Christopher Owens released his first album as the frontman for Girls in 2009. The album had a ’70s rock vibe with harsher edge and showcased Christopher Owens’ now-iconic vocals. Beyond the music, the wild story of his childhood—from his former membership in the cult Children and God and busking travels all over Europe to his plush San Francisco songwriter life with his tall blonde girlfriend—became well-known to his ardent fans. He’s grown into his unexpected stardom and clearly knows his own genius, but he has always been self-conscious about his rough voice. He has even tweeted at Justin Bieber asking if he could write songs for him, presumably because he’d rather Bieber sang than him. In July, Owens shocked fans with the news that he was leaving Girls to pursue a solo career, and this is the first music we’ve heard from Owens since.
With Lysandre, Owens’ voice becomes somewhat smoother and the album loses the harsh energy in Girls’ albums. “Just a Song” was Owen’s favorite track after the last album, and Lysandre builds off of that tone. It’s nothing that will appeal to fans of the song “Die,” but the soft romantic vibe of Lysandre has its merits. The album is narrative in all senses of the word. The tracks neatly map a quintessential story of love and loss: the relationship’s initial excitement, its ups and downs, its melancholy end and nostalgic epilogue. If that wasn’t Shakespearean enough, its title alludes to one of the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and opener “Lysandre’s Theme,” has a single line from a flautist might as well have come from the Renaissance era and that repeats throughout the album. Imagine Christopher Owens, the troubadour, serenading 16th-century Florence, making references to some yet-to-exist NYC punk life, and you’ll get something like Lysandre.
“Here We Go” introduces the album as a love story, and, as is true with some of his earlier work, Owens’ writing is somewhat sappy: “And if your heart is broken, you will find fellowship in me.” Some of the tracks on the album (“Here We Go” in particular) could be written off as corny James Taylor-like, been-there heard-that songs in the worst sense. This doesn’t really worry Owens. “What if everybody just thinks I’m a phony/ What if nobody ever gets it?/ Shouldn’t care what people think,” Owens sings, demonstrating his unabashed joy in writing simple love songs for their own sake. There is a part of ‘phony’ rock that many of us cling to even when it’s kitschy and cliched, and Owens somehow makes me feel less bashful about enjoying them. “A Broken Heart” is a great song to cure dejection and heartbreak: it might be better for that purpose than any song from Girls. Although tracks are often predictable, they are catchy and resonant. “Here We Go Again” may sound like it could be played at a 1950s Grease-type senior prom, but that’s not so bad a thing. Owens isn’t afraid to sound like other artists, as he articulates beautifully in “Love is in the Ear of the Listener”: “Well, everything to say has been said before/ That’s not what makes or breaks a song.” His love songs—especially “Lysandre’s Epilogue”—evoke feelings of regret that are universally relatable. He’s repurposed and repackaged ideas that have been said thousands of times before in a way that audiences can still latch onto throughout their own Lysandre-esque stories.