"Horseshit on Route 66" is The Garden’s most experimental album yet

by Jack Ognibene

"Horseshit on Route 66" is The Garden’s most experimental album yet

The experimental rock duo of unreasonably handsome Californian twins known as The Garden returned earlier this month with their fifth studio album, Horseshit on Route 66. While the release is fairly brief, only clocking in at about 25 minutes, it packs a massive punch both in the abrasive sound it brings to the table and the contexts in which they put that sound. There are some misses at points, but there is enough sonic variety to maintain full attention for the album’s duration. It is their most solid overall release to date, hands down.

Horseshit on Route 66 firmly earns the title of experimental throughout its runtime, more so than previous The Garden releases. Luckily, it works substantially more often than it doesn’t: for example, the song “Freight Yard” seems to be a fairly straightforward indie rock song with some cool vocal samples and percussive metal clanks, but around the halfway point there’s a massive sonic freakout – and then it just returns to the original riff until the end like nothing happened. It’s definitely jarring upon first listen, but sounds better after a few playthroughs. The lead single for this album, “Orange County Punk Rock Legend,” incorporates some heavy, rattling bass that works surprisingly well. The song also has an interesting guitar riff that sounds like an indietronica melody. “X in the Dirt,” meanwhile, plays with some dissonant melodies during the verse that exude an infectious, manic energy. There was clearly no shortage of interesting ideas flowing when the twins were writing this album.

It’s interesting to note how many different genres The Garden pulls from on this album; on some tracks you can tell exactly who the artists and genres influences are. For example, “Puerta de Limosina” is unambiguously a hardcore punk track, in the same vein as Minor Threat or a late Misfits record – fast, heavy, and chaotic. There are a few other examples of late punk worship on this album, such as “Oc93” and the titular “Horseshit on Route 66.” In fact, that’s probably the most omnipresent genre on the record, evidenced by the obvious punk aesthetics on the cover of the album. That’s by no means the only source material, though: there’s some gabber influence and Andy Morin worship on “What Else Could I Be But a Jester,” for example. It’s interesting to note that The Garden collaborated with Morin on a single last year, “French Kiss the Abyss,” that previewed their sound on this album. There’s even some twinges of the late 70’s New York no-wave scene on parts of this album, especially on the intro track “Haunted House on Zillow” and “Squished Face Slick Pig Living in a Smokey City.” Between all these influences, it’s a really intriguing collection of sounds packed into just 25 minutes.

There are definitely points where the band delves too deep into abstract sound, or where the experiment goes awry, so to speak. While “Squished Face Slick Pig Living in a Smokey City” has some cool sounds going on, the hook becomes more annoying and tedious than anything – not in the way Michael Gira’s vocals on an early Swans track emits certain anguish and anger through tedium, but instead more like an annoying little brother yelling the same phrase into your ear about a hundred times. A similar case is the last half of “Horseshit on Route 66,” where there is another sonic freakout that is much less structured, less impactful, and perhaps less thought out. Given the short runtime of the album, these negative points stick out more than usual. Perhaps in future releases, they will iron out the kinks in their formula and deliver more consistent material, especially after having grown more acquainted with writing and producing this type of material.

That being said, the way in which The Garden plays with sound on this album works more often than not. The mix of songs here is eclectic, but it all comes together cohesively in the end, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Horseshit on Route 66 is worth a listen for that reason alone.

The Garden comes to Boston on Oct. 4, at Big Night Live.