A bit of disclosure is necessary before this begins. Before I was offered this, I had absolutely no clue that Bran Van 3000 still existed past Glee.
And no, that has absolutely nothing to do with the TV show. Glee was BV3 (they even had a nickname and I was totally unaware)’s proper debut album. It had an outright sexy cover of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize”, a Gravediggaz cameo on “Afrodiziac”, and an international hit in “Drinking in LA”. It was a fun album that sounded thrown-together like a patchwork quilt with several pieces mis-matched that all somehow worked great together.
Come to find out, The Garden has a very similar feel, and there’s a reason for that. Bran Van 3000, essentially, is more of a collective than a group. Jamie “Bran Man” Di Salvio serves as the nexus, with roughly 20 other musicians, producers, hip-hoppers, and even a bored socialite or two. There’s no real diversity in sound; BV3 doesn’t go from rap to punk to reggae or anything like that. Di Salvio does a fantastic job of keeping everything grounded in the mostly the same laid-back, trip-hop style. The guests are there to play and sing as needed.
By that description, The Garden would sound like a completely schizophrenic too unfocused not to be distracting or annoying. However, the record comes off as a cohesive piece, even though it has the feel of a mixtape.
Things start off on a slower note, with “A tryst” serving as a coying intro to the lonely pangs of “Garden Waltz”. The mood picks up, though, with 1-2 shots like “You” and “You Too”. The pastiche of sounds and voices blends in to a feel-good miasma of sounds, some of which sound as home in a club as they do at home with a pair of headphones on.
As far as the guests go, many of them have done this long enough that they know what works just as well as Di Salvio does. Stephane Moraille sounds as soulful as she did back when she was wondering what the hell she was doing drinking in LA at 26. Coco Thompson helps “Drop Off” achieve a sassy snarl and Francesca Como gives “You” a sweetness that, were this group bigger, would have high-schoolers everywhere wanting to ask her to their Prom.
With occasional twinges of love, hope, and longing intertwined with all sorts of cool, The Garden essentially plays like the backdrop of a party featuring a get-together of all the college Drama kids. Before some fool ruins the artsy get-together by putting on Coldplay because they’re trying to convince you that they’re actually not trying to steal U2 blind. That’s when you cut out, put on The Garden in the car, and enjoy the vibe on the way somewhere else.