Summer is over for most of America, but not for San Francisco (yay for Indian summers!). And who better to understand this than SF natives Girls? With their first full-length release, recorded in bedrooms and rehearsal studios throughout San Francisco and ironically titled Album, the band pays homage to the hedonistic spirit of warm summer days and the California girls who bathe in them (but not without a tinge of nostalgia for days and girls past). It's as if they scraped all the hipsters and vagabonds out of Dolores Park and created an audio piece from their collective tales of drinking, smoking, sleeping late, good times in parks, and bad times in heartbreak.
Singer-songwriter Christopher Owens spent his formative years shielded from the outside world as a member of the Children of God cult before escaping at age 16 to live on the streets. Much of his early childhood experience sounds like a nightmare, but the original music composed by the community, along with a few "sanctioned" songs, sparked a love of music and performance within him. This limited access to mainstream music could explain Owens's affinity for borrowing styles and tempos from the past. It's as if he is moving backwards through a huge stack of vinyl to recapture what the cult denied him: a musical history.
Such a background story could easily crush a person or at least inspire a depressing set of songs, but this is far from true of Girls' Album. The majority of Album's 12 songs are fun, infectious, pop gems with equal emphasis on start-of-summer optimism and end-of-summer melancholy. The disc is very much about knowing the enemy of hardship and sadness in order to overcome it. On "Lauren Marie," Owens encourages the listener, "It isn't right to sit around and think about the awful things that get you down. You got to try to wear a smile no matter how hard it is to do."
Girls could have easily made carbon copies of "Lust for Life" and "Hellhole Ratrace" and put out a rollicking record, but instead they've made an album that continually surprises the listener with stylistic twists and experimentation. The band shifts gears so quickly between songs that the listener never knows what's coming next. Will it be a lo-fi Beach Boys-inspired ditty ("Big Bad Mean Motherf***er")? A dreamy love song ("Headache")? Or a garagey rock 'n' roll track ("Morning Light")? The only consistency you can count on is that each song will be damn good. San Francisco has rarely sounded better.