satisfying pop bloodrush is never far away but the delivery is steady-handed enough to leave you wanting more after the sunrise kiss off of 'Love's Theme' closes the record and this is an LP packing enough bejewelled thrills to keep you coming back for endless repeat listens - take it from me, it's been my go-to choice for weekday mornings since I bought it a few weeks back. Electro may be perilously close to losing its soul to the advertising executives these days but there are still a few bands out there capable of balancing style and substance to produce material that can cross over to mainstream media without losing its humanity in the mixing console and 'Dunes' is a perfect example of how things sound when that balance is struck right.
Check out : the promo for 'Bullet Train', straight outta that 1985 time capsule.