[Fat Possum, 2013]
Jeff Pearson, January 15, 2013
Listen: “Everywhere We Knew”
The context surrounding a record has a lot to do with how well it is received. Former (I’m still, regretfully, getting used to saying that) Girls frontman Christopher Owens has been breaking hearts from the second the band’s debut LP dropped, but nothing prepared fans for perhaps the hardest blow to take—aside from his all-too-easily relatable tales of love lost—the announcement that the San Francisco band was calling it quits. The fact that the band ended seemingly far before its time puts almost an unwelcomed air around Owens’ debut solo record, Lysandre; everything on the record is seemingly automatically held against the measuring stick of his work with Girls, perhaps unfairly. It is necessary to look at the record as you would any other—its own entity, a fresh start meant to be looked upon without preconceived notions or biases. If Lysandre is approached any other way, it might not live up to the fated Girls measuring stick.
After all, what was at the heart of those Girls records but Christopher Owens’ sincere and utterly timeless songwriting? Well, a lot, as it turns out. Lysandre sees much of the brilliance of the honest songwriter within Owens’ music, but just as frequently it falls to pop clichés or missteps (the Jethro Tull-ian recurring flute motif feels forced, or ill-established at the least). At the center of the record is Owens’ shaky uncertainty, something completely relatable, but on songs like “Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener” and “Riviera Rock,” lines from oft-trodden roads seem to be delivered through a Plasticine smirk. They are moments that don’t even seem to come from Owens at all; rather than the wounded humanity brightened through a pop lens, the listener is left with only the lens—pop fluff, in a sense.
The shining moments of Lysandre are unquestionably when Owens’ humanity is on display. “Everywhere We Knew” is a simple song, with much of the pop-leaning melodic tendencies stripped away, but the pure honesty of the lyrics make it easily one of the finest songs Owens has ever written. It highlights his natural gift as a storyteller, a voice for the haggard voiceless, as he closes the tale of the deep instant connection with a companion with the line, “Saying goodbye the next day was so hard that I nearly cried / Later I did when I was bored on the plane, but it was alright / I knew that even if my plane went down I’d be just fine / If I was thinking about falling in love with you on the first tour with my band.” The song’s simplicity is what ends up evoking the most emotion out of the listener—rather than baseless hooks tied to somewhat airy, broad concepts, the concreteness and truth behind “Everywhere We Knew” is undeniable—and the “Closing Theme” that follows actually stands to be a powerful use of the aforementioned motif in the context of following the lovelorn track.
Other stand-outs include “A Broken Heart” and “Here We Go,” both further explorations of Owens’ various heartbreaks throughout the years; Lysandre is clearly at its best when the songs draped in somber moods rather than the attempts at achieving something resembling fun. It would be a hard feat to pull off, really—heart-wrenching songs like “A Broken Heart” seem to illuminate the fact that the same guy couldn’t possibly be as chipper as he presents himself on “Here We Go Again.” It’s almost as if through all of the emotional pain he has been through over the years, he has momentarily forgotten how to have fun on record, or at least how to fake it if the sloppy mess of fun his previous records turned out to be was disingenuous.
Ultimately, it’s that imbalance that causes Lysandre to fall short against even its own measuring stick. There are some clear, beautiful moments to be found, pointing towards perhaps a brighter future than the immediate aftermath of a post-breakup album can yield, but as of now it’s unclear what Owens’ identity is as a solo artist. Unfortunately, his music seems to thrive on despair, and that doesn’t bode well for either his personal life or his musical career.