WRITTEN BY: Fletcher Gamwell
The Garden, named for the metaphor of music “growing and evolving,” is a duo project formed by twin brothers Wyatt and Fletcher Shears in 2011. They released their out-of-the-box debut album The Life and Times of a Paperclip in 2013, and have since garnered success with three other full-length albums in which they play with the boundaries of experimental punk, drum and bass, and fast rock music. Hailing from Orange County, California, The Garden is known for the creation and embodiment of “Vada Vada,” a genre the band coined to signify their philosophy of throwing typical music conventions and rules to the wind, defying definition by one existing genre. With that in mind, it is almost impossible to foresee the musical choices that will be made on an upcoming The Garden album, creating an element of suspense and anticipation that I adore. The only predictable trait to The Garden is their love for the unpredictable.
The Garden released Horsesh*t on Route 66 on September 8th as their fifth full-length studio album. Short but sweet with a runtime under 30 minutes, Horsesh*t on Route 66 is a horror-themed, silly, nightmarish, genre-mashing work that is perfect for ringing in the fast-approaching spooky season. Previous full-length albums such as Mirror Might Steal Your Charm and Kiss My Superbowl Ring showcase The Garden with a whirling, eclectic, high-energy sound, leaving a high bar for the duo to follow. After listening, I would argue this is their most cohesive and well-thought-out release yet.
Intro track “Haunted House on Zillow” sets the stage for supernatural spooks and scares (oh my) with audio clips of interviews in which people discuss haunted houses, ghosts, and whether strange and unexplainable things are real at all. This track is short, but extremely effective at introducing the overarching theme of the album. Haunting, freaky motifs are featured in every song, appropriately sandwiched between the intro track and the final track. In a recent interview with Esquire, The Garden discussed their mutual interest in ghosts and spirits, stating that it had always been a desire of theirs to express their infatuation musically. While the album explores other elements such as punk-scene nostalgia and stubborn individuality, this overarching theme of the supernatural is a strong foundation upholding the album. Prior to the official album release, The Garden released tracks “Freight Yard,” “Chainsaw the Door,” and “Orange County Punk Rock Legend” as singles. All three stand-alone well, carrying catchy melodies and interesting lyricism. “Chainsaw the Door” leans the most into the horror theme, painting an image of using a chainsaw to destroy a door to find something or someone eerie and supernatural on the other side, while “Orange County Punk Rock Legend” inspires listeners to wonder if the duo dreams of seeing themselves go down in California punk history.
Following the establishing intro track, you are thrown into “OC93,” a song that further establishes The Garden’s need to “just be what they have to be” and fuel their own creative endeavors despite any criticism or questioning from others. Before saying anything else, they scream:
“I could give two sh*ts on what you plan to do / I can do me and you do you”
A killer heavy guitar line layered with yelling vocals leads into one of the catchiest choruses on this album and a subsequent bridge with an incredibly satisfying chord progression. Without a doubt, this is my favorite song on the album. Listening to “Puerta de Limosina” immediately after the melodic “OC93” feels like a bizarre dream you can’t remember—over before you know it and practically overwhelming with the amount of pounding drums and incessant guitar. I appreciate that The Garden fully goes for the craziness in the song, but I find myself longing for more music with a clear beginning, middle, and end. My craving for a coherent storyline in a song is immediately satisfied both by “Freight Yard” and the title track “Horsesh*t on Route 66.” Both tracks are wonderfully catchy and feature guitar lines that are pleasing to the ear.
While most of this album is bizarre in the best way, a few things come off as strange and unfinished. “What Else Could I Be But a Jester” is wildly experimental with little to no polish or oversight. Running at just under two minutes, the song is jam packed with reverbed drums, wavey-wobbly synths, spoken-word vocals, and one of the most jarring chicken-squawk sound effects I have ever heard. Despite my love for the title, the elements do not work well together. The final track on the album, “At the Campfire,” has some lovely sentimental lyricism (and samples Jacksepticeye), but then is overtaken by a laugh sound effect that repeats until I feel as if my ears are wounded. Grimey “Squished Face Slick Pig Living in a Smokey City” (say that five times fast) provides a dissonant shock to the system, with The Garden delving deeper into a dark and horrifyingly monstrous sound. I want so badly to like this track, but I just can’t get behind its scattered execution. Maybe I’m too much of a scaredy-cat.
And yet, in a way, my hesitance to love songs like “Squished Face Slick Pig Living in a Smokey City” is exactly why I appreciate what The Garden is doing with music right now. Wyatt and Fletcher Shears present deranged and rowdy ideas far gone from what I hear in other current punk projects, and their turbulent nature can push listeners like me to further explore what I consider “good” or “bad” music. Horsesh*t on Route 66 serves grotesque and magical music on a haunted platter, unafraid to experiment. Despite its occasional missteps and risks that fail to hit the mark, this album is enticing. Check it out if you find yourself interested in a fun and unpredictable short listen orchestrated by ghost-loving punk pranksters.