It’s difficult to discuss Girls without mentioning the backstory of frontman Christopher Owens. Raised by a single mother as a member of the extremist cult Children of God, Owens never spent a single day inside a classroom. Instead, before escaping to the States, he earned money performing religious folk songs on the streets of Europe. At age 25, Owens met bassist Chet White in San Francisco and together they released Girls’ critically acclaimed first album.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost references and draws energy from Owens’ unusual upbringing. The holy trinity album title alludes to Owens’ estranged religiosity, a theme further established by periodic choir ensembles and funereal organs. There’s also a street-performer quality about Girls’ sophomore album, moments where Owens sings as if to an audience of three of four.
Compared to Album, Girls’ first LP, this album trades peppiness for pain, appetite for ache. Gone are the Californian high school crushes of “Ghost Mouth” and “Summertime.” If there is a leitmotif in Father, Son, Holy Ghost, it is lovesickness. “Love, it’s just a song,” Owens croons, a lament of the brevity of passion. The distant mother of “My Ma,” the downhearted siblings of “Forgiveness” and the dejected nostalgia of “Jamie Marie”—each exposes a beautiful soreness unfelt in Girls’ previous releases.
Girls continue to make retro sound both immediately recognizable and strangely new. “Honey Bunny” would be a Beach Boys surfer hit if not for its slowed- down bridge. The other single, “Vomit,” takes psychedelic rock and adds a gospel choir. “Die” transitions from hellish punk guitar riffs to Pink Floyd atmospherics. The album forays into the last half-century of pop music, reworking tried formulas. Throughout, Owens’ wounded voice defines and distinguishes Girls’ sound from its rock predecessors. What beautiful fortune if his songs continue to echo down hollow streets, through open windows, toward unwitting ears.