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Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

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Artist: Girls

Album: Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Label: True Panther

Review date: Sep. 13, 2011

Christopher Owens and JR White continue their transition from bedroom recording to fully-fleshed out band on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, adding an extra guitarist (John Anderson), a keyboard player (Dan Eisenberg) and drummer (Darren Weiss) to their regular line-up. Yet, while most of these 11 tracks are dense and redolent of 1970s arena rock, Owens manages to preserve a core of weathered, rueful, inward-looking eccentricity — even when backed by a three-person gospel choir.

You have only to listen to “Vomit,” the album’s clear highlight, to see how Girls have learned to blow out idiosyncratic interior monologues into vast, rock operatic grandeur. This cut is both epic and deeply personal, its vulnerability writ as large as, say, Pink Floyd’s “Hey You.” And hold onto that thought, because when the gospel trio enters, late in the track, the lead female singer pulls off a good facsimile of “Dark Side of the Moon”’s vocal acrobatics. That it’s not ridiculous is kind of a miracle.

Elsewhere Owens uses his newly minted full-band to pull off T. Rex-esque garage pop (“Honey Bunny”), Stax-referencing 12/8 blues ballads (“Love Like a River”), and sprawling Neil-Young-folk-into-electric-freakouts (“Forgiveness”). He sings alongside bloopy George Harrison-style guitar bends (“My Ma”) and crunchy Dinosaur-ish distortion (“Die”). And here’s the thing: He never raises his voice above a whisper. Even when the band is most amplified and sure of itself, Owens is murmuring in your ear, almost like he’s too embarrassed to tell you straight out whatever it is. (And in a couple of cases, it is sort of embarrassing, like when he’s confiding, twice, first in “Honey Bunny” and later in “My Ma,” how very fond he is of his mother.)

While there are some real successes here, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is extremely inconsistent. The good songs — “Honey Bunny,” “Alex,” “Die,” “My Ma” and, especially, “Vomit” — are clustered near the front. The bad ones, chief among them “Saying I Love You,” wrap trivial sentiments in precocious pop arrangements and conjure Lite FM mainstays like Bread, Poco, America and Rupert Holmes (who wrote that awful “Do you like pina coladas?” song). Between the promising beginning and disappointing end, the songs just lie there, a foot or two short of offending and a mile away from the incendiary brilliance of “Vomit.”

You might be tempted to chalk the unevenness up to the difficulty of moving from a stripped-down, one-person songwriter aesthetic toward a full-band enterprise, but “Vomit” shows that Owens can do that quite well. What he needs is a better quality meter, a way to recognize which songs soar and which only noodle along.

By Jennifer Kelly

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