The last words audible on Girls’ Broken Dreams Club EP are a warm backing round of "Doo-run-run-run, doo-run-run," as if the preceding half-hour wasn’t enough to convince everyone that they were pop traditionalists, and they needed to start being direct about it. Frontman Christopher Owens is actually pretty direct about everything in his songs, using only the most easily decoded metaphors, and mainly singing in plain language about disappointment, drugs and heartbreak—mostly heartbreak. He still sounds uncannily like Elvis Costello, though without the righteous anger or the searing smarts. While he lacks for ferocity, Owens sounds utterly genuine in a state that’s perpetually ten seconds away from a full-body sob. His defeated, hang-dog charisma is vital to the San Francisco band’s allure, fitting naturally in both the neo-psych of their debut album and the prominent alt-country feel of this EP. Over wilting lap-steel on the title track he laments, "I just don’t understand how the world keeps going nowhere," wounded like a jilted lover spurned by the planet en masse. When a muted horn enters the mix, you might think of Charlie Brown lectured by his teacher, getting grief from all sides.
Buttery brass hits, country and western flourishes, welcome intrusions of sweet female vocals—it’s clear that Girls have made a conscious attempt to flesh out their sound. As Owens explained in a letter to fans, the group’s year of extended touring has enabled them to give these home-studio productions a professional sheen. As they weren’t wild experimentalists to start, the gussying up suits Girls well. Crucially, Owens has a knack for inserting his traditional hooks just as the instrumentation grants him a perfect lull. "When I said that I loved you honey, I knew that you would break my heart," from advance single "Heartbreaker," isn’t the most clever line, but the timing is impeccable. Though all this precision makes it doubtful that the making of Broken Dreams Club could be quite as drug-addled as last year’s Album famously was, the EP still includes "Substance," a starkly sincere ode to anesthetizing abuse. "Who wants something real when you can have nothing? Why not just give up, who wants to try?" it asks, again with that aching sincerity that makes oblivion seem like a perfectly reasonable option. No matter how deflated these sentiments are, or how simply they’re constructed, there’s some strange chemistry that lets them transcend.