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A Triumph for Subtlety
on 28 September 2009
The story of Girls frontman Christopher Owen's is almost unbelievable. He was brought up in a cult called the Children of God, where his brother died due to a lack of medical care, his father left and his mother was forced to prostitute herself on occasion. Sure enough as a teenager he ran away and after living in gutters for a while he was ultimately taken under the wing of Texan millionaire and so he moved to San Francisco. It couldn't be written better by Shakespeare himself. So it is that Owen's had all the life experience he would ever need to create the master piece that is `Album'.
The first thing that comes across in Girls debut is that the music is totally stripped back and that there is absolute honesty in the lyrics. Christopher Owen's stark voice is open and emotional throughout. The closest comparison is the melancholy chimings of Okkervil River's Will Sheff but the music behind the vocals has an all together starker feel to it. The opening track and recent single `Lust for Life' sets the mood for the rest of the album. It is a bitter pop song with lyrics of "I wish I had a father. Maybe then I would have turned out right." The guitars roll happily through the track unaware of Owne's bitterness. The bass is smooth and the handclaps towards the end add a communal feel to it. `Laura' is an honest pop song, with Owen's crying out "I really wanna be your friend forever". It is a subtle track with nice melodies and well crafted echoing harmonies towards the end. Ultimately it is a strangely upbeat and hopeful track. `Ghost Mouth' then becomes much more mournful and regretful. `God Damned' then pops up its head like a strange camp fire sing along.
The following track, `Big Bad Mean . . .', then adds a new element to the mix in the form of some heavy distortion. The track strangely sounds like a Beach Boys track if they had been brought up under the influence of Sonic Youth. It then ends abruptly before returning to the stripped back chiming of `Hellhole Ratrace'. Owen's sings "I'm all alone with my deep thoughts. I'm all alone with my heartache." It is a reflective track with a restrained ambition for something better in the future, but this is all depicted by the vocals and restrained distortion towards the end.
So by this point you are half way through the album and have already experienced a multitude of Mr. Owen's woes. It is no suprise then when `Headache' continues in the same fashion, however the veritably happy arrival of `Summertime' with gently strutting guitars and drums before some nicely used distortion pushes it all into a summery daze of sound half way through. It then closes out with the happy refrain of "Summertime, soak up the sunshine with you." That is a momentary smile however as `Lauren Marie' starts in strangely menacing fashion with a foghorn like organ part to start that continues quietly for a while before guitars and strings gently rise out of the mist like the dream of which Owen was singing. After all this time in the album and being gently swayed from pillar to post the loud and distorted release of `Morning Light' is truly fantastic. Frantic and catchy it's almost as if the whole band suddenly woke up and had two and a half minutes of energetic activity before subsiding back into the gentleness of `Curl'. The whole thing then closes with the gentle rock and roll of `Darling'.
It feels like the album should end with a narrator saying "This is the story so far", and it has been a truly emotional one. Every track is informed by the strange combination of Owen's early life and the sunny disposition of San Francisco. It is truly an absolute triumph of subtle song craft as every track holds its own beauty and intrigue. So if you listen to it the first time round and don't get it then give it a chance have another listen and enjoy what truly is a brilliant album.