A modern attitude to musical history, combined with extraordinary wit, honesty and tunes makes for one of the best rock records of our time.
Chris Owens has a habit of tweeting about Miley Cyrus before his live shows; before he took to the stage at the Electric Ballroom last month, for example, he tweeted “Miley, help me”. Apparently drawing strength from her inspirational 2007/2008 Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds tour, Chris (or @Chri55yBaby) often pays homage to the Disney star in comments and videos that are both quietly funny and yet sugar-coated in sincerity. It’s this easy humour, this accessible silliness which makes Owens such an inviting performer, such a relaxing presence, and such a perfect songwriter. The collection of songs released this year on Father, Son, Holy Ghost is open and honest, with a refreshing clarity of intention and primary-coloured emotion breathed into each lyric. With no agendas, no trickery and no pretence, Girls create music which prickles and giggles with honesty.
The openness of Girls’ second album is what gives it this emotional sting, and makes it one of the best records released in 2011; as a collective of songwriters, Girls do not hide themselves from their listeners, and nor do they refuse to listen. Fistfuls of compressed genres spring into life on this record, from gospel vocals to bluesy riffs and soft, virtuoso moments of acoustic guitar – no musical trope is off-limits to Girls, who had to be willing to invite any sound into the album in order to give it the completeness they’ve achieved. With a fluidity of genre and disregard for labels, they’ve characterised 2011 in their refusal to care about what has been done before, and choosing instead to break new ground. There are no brooding, elusive, self-important artists at work here, and no-one is trying to fit into a mould – these are just restlessly creative people with a near-childlike curiosity in the world around them. Like musical magpies, hoarding genres like jewels, the San Francisco duo inject their record with noise so disparate and exciting that the sum of it is something entirely new, and as engrossing to the curious listener as a toy box might be to a child.
The inherent irony of the track ‘Just A Song’ encapsulates this mindset – nothing on Father, Son, Holy Ghost is “just” anything, but rather a culmination of a bubbling overflow of ideas, noises and influences. Sweeping naturally through genres as though they were always meant to be together, Owens’ voice anchors the album, allowing the dust shaken up by his musical treasure-hunting to settle in the quiet magnificence of his vocals. Little flairs of genius, like the softness that catches on the line “I miss the way life was, when you were my girl” in ‘Jamie Marie’, or the guttural wallowing of “nothing’s gonna get any better” in ‘Forgiveness’, reach out of the music to bodily grab the listener, pulling them into the moment that’s being laid bare in the music.
This feeling, in its immersive wholeness, is something that could have made this album soar in any year it was released; couple this with a historical backdrop of musical influences, however, and you’ve got something that speaks uniquely, and softly, to the listeners of right now. When you hum along to one of these tracks, it not only moves you, but brings you into a movement – it’s intensely rooted in the present moment, and yet balanced teeteringly, gratefully, on everything that has gone before.
Although the musical entanglement on Father, Son, Holy Ghost could easily have ended up messy and self-contradictory, under the overarching influence of a mind and a voice like Owens’, it becomes magical. When Owens is whispering melodically along, it’s as though the world becomes quiet with him. A permeable, transparent performer and personality, the music that Owens makes is full of the same whirlwind of energy and ideas, and yet contained within the “bony body” of the childlike performer. It’s the culmination of things which were never made to go together, steered at the helm by an undeniable emotional reality; mostly, and most explicitly, it’s the complicated made simple. It’s simply a fantastic album.