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Girls’ Sophomore Effort is Spectacular

Ross Finney | Thursday, December 9, 2010

Girls’ follow-up to their spectacular debut “Album” may not be a rock and roll revelation, but its solid song writing and increased production value make the six-song EP one of the year’s best new releases.

Although the album is melodramatic, it doesn’t compare to the drama of frontman Christopher Owens’ real life. Owens was raised in the Children of God cult and grew up in various places in Europe. Escaping the cult as a teenager, Owens fled to America to live with his sister, and later immersed himself in the San Francisco punk-rock scene, where he rose through the ranks to front one of today’s premiere indie bands. The guy has been through a lot.

Through the lens of Owens’ past, it’s easier to understand the EP’s generally gloomy tone, and the inherent sadness in his voice. The Elvis Costello comparisons are inevitable, even though Owens sings with an eager earnestness that even Costello rarely reaches.

The instrumentation, produced under band member JR White’s supervision, is a further expansion on the Wall-of-Sound, jangly Beach Boys’ throwback that fellow San Fran bands like the Morning Benders have been playing around with for some time now. White, however, is able to adapt the technique to the music, and is not afraid to take the songs out of the jangle-pop realm and give them some dreamy psychedelic flourishes or even the occasional trumpet.

The latter really makes opening track “Thee Oh So Protective One” special. The song harkens back to 1950s rock and roll, the ballads of the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison particularly. A new take on the classic chord progression, the song’s trumpet and subtle organ make the obvious throwback sound new again, and the very personal lyrics, a serenade of sorts to a very sad girl, differentiate it from the cheesiness of a song like “Earth Angel,” upon which the guitar part is heavily modeled.

“Heartbreaker,” the album’s second track, is, as you might guess from the name, a pretty sad song. While more up-tempo than the tracks preceding and following it, “Heartbreaker’s” lyrics are melancholic to say the least. The story of man realizing he’s getting older and that his heart may be irreparably broken, the song is not a pick me up, but it has plenty of replay value. Sound-wise, it’s very pretty, and the mix is perfect.

The title track follows, and is yet another downer. A lament that “the world keeps going nowhere,” is kind of a bummer, though less so than “Heartbreaker.” The idea that the world keeps bringing the singer down creates speculation about the autobiographical nature of the lyrics, though they are a bit too vague to say anything conclusive. With some nice steel guitar rounding out the band’s sound, the song’s a good listen, if not particularly cheerful.

“Alright” begins and really seems like more of the same. It’s sad and not particularly creative musically for the first three minutes, so one might get the idea that it’s filler. However the song takes a turn with an instrumental breakdown that is more dream-pop than anything. It’s ethereal and makes what would have been a throwaway track very special.

Following is the tune “Substance,” which is actually one of the more positive songs. Though not necessarily a life-affirming tune, Owens assures you that “you can rock ‘n roll,” and that “it’s a simple life.” The catch seems to be indulging to the nominal substance, which has certainly been a big part of Owens’ life, but adds a tragic dimension to what is an otherwise happy song. The highlight is Owens unexpected “guitar solo c’mon!” line, that precedes a pretty raw solo.

The closing track is “Carolina,” which is new psychedelia for the lo-fi world. Drawing heavily on the layered fuzz and feedback that made My Bloody Valentine a revelation 20 years earlier, this song’s feedback is more jarring, but still rich enough to provide a lysergic backing for the wistful lyrics about starting a new life in Carolina. You know these guys are truly great when in the last minute the dreaminess and fuzz disappear for a jangly pop-rock outro that REM should’ve written.