San Francisco band Girls have been lucky enough to hit a raw nerve in the critical community. Their first two albums were well received and allowed the band to make a decent foothold and extend from duo to five-piece for their third offering Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Now, there are rave reviews flying in all directions over what is undeniably an interesting album that competently juggles an odd combination of elements.
Variety is definitely the order of the day. Dramatic tempo changes quickly become the norm and are executed smoothly enough, as are shifts in instrumentation that venture into the seedy world of synthesised flutes and somehow live to tell the tale. When it comes to genre you could swear Owens was trying to recreate a selection from a “Top 50 Bands of All Time” countdown: first there’s surf-rock, then grunge and soon enough you start to hear Led Zepplin here and Pink Floyd there and a big chunk of the Beatles til the whole thing could start to look like a bit of a patchwork. It’s actually one of the triumphs of Father, Son, Holy Ghost that all these styles sit so comfortably together, mostly thanks to the consistency of Owen’s presence at the centre of the songs – he’s nothing if not solid.
Lyrically it’s not complex; in fact sometimes Owen’s words seem almost pointedly simplistic. That’s possibly why, when paired with the trite pop sounds of songs like “Saying I Love You” and “Love Like a River” the whole thing borders on bit of a joke. One problem is that if this tortured soul really is the core of this album – and the subjects are pretty personal so this seems likely – then there’s something unsettling in the lack of variation in Owens’ vocals. He whispers his way through song after (apparently) heartfelt song with a stoicism that can’t but lend an edge of irony to that lyrical childishness.
There’s so many lovable elements to Father, Son, Holy Ghost: the tunes are engaging, the instrumentation is well-executed, there’s fun and variety and a real originality in there somewhere, it’s just missing a certain something. Perhaps it’s sincerity that’s the issue – maybe abit less artifice would do the trick. It brings to mind the icky feeling that crept in when Daniel Johnston’s songs started getting slick production. Owens, like Johnston, has a certain naiveté to his song writing that could be charming in a rawer context but somehow just comes off as a bit weak or false. What’s certain is that with Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls definitely had their work cut out for them. There’s a very delicate line being walked here and the slightest falter could send the whole thing crashing down with a big splat. As it is they seem to have made it across, it’s just hard to tell if the whole thing’s been worth it.