Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: True Panther Sounds
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
A girl can do funny things to a boy: like make him write a love- wracked space-rock epic called "Vomit" that sounds like My Morning Jacket with a gun in their mouth. This San Francisco band's debut was scuffed-up and Stones-y; its new one adds a keyboardist and stretches out into something bleary and vaguely prog rock, as singer Christopher Owens obsesses for the one who tossed his heart in the trash. The lyrics are self-consciously gloppy, but from the Beach Boys pop of "Honey Bunny" to the textured, churning rocker "Alex" to the soul ballad "Love Like a River," Girls find the right sonic twist to give clichéd romantic self-pity a fresh, forlorn sting.
We may eventually remember 2011 as the Year of Retro. Critic Simon Reynolds' recent book on the subject tapped into a feeling a lot of people had but couldn't quite pin down: In the age of the limitless archive, the relationship between new artists and their influences are changing. Since the retirement of LCD Soundsystem, San Francisco's Girls, who return here after the terrific debut LP Album and an also-great follow-up EP, just might be the band best making use of the current situation.
It seems impossible to talk about Father, Son, Holy Ghost without talking about all of the influences that appear and reappear throughout it, but doing so would make Girls’ sophomore album seem like a re-tread, though that is certainly not the case. Regardless, the abundance and prominence of the sleeve-worn influences almost demand a detailing. Die is an aggressive rocker with a brilliantly colored guitar tone and angry, confident soloing, but also a vocal line ripped straight out of Highway Star.
The more cynical listeners out there might backhandedly describe Christopher Owens, the creative lynchpin behind Girls, as 'a great student of rock history' - in other words, somebody who knows the canon inside out and lifts from it liberally. And sure, there's no denying that a lot of the ideas here are probably older than Owens himself; that much is clear within the first minute of the album, as "Honey Bunny" bursts out of the traps sounding like a lost early Beach Boys classic with a few Carl Perkins-esque guitar licks thrown in for good measure. Yet one of the most fascinating things about this album for me is that it very rarely sounds truly retro, or that much like its primarily influences.
Indie and alternative rock have historically always used music from decades (and sometimes centuries) past as a means of gazing forward in concocting a new, rich and exciting tapestry of music. In the late ‘70s, you had the Talking Heads putting their own quirky stamp on what was essentially bubblegum pop. In the ‘80s, you had the likes of Hüsker Dü filtering their own brand of hardcore punk through the gauze of ‘60s mainstream pop and psychedelica.
When the San Francisco band Girls released its debut album, simply titled Album, in 2009, frontman Christopher Owens’ backstory threatened to eclipse his musical accomplishment. He had grown up in a religious cult and had been sheltered from pop music and pop culture for most of his life. When he escaped, he embraced the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Black Sabbath, Skeeter Davis, and The Ramones all with equal zeal, which allowed him to turn all those disparate elements into joyful, unassuming, endlessly catchy indie pop.
The most beautiful thing about Girls’ Christopher Owens is that he seems downright incapable of fleeing his unflappable candor. This characteristic is what made his tumultuous backstory of growing up in the repressive Children of God cult so intriguing, and is also what drowns his devastating songwriting in oceans of silvery hope. Yet as refreshingly naked and unabashed as Girls come off, their recordings are paradoxically lush with mystery and depth.
A childhood in (one-time) paedophilic religious cult The Children Of God. Teenage years as a global hobo, hitching the world, free of schooling. A stint in a band with [b]Ariel Pink[/b] and an immersion into the druggier end of the San Fran gay scene. A penchant for promo videos with half-naked men using erect penises as microphones.
GIRLS play the Mod Club September 27. See listing. Rating: NNNN Girls' 2009 debut was one of the highest-rated rock records that year, so their follow-up has been hotly anticipated. Much of the debut's charm came from the raw home-recording intimacy and unselfconscious songwriting of Christopher Owens, so we had to wonder if they could repeat the magic with a bigger studio budget and the expectations of the world weighing on them.
For a whole lot of reasons, Girls’ debut, Album, was one of the most widely lauded records in recent years. Between Christopher Owens’ easily relatable, heart-on-sleeve lyrics and slapdash charm, the San Franciscan duo threw together a record that quickly shaped up to be one of 2009’s most improbable candidates for album of the year, one that you’d have trouble finding without the words “instant classic” beside it. Its follow-up EP, last year’s Broken Dreams Club, was even better, improving on nearly every facet of its predecessor while adding unforeseen dimensions to the duo’s sound.
The well-documented background of frontman and chief songwriter Christopher Owens perhaps goes some way to explaining the schizophrenic nature of Girls music. Raised within the Children Of God cult, his nomadic lifestyle and general lack of stability hasn't just increased the number of topics he's able to write about. It's also provided him with the impetus - some would even call it a gift - to be able to view those subjects from numerous perspectives.
Girls' second full-length sees indie rock songwriter Christopher Owens and his multi-instrumental sidekick Chet "JR" White getting better acquainted with the studio and growing more indulgent. All too often, artists follow up a breakout debut with a difficult sophomore outing, and Girls fall prey to the syndrome, overcompensating for average songs with dazzling instrumentation. It’s probable that after recording a straight-ahead EP, they wanted to show off their range, and as a sprawling, 54-minute epic, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is decidedly vast, but it also goes completely over the top.
"They don't like my bony body/ They don't like my dirty hair … or the things that I say, or the stuff that I'm on," sings Girls's Christopher Owens on opener Honey Bunny. In doing so, he sets out this record's stall rather well: lovelorn anthems for the kind of messed-up kid who might identify with Girl's incredible backstory (drugs, cults, and rich benefactors are all involved). The lo-fi arrangements are messy, too.
On debut Album and its follow-up EP Broken Dreams Club, Girls managed to tiptoe around a monument valley of influences -- Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, the Beach Boys -- while retaining a striking originality. Christopher Owens’ religious-cult background, much talked-about in the early days, was really immaterial; it was the wounded vocals, brilliantly casual lyrics and the masterful hooks that signaled Owens’ arrival into a lofty arena. Owens’s talent lay in how he reflected pop with a broken mirror: the middle-finger to rockists embodied by titling a song “Lust for Life,” the fog of distortion hanging over the sock-hop stomper “Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker,” the moment where “Laura” shifts from hangdog strummer to pristine jewel, complete with a glissando guitar solo.
"They don't like my bony body/they don't like my dirty hair," Girls vocalist Christopher Owens sulks on "Honey Bunny," and it's already clear the band's not doing much to change their image as mainstays of the American Apparel ad school of music..
Christopher Owens turns the simple into the sublime with disarming vulnerability. The San Franciscan's near-perfect Girls debut, 2009's Album gave slow nods to Elvis Costello and David Bowie with bleached song cycles about almost androgynous love. FSHG continues this wheelhouse effect, drifting from Smile session bounce on opener "Honey Bunny" into the heavy-psych wind tunnel of "Die" and sprawling anchor "Vomit." The medicated airiness of "Forgiveness" and gospel-tinged "Love Like a River" carry the second half like Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space drifting over to The Dark Side of the Moon.
The success story of a band like Girls seems improbable and yet somehow pedestrian in 2011. The banality of the situation is obvious – two dudes united by a slacker aesthetic, recreational drugs, and a love of music actuated by said drugs dole out lo-fi stoner rock rife with both psychedelic approbations and self-deprecation. This sort of music – which champions a scrappy willfulness for surf rock and other sun-soaked bits of 1960’s nostalgia – seems omnipresent today, particularly if you consider the good fortunes of like-minded acts such as Wavves, Best Coast, and Ariel Pink.
A cohesive, polished second collection from the San Francisco band. Darren Loucaides 2011 Girls' 2009 debut, Album, demanded patience through its changes of pace and stabs at different styles, but it’s the verbosity of this more consistent follow-up, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, that means a similar level of endurance is needed. Songs are unfolded carefully, often over four minutes (three pass the six-minute mark), making for a total playtime of 54 minutes.
Both of Girls' records have been released in September, as summer wanes. This is appropriate, as the band – at its core a duo comprised of singer/songwriter Christopher Owens and bassist/producer Chet White – have a knack for capturing the bittersweet mood that abounds at this time of year. Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the successor to their acclaimed retro-pop opus Album, feels much weightier and more developed by comparison.