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 – “Solitude” (b-side)
Video: Girls – “Lust For Life”
Video: Girls – “Laura”
Video: Girls – “Hellhole Ratrace”
Video: Girls – “Morning Light”