First Listen – Girls, ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’

Girls’ Christopher Owens and JR White returned to the same slightly seedy area of San Francisco that birthed their 2009 debut ‘Album’ to record their second full-length record. But far from retreading old ground, it’s an album that sees them pushing their sound out in surprising directions, a challenge to those who wrote them off as fey, druggie slacker-poppers. Let us pray…

Honey Bunny
The album starts off with a giddy rattling rush that could almost be Frankie And The Heartstrings, until that Crampsy twang of surf guitar takes us down under the boardwalk once more where the harmonies live. Christopher is having trouble with The Girls: “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…”. There’s an element of the sort of pouty campness that Hunx and His Punx or The Drums deal in, undercut with a sense of real pain.

“If somebeody somewhere cries, well who cares… well I do” laments Christopher, on this less skippy, more grungy strum, quite Lemonheads in its faux-carefree countryish breeziness, shot through with a dirty squall of guitar.

A dirty garage rocking beast to start with, that’s tamed down into a psychedelic ending of pastoral beauty. They’re really flexing their musical muscles in all directions on this album.

Saying I Love You
“How can I say I love you / Now that you’ve said I love you?”. A tricky one that, isn’t it? Because if you say it straight after, it looks like you’ve only said it because they’ve said it. If you don’t say it back, you’re basically a bastard. Our recommendation – wait a couple of hours and then scream it at the top of your voice while they’re drying the dishes or something for maximum impact. This has a lovely romantic, slightly Spanish lilting roll to it: “There goes my baby, heart on a string” pines Christopher over lovely delicate guitar.

My Ma
Every time this song begins, my brain goes ‘OH! It’s ‘The Greatest’ by Cat Power’ and I prepare to get foetal on the floor and weep. And then – this is the neat trick – it turns out to in fact be a song called ‘My Ma’ by Girls, and I am NOT DISAPPOINTED. The organ heaves with regret, and the guitar bristles with guilt, and it’s lovely. NURSE. THE GIN, PLEASE.

This has the quietest and creepiest of starts, a doom-weighted but delicate strum over which Owens intones “Nights I spend alone / I spend ‘em running round looking for you, baby…” then the organs kick in with an irresistible undertow of despair as he brokenly crows “looking for love”. It’s the most minimal of quiet/LOUD structures with a hint of Spiritualized at their most gnarly. It works. And then it soothes your tortured brow with a lovely, gospel-singer boosted outro of trilling guitar and Owens’ repeated mantra of “come into my heart”.

Just A Song
A gently folksy trill of fingerpicked acoustic leads into a brokenly beautiful little thing with Christopher’s voice at its most freshly gutted: “It just feels like it’s gone / Like all of it’s gone away / Seems like nobody’s happy now”. Dear Christ, this stuff should come with a warning. This album toys with your emotions like a giant cruel cat made of music, redemption one minute, desolation the next. Just when you think it’s done with you, this track shifts halfway through into a psychfolk meander up to the heavens “keep me up / keep me down / keep my feet on the ground…. Love: it’s just a song”. Yeah. Keep telling yourself that.

See! Now we’re picked off the floor by this bouncy, poppy thing. “Just a look was all it took / suddenly I’m on the hook” gushes Christopher, back on the horse and romping. It’s simple and lightweight and lovely: the mood swings of this album are insane.

It can’t last, of course, and nothing sums up the delicious despair, the cosy crushing that Girls do so well as this number. “If you don’t have a little hope… if you don’t have a little love in your soul / nothing’s gonna get any better”. It’s weary but not (entirely defeated), the sound of a little well-deserved nap on rock bottom before you pick yourself back up again, gentle acoustic and rolling drums until about 5.30, where a keening, sexy electric hoves into view and things take a turn for the heavily psychy before fading out again. “I can hear so much music, and I can feel everything now / And I can see so much clearer, when I just close my eyes… “ exalts Christopher, heading for the light at the end of the tunnel. Which tunnel? What sort of light? Who knows.

Love Like A River
A mournful Stonesy ballad drapped in organ and the beatific cries of a soul backing singer.

Jamie Marie
And so we end again in quiet introspective ruined romance, gently chiming and scraping strings and that husky gasp of a voice… we’re starting to fear it like a touch on the back of the neck. What are they going to do with us once they’ve lured and lulled us in this time? Well, we’re coming to some sort of closure here: “They say it’s better to have loved and lose it than never to know it… easy come, easy go… whatever”. Finally we end with a nice, redemptive organ outro.

A thing of fraught beauty and many guises, Girls’ second album finds them pushing further out into their biggests sound and further in to the smallest, most scared parts of their souls than before. It’s not always easy listening, but it’s always beautiful.