Last summer when Girls officially broke up, I took it pretty bad. Like a lot of people, I thought the music Christopher Owens and Chet White were making was the tip-top of the day. Father, Son, Holy Ghost would be their last album together, and it was my second-favorite album of 2011. So, when Owens announced that he was working on a solo record to be released in early 2013, a glimpse of sunshine through the dark clouds became evident. As the lead singer/songwriter/guitarists for the group, his solo material would surely be, if not exactly the same, quite similar to Girls.
And it is. Lysandre is very much a continuation of the music Owens made with Girls, with a slightly more ornate decorum. He’s added some new instruments to the arsenal and brought the emotions to higher highs and lower lows. It’s like he wants to prove to the world that Girls was somehow holding back the true artistic power he commands. Odd that he chose now to unleash this work, as most of the songs are at least a couple years old.
Lysandre has a wider scope than his previous works, focusing on a narrative love story that whisks Owens around the world. It opens with a madrigal, Ian Anderson-like flute solo doubled by a guitar. This is “Lysandre’s Theme,” and it plays a vital role in the album. Within a minute or so of the record we’ve already gone on a journey along the eastern seaboard, ending in New York City. Owens is searching for love and acceptance anywhere he can find it, trekking to Europe before he finds the one he calls Lysandre.
One thing I noticed about the record is the amount of self-doubt Owens displays throughout. One whole song, “Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener,” is him asking the question “What if I’m not good enough?” He definitely has the voice to pull off that kind of vulnerability, and the slyness to make us think he doesn’t believe it.
It sounds like a record full of despair and self-loathing, but it’s not. There are some catchy rock tunes here as well. Of the 11 songs, there are three or four really upbeat numbers. While they provide a little kick to the proceedings, the real meat of the story is found in the more melancholy tunes, like “A Broken Heart.” It opens with a dagger: “Nothing like a memory to open up a broken heart. It’s been years but I look at you now and we’re torn apart.” This provides the necessary scene in the story where a forlorn Owens reaches rock bottom and has to decide whether to push on or succumb to his own despair.
Of course, that’s only four songs in, so you can guess which way the plot goes. Already at this point there is a lot going on. Musically, I love the way he plays with “Lysandre’s Theme.” He’s really built a great score around that piece of music, and he goes in and out of it quite a bit from song to song. Lyrically Owens isn’t knocking down any great barriers, but he’s being honest and keeping it simple.
When he finally meets the woman he’s been searching for, more than halfway through the record, there’s a definite change in his tone. While some previous songs were upbeat, this is the first time you can hear a real sense of happiness in his voice. It’s a playful song, with some easily detectable Parisian influences in the music. It also has a great line at the beginning: “You could act precocious, you could act ferocious, you could run away from me and hide. But I’m not gonna worry, I’m not in a hurry. You will come around to me in time.”
When I first listened to Lysandre, I wasn’t sure that I liked it. Upon more spins, I end up liking it more and more. Just in the span of time since I started writing this review, my enjoyment has increased by at least three times. I think it’s just one of those records where you need to hear it a few times, like a great movie that you watch over and over until you know every line of dialogue.
If you’re a Girls fan, this review has been completely worthless because you were always going to buy the record. For those who maybe aren’t so inclined, I really recommend this album. It might require some patience to get into it, but taken as a whole I think this could be the American response to Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melodie Nelson.
Lysandre will be available on January 15th (though if you pre-order from Fat Possum you may get it early)
Owens will be on tour starting on the release date right here in Chicago at Lincoln Hall! I hope to see you there. He’s only got 9 North American dates lined up right now. If you want to see him, better get your tickets.
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