Simplicity works for Girls. Straight-forward, undisguised lyrics emerge raw and unfettered from Christopher Owens through his vocal character akin to Buddy Holly or an Everly Brother. Really. It feels entirely natural and sincere. Owens is actively alive and, upon close listen, disarmingly intense. JR White’s elegant production swings on a trapeze in a few feisty directions, always connected to the palpable core of honesty that drives Girls’ music. Bypassing murky swamps of darkness and eschewing enshroudment in metaphor, Christopher Owens is balls out there in his own peculiar way, calling it like he sees it – painfully true – with his best buddy, speaking the root languages of old-school rock’n'roll/punk/pop.
The pair, who call San Francisco home for now, employ familiar techniques (the easy, repetitive hook of a bassline in Darling, for instance) to great effect, sifting the music through the filter of their extraordinary hearts, transforming what could be construed as ordinary to magnificent and delightful. The more I listen, the more I believe that Christopher Owens is a rare, remarkable genius for this – his stripped down authenticity effectively evokes feelings of yearning, desire….love.
I devoted a healthy chunk of time to listening to Girls’ debut, Album, before perusing any promotional material or reading up on Owens’ fascinating personal history. This was easy, tremendously enjoyable (especially since I was holed up, solo, in the control room at the studio with good speakers) and important. Even to innocent ears, Girls has a special, universally compelling quality. All that’s required of the listener is openness. Sunny bassline and bright guitars glow and sparkle over a slightly deranged California summer sound in a cross between Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys….teetering toward punk yet smudged by synthesizer crust stuck to the bottom of its shoe. Owens’ vocal dances high like Costello-meets-an-Everly, occasionally warping down for nice, full-bodied emphasis.
A knack is what Owens has, to be precise. And to be perfectly candid, this is just a fucking great record. You know those people who are really, really good at what they do and make it look and sound effortless? That seems to be the case here – great songs, great lyrics, an overall great vibe. You don’t have to work to get it. Listening comes on as a whole experience of enjoyment.
Out of the gate strong with Lust for Life, double time, high guitar strums set the scene for seriously infectious lyrics, “Oh I wish I had a boyfriend….” delivered via Owens’ distinctively engaging voice. Perky percussion dots throughout, faded harmonies embellish and the song finishes with a Zeppelin-flavored final curling riff. Listen again and more. Then comes Laura, a love song with poignant yet direct lyrics like, “You’ve been a bitch, I’ve been an ass…” Going down the list, every single song is a remarkably shiny nugget. Ghostmouth drips with yearning. Goddamn flairs festive, a romantic shortie that’s part Ramones, part Costello, part flamenco. At first I thought this was my favorite, but now I’m confused by too many of them being my favorite. The entire record is rife with brilliance. Big Bad Mean Motherfucker follows, a full-on, OG surfer tune. And then Hellhole Ratrace, the long, languid anthem that builds, becoming fuzzy with a wall of sound plus guitars just past midway, then suddenly drops off like the place where ocean swallows beach. Headache moves into super wet territory with deep and breathy vocals and dizzying tropicalia. It’s a Maui wowie, romantic, mai tai love song. Summertime. Ah, another fave. “Summertime, soak up the sunshine with you.” Simple to burgeoning…the groove is total immersion, back to sweet, wavy guitar that entirely encapsulates the essence of its namesake. Lauren Marie is a listening point of no return. Building from a 50′s – early 60′s clearer sound, it sneaks into dope haze effects. Ironically, the deeper in Album you go, the more you feel like you stepped back to 50′s rock, even as the overall sound makes a move toward blurry, 80′s synth-enhanced shoegaze. It’s important to note at this point that Girls makes Girls’ music (nobody else’s). Morning Light opens in the big haze. It drives forward with cymbal-quick drums and hurries to a fuzzy tornado hangover. Curls wades in, slightly over 2 minutes of instrumental interlude. Curls fits sweetly here. It’s a surprisingly excellent storyteller sans lyrics. Darling completes the record, echoing the opening riff of Curls (a bit more aggressively). The sound is big, deep, open and sunny. Honey bass joins clippety clop rhythm, easy guitar work drawls toward a Johnny Cash-like lead in. Musically, Darling is a rich summary that leaves you sated, with the feeling of having just listened to Girls in person, live, outdoors on a breezy sunny afternoon. Listen again, let the lyrics in, and not only will you be intimately moved (I hope) by Owens’ profound affirmations in Darling, but you’ll also grasp (I’m pretty sure) exactly why Girls is a hands-down winner: “I was feeling like a nothing inside, then I found it all in a song.”, “Man I felt like I was going nowhere, then I found my way in the songs I’m singing.” , “Man I felt like I could lay down and die, then I found my life in a song….”
“Yeah yeah yeah, it’s coming straight from my heart….”
“Yeah yeah yeah, it’s coming straight from my heart….”
1. Lust for Life
5. Big Bad Mean Motherfucker
6. Hellhole Ratrace
9. Lauren Marie
10. Morning Light
From the label: “Built on the powerful songwriting of Christopher Owens and the ethereal production of Chet “JR” White, Girls recorded Album in a variety of bedrooms and rehearsal studios in their adopted hometown, San Francisco. The resulting 12 tracks are the perfect San Francisco summer record, evoking a narcotic, sunny afternoon in Dolores Park, yet promising the eventual hangover of summer’s departure.”
Btw, Owens formerly played in Holy Shit.
September 09 San Francisco, CA Great American Music Hall w/Cass McCombs
September 10 Los Angeles, CA Bootleg Theatre w/Cass McCombs