There was widespread shock when it was announced in July last year that Christopher Owens had left San Francisco group Girls. The band, which Owens had started alongside bassist Chet ‘JR’ White, were showered in praise after the release of their second full-length album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, making the decision to disband all the more surprising. In fact, virtually everything Girls released during their time together was of a consistently high standard.
At the time, Owens cited the band’s constantly changing line-up as the reason for his departure, but after the announcement of his debut solo record, entitled Lysandre, it would seem a desire for more freedom as an artist was the driving force behind the decision. Written, recorded and sequenced as a complete narrative about the events of Girls’ first ever tour in the summer of 2008, Lysandre is essentially a concept album and one that is very personal to Owens.
Telling the story of Girls’ rise to prominence, as well as a relationship that Owens had with girl in France during their first tour, Lysandre sees the singer-songwriter take an honest and introverted look at himself and the band he left so unceremoniously. Nowhere is this more evident than on Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener, where Owens sings: “What if everybody just thinks I’m a phony/ What if nobody ever gets it/ Well, some people never get anything/ And I shouldn’t care what people think.” Owens has always been fairly self-referential as a songwriter, but never to the extent that he is on Lysandre.
Musically, Owens’ debut LP doesn’t exactly push the boundaries. In many ways, Lysandre is a straightforward acoustic album from start to finish, barring the occasional foray with the electric guitar. New York City and Here We Go Again are two such occasions, with both tracks reminiscent of Girls at their catchiest. New York City, in particular, is one of the album standouts, with a punchy guitar riff and chaotic saxophone providing the bed for Owens’ dry, nonchalant vocal delivery.
Elsewhere, the sonic, wall-of-sound guitars that defined many of Girls’ most impressive moments are replaced by a wistful flute that weaves its way throughout the album. After the opening burst on opener Lysandre’s Theme, Owens continues to use the flute to create a cohesiveness during the album’s short 29-minute running time. While it is pleasant enough at first, it eventually begins to wear thin as Owens almost gets lost in a world of Greensleeves. A Broken Heart is one demonstration of the flute overstaying its welcome, on an otherwise beautifully mournful song, as Owens sings on the chorus: “And I wish it hadn’t happened to us/ You fell in love with that girl.”
While the concept behind Lysandre works well on Owens’ first debut outing, there is always a nagging feeling of something missing throughout the record. Here We Go is one such example, with its melancholic, flute-driven tune all too forgettable until a sudden electric guitar solo bursts out of nothing to give it some backbone. Then there’s the rather pointless ’60s-inspired Riviera Rock, which is no more than filler on an album too brief to get away with it.
Despite the misgivings, Owens’ talent as a songwriter is unmistakable and Lysandre is, on the whole, a promising start to his solo career, even if it feels like a transition album between Girls and his newly-found freedom, something made clear by the album’s introverted nature. Lysandre doesn’t necessarily vindicate his decision to go it alone, but Owens was never likely to achieve that after one album. It may be hard to accept the end of Girls, but on this evidence, Christopher Owens as a solo artist will only get better.