The Garden – ‘Haha’

Arty Californian twins' debut is overstuffed with ideas, but exciting nonetheless

Between their indecent rich-boy prettiness, huge female fan base and forays into high fashion, Orange Country twins Wyatt and Fletcher Shears are basically this year’s garage rock ‘It Band’. On their much-anticipated second album, however, it’s clear the brothers have higher aspirations than just celebrity girlfriends and sweatbox gigs.

The Californians like to see themselves as less ‘musicians’ more ’artists’ who it just so happens ‘use music as their canvas’. You know the type. Amid the garage rock here sit abstract spoken-word pieces, surrealist lyrics and a whole heap of perverse genre-jumping (jungle, rap and, on ‘Egg’, the easy-listening balladry of one Engelbert Humperdinck all feature). They’ve christened their sound ‘vada vada’, a reference to early 20th century art movement Dadaism whose nonsensical ‘dada’ concept was intended to convey an anti-art meaninglessness. And if the brothers’ music is about anything it’s meaninglessness.

But while the brothers’ willingness to take inspiration from art’s most outré concepts often makes for original guitar music – in particular a unique strain of punk – unfortunately the ‘art’ side of things is lightweight and always at the expense of their real talent, which is for catchy and cute songwriting.

The Garden are at their best when shooting straight. Jungle and rap tracks like ‘Jester’s Game’ and ‘We Be Grindin’ are great for amping live audiences but little else. The real gems are the fast and simplistic, bass-driven guitar tracks like the Cramps aping ‘Vexation or ‘I’ll Stop By Tomorrow Night’, a one-of-a-kind take on macabre punk. There’s ‘Gift’, which sounds like a raving mad mix of Liars and Joe Meek-associated ’60s group The Tornados, and the title track, a carnivalesque corker which somehow manages to sound simultaneously like ’90s college rock and Metronomy. It’s stuff like this which has earned the band instant cult status. The schizophrenic ‘This Could Build Us A Home’ flits between rapid break beats, 8-bit punk and lounge music. There’s a real sense of freedom here, as the boys revel in going anywhere they want to go. They’ve got the Dadaist’s sense of playfulness absolutely down pat.

Theses songs hark back to the early west coast punk scene, where punk was interpreted well beyond the limits of shouty vocals and over-driven power chords, where it could mean anything as long as it was borne of sheer imagination. It seems no coincidence that ‘Red Green Yellow’ borrows liberally from that scene’s jazz-punk geniuses, Minutemen. ‘Crystal Clear’ invokes the spirit of another band of Californian experimentalists – rap-rock fusionists, Faith No More – whose lead singer Mike Patton would go on to have exactly the kind of avant garde career The Garden would dearly love to enjoy. They just don’t have the chops.

But if there is one artistic achievement to their magpie approach it’s that, intentionally or not, their music perfectly captures modern California, where Twitter-damaged 20-somethings with minds like 70-channel televisions drink and drug their way through over-stimulated drudgery. For that alone, ‘Ha Ha’ is a worthwhile listen.