August 21, 2011

Album Review: GIRLS' Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Admittedly, I didn't enjoy the debut album by San Francisco indie rock act, GIRLS, as much as the mainstream music press did. Aside from the infectious sunny singles, "Lust for Life" and "Laura", the entirety of Album played more like safe bets in lo-fi pop persuasions more so than refreshing rock 'n roll critics lauded GIRLS to be. On top of last year's more promising transition in the Broken Dreams Club EP, there is something undeniably interesting enough about the band's backstory that makes it impossible not to pay attention to this project. With lead singer and band figurehead Christopher Owens supposedly growing up as a member and escapee of the Children of God cult (where he wasn't allowed to listen to music whatsoever,) it makes his insight on life something most musicians and people in general will never be able to relate to.

On their sophomore follow-up, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, some light is shed on that unconventional upbringing as he and Chet "JR" White hone in on the spirituality of music by using Owens' honest songwriting approach, expanding the band into a quartet and shelving the lo-fi to venture off onto an illuminating journey beyond physical boundaries. Album opener "Honey Bunny" begins the LP on a familiar "Peggy Sue"-esque beat, but consider it a necessary short-lived and lively warm-up before five minutes of wavey mid-tempos and schizophrenic guitar and piano progressions on "Alex" make it apparent that you've boarded GIRLS' magical mystery tour.

Absorbed by lyrics of love, lust and loss, the feelings that make up Father, Son, Holy Ghost are echoed both in the coos and cries of Owens' vocals alongside warm, strummy (and even heavy) riffs inspired by late '60s guitar pop ("My Ma," "Magic," "Love Like a River.") It's not just a travel through drug-induced retro rock that makes Father, Son, Holy Ghost feel like an other-worldly experience, though. "Die" takes the album's most surprising turn early on as a mostly-instrumental epic that is one part breezy classic rock and another where GIRLS' display their devil horns through turbulent metal riffage. Owens and company lay off pedals at other points using their guitars sparsely and putting focus on whispers and soft drums that lull by in a fashion that would Stuart Murdoch blush ("Forgiveness," "Jamie Marie.")

At its core, however, lies the album's heart and centerpiece, "Vomit" -- A dark, sprawling opus where Christopher Owens bleeds the need for love and the ultimate triumph over empty lustful desires through a plucky guitar that works its way past a seedy climax to find itself at the doors of a heavenly choir. It's in these six-minutes-plus that Father, Son, Holy Ghost can be defined, as it showcases GIRLS' ability to transform the spiritual experience of music by using the heart as its guide and interpreting it as a euphoric sound. While LP 2 still contains an obtuse dose of derivative simplicity that the band leaned so heavily on their debut, GIRLS' Father, Son, Holy Ghost digs deeper and is a resurrection of sorts for indie rock in 2011 in that unlike other hollow-bodied releases this year, it actually has a soul.

GIRLS' Father, Son, Holy Ghost will be released September 13, 2011 on True Panther Sounds.

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