Release Date: May 27, 2015
Record label: Self-released
A single chord can say a lot. That jangly warped one at the start of ‘Lust for Life’ – possibly one of the most perfect indie anthems of the last decade – signalled the start of Album; an LP glossed with lo-as-the-depths-of-hell-fi garage stompers (‘Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker’), woozy anthems (‘Hellhole Ratrace’) and tasty slices of 60s-fuelled pop (‘Darling’). It was through this and the slightly more polished Father, Son, Holy Ghost that San-Fran duo Girls built-up a close-knit following of fans.
When I spoke to Christopher Owens about the country influences on his last album, he told me he colour codes his songs to organise them by genre. The ones in yellow were reggae. He brought it up half-jokingly, but he was obviously more serious than I realised. Less than one year on, ‘What About Love’ shows us – for better or worse – what this actually sounds like.
Christopher Owens has never been easy one to figure out. The ex-Girls frontman has an amazing but tragic backstory – born into travelling Christian cult The Children Of God, he washed up in San Francisco as a teenager to discover punk rock and drug addiction – and has confounded expectations since his old band emerged in 2007. The 35-year-old – now clean and living happily with his girlfriend – dissolved Girls in 2012, but his life has been no less absorbing since.
"I was tempted to call this Christopher Owens' Album, because for me it's really about getting back to the basics," Christopher Owens told Stereogum last week. He was talking about his new solo album Chrissybaby Forever, which he made available to stream on May 27, a few days before its official digital release, and the sentiment prompted a question: What does a "back to the basics" album look like for an artist who traffics in the basics? Owens named his breakout group, which consisted of two men, "Girls." His songs relied on the simplest, most dog-eared lyrics imaginable, and he reached for chord progressions that you can anticipate in your bones. His first solo album, 2013's Lysandre, was written almost entirely in the key of A.
For a while, Girls seemed like an indie band that stood a chance at surviving the long-run: one record released per year for three years in a row (I’m including 2010’s Broken Dreams Club, which few people seemed to talk about at year-end lists because it was an EP), each better than the last. It culminated in 2011’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which, for the record, might have been 2011’s best indie rock LP. They had a sound that relied on all of their parents’ favorite bands: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground, to name a few that they borrowed at least one thing from.
Only Christopher Owens would entitle his third solo album something as hilariously saccharine as Chrissybaby Forever and then place himself in a straitjacket for the cover art. Then again, there’s always been something gleefully subversive about Owens’ work. The former Girls frontman pairs the simple melodic stylings of the 1950s and 1960s with hazy depravity and hungover confessionals.