Santa Barbara, California is not one of those places that generally crops up as a hotbed for music. Seattle? Sure. Williamsburg? Hell, we don’t even need to attach “Brooklyn” to it anymore, it’s become so ubiquitous. But something gorgeous has been happening in this coastal city about a hundred miles north of Los Angeles, and pretty soon the Coral Sea won’t be Santa Barbara’s big little secret anymore.
The members of the Coral Sea, led by singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Rey Villalobos, make atmospheric dream/art rock that reflects the city’s Mediterranean climate and purple-pink mountains. Rather than creating beautiful shimmering music to escape a rather bleak area — think of all the diaphanous shoegazer bands that sprung out of drab suburban England — the Coral Sea’s members write music that is the aural equivalent of a Santa Barbara sunset, sweeping colors and soft breezes rustling the palm trees.
Though the band is essentially a straight-up indie four-piece, the string quartet the members incorporated into their music is what really makes them stand out. Synthesized strings are usually a nice touch, but when the strings are live, it’s a whole new experience, and Villalobos’s compositions are only stronger for having the quartet on board. Take Sigur Ros, Space Oddity-era David Bowie, Radiohead, U2 and Pink Floyd and add a splash of twee, and the Coral Sea is that sonic cocktail. And Villalobos’s sweet, clear voice is the sugar on the rim.