‘They don’t like my bony body/They don’t like my dirty hair’ begins the chorus of Honey Bunny, one of Girls’ top released singles, personifying front-man Christopher Owens’ oft-portrayed feelings of angst and rejection. Girls’ recent release marks a different sound from the snotty-voiced beginnings of Lust for Life, their hit from their first compilation, Album.
Though their six-song LP, Broken Dreams Club, released in November 2010 represented a subtle shift from their earlier work, the third compilation generated by Owens comes with an awareness that their musical style is growing in complexity and the nature of its musical influences. Whilst songs such as Ghost Mouth on Album and Substance on Broken Dreams Club display Owens’ natural proclivity for songwriting, Father, Son, Holy Ghost takes things further, culminating in an album that is catchy yet melancholic, fun yet somber, and as lyrically incisive as it is musically varied.
To appreciate and understand Girls’ music is to familiarize oneself with the mind of Christopher Owens, who was raised in, and eventually escaped from, the religious cult Children of God. His tumultuous relationships with the women in his life and the heavy opiates to which he was once addicted provide material for his painful yet soothingly-crooned lyrics, centred around his quest for love: ‘I want to see the light of love/I’m looking for meaning in my life/And you My Ma’.
The honesty of Owens’ songwriting reaches its peak in the album’s Just a Song, which begins with a soft rift of classical guitar, soon paired with him singing despairingly, ‘It just feels like it’s gone…/seems like nobody’s happy now’. The lilting guitar sequence halfway through the song is reminiscent of the dawning of a new day, and snare drums alongside the lyrics, ‘Love/It’s just a song’ renders the listener captivated in what is a complex and layered musical piece, full of hopeful contemplation.
One aspect of Owens that spans the three albums he’s created, down to the cover art, is his ‘theatrical’ singing; the assumption of deeper tones or an unexpected inflection that starkly differs with his somewhat ‘small’ natural voice. In Love Like a River, Owens’ voice mingles with the myriad of instrumentation, including powerful gospel back-up singers in the manner of Pink Floyd, soft harmonica, organ music that picks up strength throughout the song, and a mournful guitar solo. Whilst this lends a sense of musical complexity, the lyrics of unrequited love and chasing a girl whose interest is fleeting and fickle flows with the theme of the album as a whole.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost succeeds in obtaining a richer sound, through its use of various instruments and the personality and brilliant song-writing of Christopher Owens. Where previous efforts might have sounded disjointed and a bit grasping, this album comes across as coherent. Girls have learned to channel their varied interests and sounds into a unique blend of their own, making an album that is both meaningful and easy, but not monotonous, on the ear. So for the record, Chris: I like your bony body, and I like your dirty hair, and I most certainly like the direction Girls is heading.