Girls: Album

By , Sep 29 2009

Rating: 8.5 / Format: CD/LP / Label: True Panther

Much has been made of the backstory behind Girls’ debut album. Frontman Christopher Owens grew up in America’s Children of God cult (UK readers, you may have seem them on Louis Theroux), where, according to Pitchfork, his mother was forced to prostitute herself, and his older brother died as a baby because the cult didn’t believe in medical attention. Bad start, right? It’s a backstory that clearly informs this album, and occasionally finds itself at the forefront of it – especially on album centerpiece ‘Hellhole Ratrace’, where Owens’ constantly declares that "he doesn’t wanna cry his whole life through". It’s more than enough to make you forgive the corny "so come on, come on, come on and laugh with me" that follows it.

Album‘s not a record that shies away from cheese. Opening track ‘Lust for Life’ is loosely based around a declaration that Owens is "just crazy/and fucked in the head", and wishes "he had a pizza and a bottle of wine" (alongside the slightly graver desire for a father figure), with handclap-happy melodies that fit somewhere between the less-refined Pulp of His ‘n’ Hers and 90s pop-punk of Weezer, NOFX et al. ‘Laura’ and ‘Ghost Mouth’ continue in a similar vein. Owens used to play with Holy Shit (Ariel Pink’s project with Matt Fishbeck), and their influence also looms large over Album: the link between Ariel’s work and Girls’ radio-friendly pop shouldn’t need re-stating, but his lo-fi tendencies also crop up, on ‘Goddamn’, ‘Headache’ and ‘Big Bad Mean Motherfucker’, all of which could be outtakes from Holy Shit’s Stranded at Two Harbors had that album been less reserved.

If ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ is Album‘s morbid centerpiece, then ‘Summertime’ is its moment of clarity. The lyrics are as corny as they ever were, but in the album’s context, in a haze of West Coast art students, warehouse spaces, worn relationships and bong hits, it works – the first half of the track building up a heavy, blood red wall of sound before the sun bursts through for the song’s second half, and Owens sings acoustic, "Summertime/soak up the sunshine with you." And listening to the album’s last three tracks, you keep waiting for the quality to fall, but it doesn’t: ‘Curls’ in particular a twisted, regal piece of pop that should find kinship in equally eccentric West Coasters Silk Flowers.

Basically, you know how Ariel Pink’s weird DIY shit is great, but secretly everyone wants him to make an all-out pop record?  Well here’s a guy who’s not quite as good as Ariel, but pretty fucking good, making that record. One of the year’s most special albums, and one packed with far too much hurt to be digested in one listen. I’ve listened to it three times today alone. 

Jay Shockley

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