There are a couple things standing in the way of truly appreciating this band called Girls – barring of course, confusion upon realizing that Girls really consists of two boys, Christopher Owens and JR White. First, and most notably, is Owens’ addled chameleon of a voice, which ranges from Costello nasal, to late-Strummer cool, to Bay Area punk snot. Second is his backstory. His upbringing inside the Children of God cult is a compelling read and an interesting tidbit that undoubtedly shades his songwriting approach and, subsequently, our reactions to it.
But this isn’t an album about a messed-up childhood; Album is largely an album about girls. To read too much into that is to miss the point. And it's all pretty straightforward: “Goddamn” finds Owens asserting to one object of affection, “I want ya/ And I’ll goddamned if I give up”; “Laura” is an apology, begging, at least, for the friend-zone; and “Lauren Marie” pines for its titular character – “I might never get my arms around you, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t try,” begs Owens.
Admittedly, Owens sometimes dips into obsessive traits in his pursuit of these (coincidentally?) similarly-named ladies. But denying that most of us haven’t behaved irrationally in the fever of amore is likely disingenuous. Owens is speaking here without a filter, and that’s perhaps his greatest asset as a songwriter, even if it would be just as easy to call that a major failing. There is plenty of artistry in Album’s lyrics, but it isn’t the textbook sort, more an obsessively observed, digested, and carbon-copied emotional vulnerability that feels less like poetry and more like unfettered expression.
White, as the duo’s arranger, touches on Beach Boys melody, lo-fi sensibilities, and gentle twang to make the record sound as organic and breezy as we like to imagine California always is, putting a sun-stroked veneer over Owens’ warped stabs at reclaiming lost love. There’s an innate sadness baked into these summery pop songs, and it’s that attribute -- added to their immediacy and White’s detailed arrangements -- that makes them compelling over repeated listens. Maybe that has something to do with Owens’ too-crazy-to-make-up backstory, maybe not. It doesn't change a single thing about the music.
Even if Album doesn't turn out to be all it's been made out to be by the reams of hype already bestowed upon it, it's certainly working at the moment.
1. Lust For Life
5. Big Bad Mean Motherfucker
6. Hellhole Ratrace
9. Lauren Marie
10. Morning Light