Artist: Christopher Owens
Label: Fat Possum
It sure came as a surprise when the San Francisco-based duo, Girls, announced they were breaking up shortly after they released their outstanding second full-length, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. With only two albums and an EP under their short yet impressive career, the duo composed of vocalist/guitarist Christopher Owens and bassist/producer JR White decided to call it quits for what is still unknown reasons. As devastating as this was to their already established group of fans, singer-songwriter Christopher Owens certainly did not waste time and immediately started focusing on a solo career. Luckily, the first taste of Christopher Owens’ post-Girls musical journey has finally seen the light, much sooner than what was expected.
A loose concept album, Lysandre focuses entirely on the short relationship he had with a French girl during the band’s first-ever European tour. As in the good tradition of Girls, the album is nicely crafted through layers of acoustic guitars, harmonicas, backing female vocals, saxophone solos, and a whole lot of flutes. The album definitely succeeds in achieving the sunny, 70’s-era aesthetic it desires, but frankly, it turns out being a very dull effort from one of indie-rock’s most talented singer-songwriters.
The album starts off with the short heavy-on-the-flutes chamber pop of ‘Lysandre’s Theme’, and it sets out to be a reoccurring motif for the album, being used as a transitory element between each track. It’s lovely at first, but eventually becomes distracting and somewhat annoying. It’s clear Owens wanted to make a cohesive musical unit, but he goes to exhausting ends to prove this, and by the end of track 3, we already get the point. The result ends up feeling like a 29-minute-long track that could easily be the soundtrack for the cheesiest of romantic comedies from the late 60’s. However that is only one of the reasons Lysandre doesn’t live up to its charm. For an artist that proved he could borrow from every sub-genre of the rock universe and still write unique and poignant lyrics to go along with every tune, this record showcases one of the weakest song-writing Owens has come up with. It’s no secret Owens carries a sentimental heart, and sometimes it’s unclear whether he does it with an ironic intention or not (but I’m starting to suspect he doesn’t). On the album’s title track he gently sings “I would love to kiss you in the moonlight/ Softly dancing under starlight/ In a summer ocean breeze” backed up a female singer and a melodic tune that could easily pass as a jingle. If that’s not corny enough for you, maybe ‘A Broken Heart’ will prove it, pulling off the lines “And it was you and I against the world/ Just you and I”. Inevitably, the outcome is a clichéd account of a summer fling.
However, the album does have its fair share of decent tracks, like the groovy, saxophone-infused ‘New York City’ or album closer ‘Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)’, a bittersweet country song that’s joined by a harmonica, closing Lysandre in the most celebratory of ways. The album also features Owens’ on-going knack at recreating the sound of rock ‘n’ roll from past decades. ‘Here We Go Again’ is the definition of surf-rock, while ‘Riviera Rock’ is an instrumental dub-heavy track reminiscent to Ska music of the late 70’s. Nonetheless, the album doesn’t achieve any memorable moments, and in the end it ends up falling very flat. It’s still unclear why Owens left his partnership with JR White, but I can’t help but think that this album would’ve been much better if it were a Girls album. And that’s the biggest problem with Lysandre: it sounds too much like Girls, but with a serious lack of the experimentation and adventure the band is loved for. It may be too early to tell if Owens made the best decision, but lets just hope that he steps it up next time, and that his solo career doesn’t end up lasting as short as this album does.
Reviewed by Jose Rodriguez P.