September 14, 2011
Album Review: Girls - 'Father, Son, Holy Ghost'
This screwed-up take on cute pop and classic rock
8 / 10
A childhood in (one-time) paedophilic religious cult The Children Of God. Teenage years as a global hobo, hitching the world, free of schooling. A stint in a band with Ariel Pink and an immersion into the druggier end of the San Fran gay scene. A penchant for promo videos with half-naked men using erect penises as microphones. You’d be forgiven for expecting the music of Christopher Owens to be a whole lot weirder.
Instead, the songs Owens writes with California’s Girls grasp for normality, acceptance: psychedelia, acoustic folk, glam, alt-country, surf, pop, surf-pop, gospel, soul, prog blues and straight-up indie rock are, by random turns, his go-to genres. It’s as if he wants to slither back into regular culture through whichever cracks he can fit.
But – as in all the best retro-modernist music – something always jars. Owens hopscotches between styles because he’s too fucked up, too interesting, too ‘outsider’ to comfortably fit any of them. Despite his studied retro disguises and his desire to follow MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’ down Uncompromising Prog Avenue, his twisted roots can’t help but break surface. And this is what makes ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, like 2009’s debut ‘Album’, so entrancing to observe, like Sir Ian McKellen in panto or a premiership footballer pretending to be a faithful family man.
Owens, lest we forget, is the man who wrote the most heart-wringingly sweet and emotional ballad of 2009 and called it ‘Hellhole Ratrace’, and he repeats the trick here with a cataclysmic eruption of gospel noise resembling Spiritualized covering Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ that’s entitled, simply, ‘Vomit’. “They don’t like my bony body/They don’t like my dirty hair/Or the stuff that I say/Or the stuff that I’m on”, Owens whimpers as an excuse for why he gets laid so little on the squeaky clean Beach Boys/Beatles/Link Wray pastiche ‘Honey Bunny', and the dichotomy of style and substance (plus the sudden tempo shift into Bright Eyes territory for the middle eight, a regular trick Owens uses to up Girls’ quirk quotient) gives him a mischievous, yet endearingly innocent edge.
It’s why you let him get away with the Kinksian glam of ‘Magic’ and a Led Zep rock rampage called ‘Die’ that morphs into a two-minute Jethro Tull flute flutter halfway through. It’s why he can carry off the cheesy Lemonheads love waltz ‘Saying I Love You’. And it’s why you forgive him for the whole eight minutes of ‘Forgiveness’, which dawdles lushly past like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ before ending up as epic rock roadkill. Because there’s an awkward squirm at Girls’ core, a deviant devolution of classic mores, and that makes ‘…Holy Ghost’ something of a maladroit masterpiece.
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