Christopher Owens, lead singer of San Francisco band Girls, has one of the best back stories of any musician in a while: he was born into the Children of God cult, where his mom prostituted herself and his baby brother died because of the cult's lack of belief in medicine. Owens fled at 16, was a homeless punk for a while, got taken in by a rich dude, moved to San Francisco, and formed Girls with JR White.
Take that, Kings of Leon!
I don't know what kind of music you'd expect someone with such a fucked-up upbringing to make, but it's not the music on the Girls' debut, Album. Girls mix 90's Britpop, 60's beach rock, and indie quirkiness. It's all complimented by Owens sneer, for which he should probably pay Elvis Costello royalties, or at least buy him some drinks.
"Lust For Life," their debut single, is one of the best songs of the year. The joyous, jangly guitar hides some pretty dark sentiment, as Owens sings:
"I wish I had a boyfriend
I wish I had a loving man in my life
I wish I had a father
Maybe then I would have turned out right
Now I'm just crazy
Fucked in the head."
The rest of the disc doesn't always live up to the potential of "Lust For Life." There's an odds-and-sods feeling to Album as if the group hadn't quite found their sound and threw all of their early experiments onto the album. The acoustic "Goddamn" sounds like Owens fucking around with his acoustic guitar in his bedroom. It's immediately followed by the fuzzy surf guitar of "Big Bad Mean Motherfucker," which sounds like the Girls covering Jesus and Mary Chain covering the Beach Boys. "Morning Light" is 90s shoegaze, and "Darling" is alt-country. This stylistic jumping is disorienting, and detracts from the overall effect of the album.
The flipside of that is that the band is clearly not a one-trick pony. For all of his snottiness, Owens can be heartbreakingly sincere, as on "Hellhole Rat Race." "I don't want to cry my whole life through," he sings. "I wanna have a laugh or two/So come on and laugh with me." It's moments like these that Girls prove that they are worth the hype they are getting.
Is Album as good as everyone says it is? Of course not. No record could be. What it does do is perfectly capture the boredom, confusion, and exuberance of being young. It's enough to make you want to drink cheap beer and pick up on art students.
For twenty somethings, Girls will be a cathartic experience, and for those of us on the wrong side of thirty, Girls are a safe way to reminisce about your glory days, handily referencing the bands you listened to when you were young and cool. Album may be uneven and overlong, but Girls deserve credit for capturing the feeling of NOW.