Never did decide how I felt about Girls' Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the San Francisco band's latest album, but I damn sure respect it.
Unlike so many of his peers, Christopher Owens has the chops and vision to pull off his nostalgia fetish; not just to approximate the sound of his forbears but approximate their songs, too. The problem is, an approximation is what it is. That can be intoxicating on its own: just for its accuracy, “Honey Bunny” is one of his many thrilling Beach Boys impressions. Though it switches angles a lot melodically, its hooks have a warm familiarity, down to the ending that repeats the final line three times: “And you'll be the girl that I love!”
What's so hard to process about Owens is how sincerely he loves clichés, one stacked on top of another until they become something that's not cliché: a pile of clichés that all stick out bizarrely. Six minutes of Spiritualized-style stoner gospel, complete with choir (wonder if they knew the track would be titled “Vomit”?). Seven minutes of cooing “love … love … love … it's just a song” over a fucking flute. It's kind of funny.
In fact, it's pretty ridiculous. Owens and cohort scan so earnestly that reading it from the view of a normal person feels arch and almost cruel. After all, this guy survived a horrid childhood that took his mother and his innocence from him (he was in the Children of God cult). Who am I to tell him he can't fetishize stupid love songs salvaged from faded old records like mini-movies from a childhood he never had?
That childlike quality pops up in his sexuality (“Honey Bunny”), his longing (“Forgiveness”), and a simplicity with words that teeters on banal. His voice is barely existent and not very sweet. On his debut Album, it was actually loudly sour, evoking a snotty childishness on “Lust for Life” as he asks for a pizza and a boyfriend like he's talking to a genie. But filling his heart with old records feels more sympathetic than say, Jason Spaceman filling his arm with drugs.
With Girls, it's an endless circle of questions and wavering listens. Every time you put the record on, it's too much. When it's over, it feels like it wasn't enough. And except for the absurd Black Sabbath tribute “Die,” Father, Son, Holy Ghost hardly browbeats you with its pretensions. Does that make it easier to admire? Is its simplicity something to hide in or accuse of masking with affected personas? Is it slower than dirt or relaxing as the sun? Is Album better because it's tighter? Or is Owens “progressing”? Progressing towards what, the perfect retro? The perfect childhood?
On “Forgiveness” Owens sings, “I can hear so much music/ I can see so much clearer when I just close my eyes.” He wants to be heard more than he wants to be thought about, because even he doesn't know what the fuck he's doing. But he hears it.
Girls plays tonight at the Galaxy Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, CA. All ages, doors at 7 p.m.