January 24, 2013

Record Reactions: Christopher Owens – Lysandre

I always thought the band Girls was more or less “The Christopher Owens” band. So when news broke late last year that Owens had left his own band, I wondered what impact, if any at all, it would make on his sound. I certainly didn’t think it would be drastic.

That was before I discovered how big a part the former bassist and producer Chet White played in the band – not just in the calibration of the sound, but in the general direction he gave the group. He seemed to be the grounding force of Girls, while Owens was the driving force. The sound of Girls was not just Christopher Owens.

I was curious when I heard Owens was already releasing his first solo EP. And I became more curious while I listened to it. But I ended up liking what I heard.

With Lysandre, it feels like Owens took all the musical directions that Girls was moving in, hit them with a screeching halt, and high-tailed the other direction. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that, in listening to this record, you have to understand that it is not a new album from Girls. This is Christopher Owens, with a sweet, quiet little tribute to a friend.

There have been various rumors and speculation about the subject matter of this record – a love letter to someone he met on a tour, a metaphor to the disintegration of his band. But it doesn’t really matter what the record is about.

There are some interesting musical themes around the album – help from a cute little female voice, a fuzzed electric guitar, a saxophone, a harmonica. The instrumentation is thorough and extensive – each layer burrowing deeper into the complexities of each track, making them more advanced and more mature.

A little bit of Owen’s crunchier side is still to be found in parts – for example, the fuzzy and out-of-place little guitar trill on the chorus of “Here We Go“ gives an outstanding depth to a song that had previously just been a simple acoustic tune. And there are still shades of Girls here and there – the backbone of “New York City” could be mistaken for an old Girls beat – but there’s so much new fluff and substance layered on top that the sound is now almost unrecognizable.

Each song is a short little piece – perhaps they’re each a vignette covering a different aspect of this experience of Lysandre. It’s mysterious, even if it’s technically laid out plainly for all to see.

His most revealing and obvious declaration comes on “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener.”

“What if I’m just a bad songwriter
And everything I say has been said before?
Well, everything to say has been said before
And that’s not what makes or breaks us up”

But after that track, there’s a bit of a shift in emotion – where the record ostensibly hit its lowest point. If the first act is a flirtation with hopeful love, and the second act is a downtrodden trip through melancholia, the final few songs are the album’s contented resolution.

If this record is nothing else, it’s a story. And it’s a story that’s not unpleasant to hear, and one that’s not difficult to understand. In that respect and many others, this record is a very cool excursion for Christopher Owens, maybe a palate cleanser before taking another stab at Girls. And while it might not be stand-up-and-cheer brilliant, it sure is pleasant. It’s relaxed, mellow, and digestible, even at its heaviest moments. Christopher Owens, it sounds like, has already found his peace.

I really liked listening to this record. It’s just not a new Girls LP. And that’s still kind of lame.


Image Credit: Christopher Owens

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