A simple Google search of “Girls” is utterly fruitless and a huge distraction when you are trying to write a record review. However, typing in “Girls Album” will take you directly to review after review praising this duo from San Fran’s woozy, sunny pop songs and comments on lead singer Christopher Owen’s Axl Rose like hair do. Like every buzz band with a hit 2008 single, iconoclastic image and sound, and ironic name (both males. Ha.), Girls have had a literal deluge of attention paid to them from virtually every corner of the internet. Luckily, Girls have a back-story, an attitude, and an album chock full of some of the best stand alone singles this year has seen to warrant such an interest.
First, the back story. According to an already famous Guardian interview in which Christopher Owens retells his life story of growing up in the infamous Children of God cult that grew out of Hunnington Beach in the late sixties. According to the interview he grew up traveling the world proselyting the cult’s apocalyptic Christian message while his mother practiced “flirty fishing” (see: religious prostitution). He was given his first guitar by Fleetwood Mac’s Jeremy Spencer (a high profile member of the cult), Owens eventually became disenfranchised with the Children of God and ran away to Arizona where he became heavily involved with the punk scene. Given a second chance by a benevolent millionaire he found a direction in life and moved to San Francisco where he met Chet “JR” White. The duo began banging out sunny, druggy, Gold Coast pop songs and the rest is yet to be written.
Considering this lengthy back story, this duo of California misfits absolutely warrant the interest this biography gives. Girls play sun-tinged slacker pop with a lo-fi recording approach borne both out of necessity and aesthetic choice. Christopher Owen’s voice dips from a whiny falsetto to a Roy Orbison-like croon on a scale that would make Mariah Carey take notice. Jangly three-chord, four on the floor bangers are interspersed by some incredibly moving and life-affirming ballads. The resulting Album is a totally sincere homage to Buddy Holley, Brian Wilson, My Bloody Valentine, The Byrds, and Jesus and the Mary Chain.
Summer Jams. I have been trying to avoid summer jams all summer long. It seemed totally depressing to me to listen to some guy sing over loud, fuzzy guitars about going to the beach, getting high, and sleeping in while I waited for a bus in 100 degree weather on my way from working full time to school. Perhaps it was an act of cathartic release facing a recession and a warming planet that prompted so many similar sounding bands to pump out ode after ode to the BEST SUMMER EVER XOXO! But Girls found a way to crack my shell. 30 seconds into “Summertime” I was tapping my toes and imagining myself on some golden, ageless beach as the songs chugging three-chord progression, CCR back beat, and Owen’s ultimately sincere vocals took me away to some sort of beer commercial or Old Navy advertisement. A heavily distorted wash of reverb drenched Jesus and the Mary Chain guitar attack totally sealed the deal. In spite of myself, and regardless of it being mid-September, I had a summer jam.
Like I said earlier, Album is chock full of amazing singles. The first such ballyhooed single was 2008’s “Hellhole Ratrace” a touching ballad that serves as a synecdoche for the whole Girls experience. Despite mistakes, studio mess-ups, break-ups, and drug addictions, there is a lot of beauty that comes out of the whole experience. “Yeah, I don’t want to C-r-r-r-r-ry (his voice drops a few octaves here)/my whole life through/Yeah I want to do some dancing too” could be someone’s new mantra. Similar ballads that share this same Capra-esque, shiny eyed optimism about lost love and friendship are, coincidently, entitled “Laura” and “Lauren Marie”. The most arrestingly catchy song on the album, which can be easily passed off as whimsical, bratty and superficial, but becomes increasingly eerily autobiographical and sincere, is the appropriately titled and totally not ripping off Iggy Pop opener “Lust For Life”. His requests range from, “I wish I had a father/yeah, then I would have turned out right/but now I’m just crazy/yeah, totally mad”. To, “I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine”. Don’t we all.
Girls make albums like they used to. While there may be some filler, the singles and ballads are endlessly listenable, in fact they DEMAND repeated listening. Girls almost have the challenge and burden of a famous star’s kids band or a famous kid star’s band. If the media backlash of a fascinating back-story catch up to Girls they will have to struggle like hell to stand on their own outside of it. Fortunately, Album is all the proof we need that Girls have already risen far, far above anyone’s expectations.