Girls — FATHER, SON, HOLY GHOST : Album Review

Father, Son, Holy Ghost

tACKY Grade: 8.6/10

1. Honey Bunny
2. Alex
3. Die
4. Saying I Love You
5. My Ma’
6. Vomit
7. Just A Song
8. Magic
9. Forgiveness
10. Love Like A River
11. Jamie Marie

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two years since Girls released their debut LP Album, that in such a short amount of time a band could make so astronomic a leap or leave so bold an imprint on the world of independent music. Essentially, Christopher Owens and his little lo-fi band from San Francisco have crafted an entire genre and burned down a path for innumerable other bands to diverge from. Album was an early-career masterpiece for Girls, a 12-track exploration of heartbreak and the dreadful feeling of being an island, an isolated soul in a less-than-welcoming world. Sure, there were some fun and upbeat tracks, but largely it was an affectionally longing record highlighted by its singles “Lust For Life” and “Hellhole Ratrace” that delved into a dichotomy between playfulness and drab loneliness and more importantly by oft-overlooked back tracks like “Lauren Marie” and “Darling” that were as soulfully dolorous as they were enchantingly dreamy. No band in recent memory could appeal to so broad a spectrum of interests or occasions. Whether you sought a summery beach rock tune like “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” to rock out to, or a brash yet sweetly remorseful track like “Laura” to include on a mixtape after you’d been dumped, or just something to calm yourself like the instrumental “Curls” with its sly psychedelic undertones draped behind crafty and subtly masterful guitar harmony, or just about anything else that could fall under the loose umbrella of heartbroken lo-fi pop, Album had it all. It was quirky, gushing, charming, artistic, and friendly. It was, and still is, as good as anything we’ve seen since its release.

Even the EP that followed it, Broken Dreams Club, couldn’t quite encapsulate all that was available on Album, but was still one of the best EPs of the decade. That left us, like many of you, wondering – what the hell can we expect from Girls on their second full-length record? It was difficult to imagine them avoiding the inevitable slight step back that a band that is nearly perfect on their first go-around is almost always forced into. Just take a look at a few of the artists of the same time-frame and their recent second attempts if you need examples, Bon Iver, Toro Y Moi, Sharon Van Etten being the easiest to pick out. Certainly, all of those artists’ second LPs (SVE’s is somewhere between a full-length and EP, but it serves the same purpose here) were very good albums, but they were also letdowns in one way or another. They displayed shifts in style, lessened but not extinct soul, and a palpable effort to recapture what was previously effortless. Before actually listening to Father, Son, Holy Ghost, you might assume it would be destined for much the same. For the most part, however, it escapes that fate and stands on its own feet as a great album in its own right.

The only flaw, in fact, in the entire record is their attempt to slip (perhaps too far) into the psychedelic/experimental classic rock style that was never previously their draw. I wouldn’t count that against them necessarily except for the fact that when they attempt that sound, it’s not woven all that well into the fabric of the rest of the album. The heavy-handed and pounding “Die” juts out from its surrounding tracks “Alex” and “How Can I Say I Love You”, which are both palatable and emblematic of the rest of the album – fun, sweet, easy to get into, sad but in a sort of offbeat bouncy way that only Girls could impart. Instead “Die” feels like something you’d expect from a garage rock group or some classic rock knockoff band, thrashing about with harsh drums and blaring guitar solos that lack the one thing Girls always had in abundance, which was subtlety. I’m certain that’s along the lines of what they were attempting to do, I just think it could have been better executed within the bounds of this record. Or perhaps it couldn’t have been placed anywhere else among the track listing, couldn’t have been worked in better, and that’s why it sticks out so much.

Otherwise, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is as solid an album as Album was. Lyrically, it’s a little simplistic, which I will never give any record extra credit for, but because it seems intentional and done to good effect you can’t exactly hold it against the band either. The sonic painting has a little less grit to it, but is well-rounded and crafted with more crispness and a more delicate touch. Despite the obvious attempts to rock out, it is largely a river of sweetness with undercurrents of loneliness, and a truly great pop album. Girls probably wouldn’t fit on a bill with the lo-fi rock groups of the scene any more, but would more easily be heard in a show among loose-form indie poppers or avant garde artists. Truth be told, I like this a little less than their first album, but only for subjective reasons. Technically, it is by far Album‘s superior, but I just preferred its sound to this one. The difference is only slight in terms of its quality, and it is no less a must-have album, perhaps the best album of the year at this point. Only the test of time will truly reveal if it will rank above the other greats of 2011, but the fact that it’s squarely in the conversation should say enough.

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