In summer in San Francisco the beaches are golden, the sky is blue and the grass is green. In summer in Australia the beaches are golden, the sky is blue and, well, the grass is kind of brown. But, for a band from San Fran whose sun-drenched tunes are easy-going and woozily beach-friendly, the lead-up to Australian summer is the perfect time for their debut album to meet our ears and accompany us through searing, lazy afternoons.
With an eight-bar intro of single note strumming, track one, Lust For Life, begins. Vocalist and songwriter Christopher Owens recalls a time when he met up with his ex — when she had a new boyfriend. The song progresses with his honest lyrics, telling us “I wish I had a father/maybe then I would’ve turned out right/but now I’m just crazy/I’m totally mad”. Despite the deep material, the tune is bright and dynamic with handclaps strewn throughout and 60’s-esque surf-pop backup vocals.
Another stand out track is Big Bad Mean Motherfucker. The Beach Boys have been grunged up, fuzzed out and lo-fi’d down but the influence is still clear. A short track, but a good beach-party track, it’s followed by Hellhole Ratrace, the duo’s first single and generally regarded as their best song, despite being slow and reflective.
Although much of the album is fun, carefree and a nod to vintage guitar pop, Hellhole Ratrace brings the underlying themes of Album to the surface. As far as personal history goes, Owens’s is pretty dynamic. His evocative voice hints at the sadness in his troubled past and some lyrics reference drug use and bad breakups. Despite Hellhole Ratrace beginning with the lyrics “I’m sick and tired of the way I feel,” it’s not a self-indulgent emo rant. Owens is a broken man but, thankfully, he is still able to have fun with the music.
Owens and bassist/producer JR White set out to make a pop record and indeed, they succeeded. The music is quintessentially Californian, and as I mentioned, perfect for Australian beach culture. However, with such a DIY production ethos, Girls have produced their music simply so that through the thin facade of jangly percussion and strummy guitar, there is no disguising the wounded essence of Owens’s songwriting.
Girls have been labeled a ‘buzz band’ and Album has been well received by the American media. Perhaps it’s because we can all relate to Owens and his tales of love lost and broken families. Perhaps it’s because we can all relate to his attempts to disguise it with cheery pop. But, perhaps it’s because we know that this album is our story too.