Girls and the Glory of Pop

09/14/2011 4:05 AM |

Father, Son, Holy Ghost

(True Panther Sounds)

Broken Dreams Club, that near-perfect slice of pop/rock formalism dropped last year by San Francisco’s Girls, found Christopher Owens self-medicating a broken heart, as usual. He lushly sobbed over the world’s ails, wondered if numbing up wasn’t more attractive than engaging, daydreamed about throwing a woman over his shoulder and heading south. An earned reputation as one of indie-rock’s best songwriters hasn’t been a foolproof aphrodisiac. The follow-up, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, documents Owens’ continuing romantic despair as an epic poem; a long, wandering set about love lost, love wanted, love denied. “Well, who cares about love?” he bluffs to Alex, an unavailable, black-haired beauty who’s got an anthem of longing named for her. It’s the least convincing line in a record of intense conviction, gentle earnestness. Owens cares about love so much! He obsesses over it with the intensity of someone who hasn’t felt the sensation in a good, long while. Oh, he gets girls occasionally. But they aren’t the right girls. He’s “been messing with so many girls who could give a damn about who [he is].” If he likes the girl, his love, “like a river,” washes them away. He openly, desperately wishes twice for his mother, or at least a dream girl who can provide unconditional love in the face of improper hair care, drug use, or borderline creepy intensity. Suggested alternate album title: Girls – Girls, Girls, Girls.

The title the record does have, name-dropping the Holy Trinity, is initially puzzling. The band’s sound continues growing and sure, that includes touches of gospel. You notice them most on “Vomit,” an unfortunately named track that instantly ranks among the best modern rock songs we’ve got about transcendent yearning. But alongside those sweet, soulful touches comes thrilling, evil guitar crunch far removed from a youth pastor’s acoustic strum. Where previous Girls releases were notably bright and 60s-tinged, this one feels like the 70s—longer, heavier, messier. New wrinkles easily blend in throughout. Owens is a bonafide hippie who effortlessly incorporates post-hippie genres like power-pop, new wave, AM radio bubblegum, power ballads. The record does have a pronounced devotional feel, though. It exalts the glory of golden oldies radio, of pop music itself. His lyrics, unvaryingly simple declarations of love and loss, are repeated over and over in minor variation, hymn-like. When “Die” presents the personal hell of total pessimism, its turn to stoner hard rock makes perfect sense. What else is Pop/Rock Hell going to sound like but Sabbath? It’s plausible that Owens, with his tragic upbringing of death, cult membership, and life on the street, with his every recorded breath used to reassert just how goddamn lonely he is, should consider pop craftsmanship—the one thing he’s undeniably got going for him–as a transcendent, redemptive spiritual force. Maybe his work doesn’t offer much for tear-it-all-down types, those chasing only the newest sounds and genres. For anyone with any sort of affection at all for the traditions of rock music and their intersection with pure pop, this album is a glorious place to worship.

Photo Sandy Kim