Girls – Album (True Panther)
Too often, when you hear a story that tears at your heartstrings, the empathy overtakes any of the faults the person—or in this case, an album—may have. We champion those who have is worse than us, and rightfully so. Those tales of overcoming adversity remind us to appreciate the blessings we may be carelessly taking for granted.
I bring this up because Christopher Owens, the frontman for Girls, has had a pretty tough road up to this point and the mere fact that he’s alive, let alone making music, is amazing. His story, a tale of religious cults, dysfunction, homelessness, and ultimately a rebirth into a life of creativity, should indeed be something to share. There’s plenty of inspiration to taken from his past and his is a story worth repeating.
But to listen to Owens’ debut Album under the moniker Girls and you’ll be hard pressed to fully get the tribulations that he’s seen. You will certainly hear that Owens has had some rough patches and that sadness is a primary emotion within his thoughts. Aside from that, Album can often come across like the sad bastard at the end of the bar who wants you listen about his last break-up.
One would think that his debut would be as extreme as the source material—full of rage, regret, or redemption. In reality, it lingers in the sullen corners like every any other faceless pessimist. Without the back-story, his misery becomes too easy to overlook and unfortunately, the unflattering lo-fi production does nothing to conjure up anything beyond the notion of a cheerless sap with a reel-to-reel machine.
Girls is allegedly a duo with Chet White filling out the bass duties, but I can’t hear a bass guitar throughout Album. What is present is Owens’ downcast guitar, the occasional keyboard flourish and a few lo-fi studio tricks.
His voice, a limited instrument that forgoes emotion with a consistent barrage of cheerless whining, does little to draw you in or provoke you to learn more about his prior tragedy.
“It isn’t right to sit around and think about the awful things that get you down,” he sings on “Lauren Marie,” one of several songs about failed relationships. Owens is continuing on a past of replacing one dysfunction after another, and while they may serve as bits of creative inspiration, guess what: the music world is full of songs of heartbreak already. After a while, it all begins to blend together, and what Album needs is a huge boost of originality to get noticed.
You can only assume that Owens’ life at this point is filled with straggling gutter punk artists and other acquaintances that treat him with kid gloves because of the uphill struggles he’s faced. All of this may have led him to channel the tribulations into something creative—all well and good—but can’t the creativity be used as rehabilitation too? John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band comes to mind, and I’d be willing to bet that Christopher Owens has enough inner strife to shatter windows with a makeshift Janov’s primal therapy. And don’t tell me there’s some anger and resentment within his head to do it either.
Instead, he teams up with a few friends to pop pills and record an album of repetitive Beach Boys pop, a few hints at shoegaze, and a nod at something that’s supposed to resemble Beard Of Stars-era Bolan. The difference here is that everyone’s too fucked up on Xanies to get out of Dolores Park to make an album that turns Owens’ darkness into either a cautionary tale or a real horrorshow. So there it sits: another album of broken relationships recorded in the same half-assed manner that lights up the internet for a few months until it’s forgotten after the end-of-year best of lists are posted.
If I sound pissed, it’s because I am. Owens’ has an incredible gift here that he’s squandering on emotionless arrangements and a network of bloggers who read the story, hear the music, and goosestep in unison to champion Girls’ achievement. It’s a safe bet that those very same supporters won’t be thinking of Owens’ the moment another tale of woe appears with their own bedroom pastiche.
I’m contesting that the praise for Album is short-sighted—in many ways as irresponsible as those who raked Owens through years of irrational religious shit—and that it will ultimately do more harm than good. Album is a decent pop album at best, but not the major statement that everyone seems to be making it out to be. It contains just as many charms as it does lazy moments of derived arrangements.
In fact, I don’t even blame Christopher Owens’ as much as I do those who worked with him to help create Album. Because there is only one chance at delivering a debut album, and, based on Owens’ heartbreaking story, this should have been a jaw-dropper.
MP3: Girls – “Laura”
MP3: Girls – “Hellhole Ratrace”
MP3: Girls – “Solitude” (b-side)
Video: Girls – “Lust For Life”
Video: Girls – “Laura”
Video: Girls – “Hellhole Ratrace”
Video: Girls – “Morning Light”
7 thoughts on “Girls – Album”
Um, Todd, not only do I hear bass guitar all over this album, it’s rather upfront in the mix. As for Owens channeling his backstory as source material, I dunno, maybe he is. Then again, not everyone that goes thru great pain wants to relive it, even if it’s via their own artistic endeavors. Personally, I’m not crazy about deeply confessional records; particularly blatant ones. (No Plastic Ono Band for me, thanks.) I find them to be horribly self-indulgent and not in a good way. From what I read in the interview you link to–I don’t think I’d heard of Owens or his band before–he seems pretty much at peace with his past and wants to move on.
I enjoyed some of Album. (In a way, it sounds like something a Smiths-influenced band would’ve released in ’89-’90.) But I can see it’s the kinda stuff that bloggers and indie kids blindly eat up these days; his story giving Owens a marketing edge over those with a sound similar to his.
Editorial note: I tweaked Todd’s sentence about bass on the album. My intention was to make his sentiment clearer, but now I wonder if I altered his actual meaning.
After I listened to the album, I read the liner notes and learned Chet White played bass, Either because of the lo-fi production or because it was a compressed file, I did not notice a bass at all in the mix. That’s what led to that comment; I thought that White was doing the other tomfoolery and was genuinely surprised about a bass guitar. I’m old. My ears aren’t what they used to be -but neither are the available formats.
And I kept thinking about the Smiths when I was complaining about Owens. What finally nailed it for me was that the Smiths worked hard as a band to match musicianship with Moz’s pathos. With Girls, they don’t do that-and even though they may not want to address it on record, he’s clearly covering it up with recreational drugs and lo-fi strategies. This could have been an epic album, and I resent it that critics are willing to put it there when Owens didn’t do enough to push it there himself.
But he sure knows a lot of pretty girls… And he has the fantastic ability to get them to take their shirts off for his videos.
“This could have been an epic album, and I resent it that critics are willing to put it there when Owens didn’t do enough to push it there himself.”
I can see that Todd, but surely you can’t expect those critics you speak of to hold Owens’ feet to the fire. Not at a time when lo-fi production and detachment are still badges of honor; and bands like Wavves–not to mention their onstage Cat Power-type drama–are being championed everywhere you look.
I never heard of Girls before this article. I listened to a few of the MP3’s, kind of dig Lust For Life. Then I read the linked article about Owen’s fucked up life with the cult.
Regardless of what you think of his music, one thing’s for sure: GloNo’s tagline is right on. Rock and roll can change your life.
Sounds like it led this poor schmo out of the wilderness – Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!
At the end of the year, every year, I go to Large Hearted Boy and listen to about as many critics’ end-of-year lists as I can. I never knew Christopher Owens’ backstory. I still don’t. And I don’t know what you were looking for in this album, what expectations Owens’ personal life gave you – but I wish you were just listening to the music rather than your preconceptions. Because the music f**cking rocks.