Under Review: Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
San Francisco’s Girls have a very strong creative leader in Christopher Owens. On the group’s debut album, simply titled Album, Owens unleashed a barrage of classic pop influenced material. The feelings of mental anguish as well as unbridled freedom heard in Owens’ music primarily stems from his childhood in the California-based Children Of God cult (now known as the Family International Movement). Back then, Owens’ outlets for expression were limited, and his intake of popular music was restricted. Gleaning sounds from the backgrounds of movies, Owens cultivated a love for the sunny, pastoral pop of ‘60s bands like the Beach Boys as well as the bombastically emotional rock of ‘70s groups like Queen. The timid fragility of Album was all but purged by the time Broken Dreams Club, a six-song mini album, was released last year. With that release, Owens embraced a jangly, Big Star-indebted power pop sound. That sound (along with many other new ones) carries over into Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls’ second full length.
Though he’s become insurmountably more confident as a performer, Owens’ music still features a lurking unpredictability. For starters, there are musical moments on Father, Son, Holy Ghost that are quite surprising, even taking Girls’ adventurous past into account. The first surprise comes only a few songs in, on “Die.” The song’s intro is a noisy, relentlessly propulsive rush, with searing guitars falling in the middle ground between glam rock and heavy metal. A quick transition brings a speedy, punkishly pessimistic delivery from Owens. An about face brings on the last movement, a hazy, Pink Floyd-ish outro. Another focal point on the album is “Vomit,” an extended ballad that features hushed strumming, a full choir and wailing electric organ. Its Book of Proverbs-nodding title and quasi-gospel composition alludes to Owens’ continued frustration/fascination with his faith. After all, he did name the album Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
The more straightforward songs on the record are just as rewarding as the aforementioned experiments. Sprightly opener “Honey Bunny” and its thematic companion, “My Ma,” are both odes to Owens’ mother. Like Christopher, Owens’ mother was part of the Children Of God, and their turbulent relationship has served as the basis for some of Girls’ most intense songs. The jaunty “Magic” and the breezy “How Can I Say I Love You” are exercises in throwback pop songwriting, and Owens sticks the landings on each. The album closes with “Jamie Marie,” ostensibly a relative of Album’s “Lauren Marie.” The song’s a very delicate number that Owens has likened to the character studies of Randy Newman. Steeped in pop’s past and effortlessly forging its future, Owens continues to take Girls into bold and immeasurably captivating directions.