Life has been eventful for Christopher Owens (writes and plays the songs) and Chet White (does whizzy production stuff). Owens was born into and brought up in a cult – a real one, none of this pretendy, take a few drugs and lark about ones – and only escaped, to Texas, when he was 16. There, he rebelled. It took being rescued by a millionaire philanthropist – yes, really - to save Owens from an almost certain drugs-related death. Moving to San Francisco calmed him down, but a nasty break-up knocked him back and gave him lots of songwriting material. Many of the tracks on Girls’ cleverly titled début, Album (take that, search engines!), tell the tales of this split. After that, he met White, a fellow slacker, and the pair started making music together. The rest, as they, say, is history.
Girls are a schizophrenic band. One moment they’re crooning modern Beach Boys lullabies (Lust For Life) and the next they’re creating epic yet somehow sparse soundscapes of ice cool next-to-nothingness (stand out track Hellhole Ratrace).
Opening track Lust For Life is a contender for single of the year, Owens playing with the idea of homosexuality in the opening line: “Oh, I wish I had a boyfriend / I wish I had a loving man in my life”. The juxtaposition of the jaunty guitar lines and Owens’ upbeat vocals with the oh-so-sad lyrics combine magnificently, and the song rushes past before it’s barely started, “ba ba ba” backing vocals transporting you to an LA beach. In truth, it could do with another verse-chorus repeat at the end to pad it out, but as it is, its two and a half minutes of angst-filled joy stick in the mind for most of the rest of the record.
“I know I’ve made mistakes / but I’m asking you to give me a break,” pleads Owens on next track Laura, one of a handful of songs on Album that could represent musical love letters to his former lover. And the heartbreak just keeps on coming. Weirdly, it makes you feel better about your own lost and unrequited loves, as they can’t possibly have been as brutal as the one that inspired this record. Or maybe Owens’ soul is just too open. It’s an honour to be allowed a peek inside his heart.
Jangly guitars lie over most tracks, adding to the Beach Boys comparison, but it’s really the humanity contained in these twelve songs that make the similarity between the two bands clear. Although I’m pretty sure the Beach Boys never wrote a song with a title as provocative and sweary as Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker.
They’re capable of going all shoegazey and JAMCish when the mood takes them though. Epic centrepiece Hellhole Ratrace takes the efforts of Glasvegas and the Big Pink to create a similar sound and makes them look really rather silly, such is the quality of Girls’ songwriting.If you like the faux-bohemianism of MGMT, you’ll love this even more. It all adds up to one of the year’s most immersive début albums.
This review was written for TMM.