Christopher Owens broke up his very popular indie-rock band Girls because he felt it lacked consistency. With band members coming in and out for new tours and records, it seemed they’d never be the surrogate family he’d hoped for, or even a gradually maturing unit. So he blew it up to embrace the fluid whims of a solo career. Lysandre, his first slim statement of purpose, is 28 minutes of 60s and 70s pop-radio worship that looks at Girls' first blush of success a few years ago from an already nostalgic remove, remembering their first tour and the French girl Owens became infatuated with during the course of it. It’s a very contained story of sweet times and eventual separate ways that constantly alludes to heartbreak, but it doesn’t totally convince you that anything other than a warm memory remains at its end. The record is classic sounding or, to be harsh, old sounding. You could call it square through a sneer. It’s an incredibly easy and pleasurable listen, though.
The biggest change in palette from Girls to Lysandre is a focus on woodwinds: a repeating classical flute motif, lots of enthusiastic sax, and a little harmonica. The sound flirts with cheesiness but doesn't take it home. It feels as if it's coming from a place of pre-shame, before anyone would think to be embarrassed by the tones, rather than a cold, willful re-examination of them. “Part of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)” gets extremely close to Paul Simon’s early solo work, all harmonica hum and airport longing. The album is never as despairing as Girls could get, though rough youth and drug use are given passing mention. Owens gets a touch defensive about his persistent, dopey love song penchant in “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener,” so earnest and open about artistic doubt that he comes across as jokey even when he’s directly telling you he isn’t joking. “What if people are sick of love songs? Maybe I should sing about dying.”
On Girls’ great last record Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Owens did occasionally sing about dying. The band on that record reached a level of classic rock grandeur, a tapping into darkness, that seems unavailable here. You miss the range, slightly, but cloud-rattling guitar riffs would have gone against the very simple gentle tone established from the first fluted seconds. He’s more into sounding like a light breeze than a thunderclap. It’s not a punk album in the least. That would take a willful warping of the word. It crosses over into twee several times, though not defiantly enough to be any sort of anti-punk punkness. You won’t feel tough listening to it, and even feeling cool is a stretch. You could listen to it with your Mom in the car and both of you would probably like it just fine. But that’s a virtue, not a slam. It’s exceedingly nice music. You may not feel nice right now, or want to, but as Owens sings, “Really, that’s all up to you.”