Christopher Owens ‘Lysandre’ – Review

8 Feb

A couple of years ago Christopher Owens featured in a video interview discussing his desire to release a concept album about a French woman he fell in love with During Girls first tour of Europe. He performed a couple of the songs from the record, the cryptically titled ‘7’ and ‘8’, and that was that. At the time I assumed this was one of the many things that artists promise to do (or should that be threaten) but never deliver. I was wrong. ‘Lysandre’ is that album he talked about in 2010 and it’s exactly as he described it – although ‘7’ and ‘8’ are now tracks ‘8’ and ‘9’. (While I’m on this subject, In another interview from the same time Owens said he wanted to release a Spanish classical guitar album. Lets hope that doesn’t also transpire!) The big difference between what Owens Intended and what has actually been released is the name behind the project. Owens probably intended this as the fourth Girls album, in fact it’s now coming out as a solo record.

I wasn’t too surprised when Girls broke up; I saw the band live last October, and they were an astonishingly accomplished group but the other musicians were relatively faceless compared to the spotlight hogging frontman. They stood in the background, motionless, producing brilliantly understated accompaniments to Owens’ guitar and voice but adding little of their own personality. It was natural that at some point Owens would venture out under his own name. It felt right. And ‘Lysandre’ couldn’t have been released under the Girls banner anyway – it’s too personal. Of course, the band’s music was often intrusive personal as well but here Owens takes things to a new level – it reads more like an autobiography than a traditional pop record, with intimate factual details about his life and loves rippling at the surface.

But despite the apparent heaviness of the subject matter and the almost voyeuristic glimpses into Owens’ world, ‘Lysandre’ isn’t actually all that deep or intense. It basically follows the age-old premise of ‘boy moves to the city, forms a band,  falls in love and gets his heart broken’. There aren’t any twists or major turns, and I won’t spoil the ending, but as Girls fans can probably work out it isn’t a happy one. The story is told in a straightforward and fairly un-involving way: this happened and then this happened and then this happened’, is how Owens often relates things. There is little analysis here, and a couple of notable songs aside, Owens is too distracted by the narrative and when he’s going to hit the next plot point and not concerned enough with the emotion he ought to be conveying. It makes songs like ‘Ear of the Listener’ and ‘Here We Go Again’ feel a bit lacking compared to his previous work.

Despite being longer than Girls e.p ‘Broken Hearts Club’, this feels like the slightest thing Owens’ has produced to date. The album is 11 tracks long (and two songs are almost identical with slight variations) and most clock in at around 2 and a half / 3 minutes.  Musically it feels precious and a bit twee, with gentle guitar picking, flutes, jazzy saxophone and consistently light and breezy arrangements. Sometimes this style works well (the title track is a great little tune) and sometimes it doesn’t (‘New York City’ feels very misjudged) but it always makes the album listenable and usually enjoyable.

However, it’s no surprise that the greatest moments on here occur when Owens strips back to just his voice and guitar. ‘A Broken Heart’ recalls the melancholic closer of ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, the beautiful ‘Jamie Marie’. The chord progression is virtually identical (as is the song’s subject matter come to think of it) but it feels almost naked and confessional in comparison. ‘Nothing like a memory to open up a broken heart’ he sings, describing a chance encounter with a former lover. On final song ‘Part of Me’ he croons ‘oh you were a part of me but that part of me has gone.’ It’s a particularly sad ending to an album that flits between these kind of stark confessionals and twee genre experiments like ‘Riviera Rock’ and ‘New York City’. If the whole album had more of the former and less of the latter, this would be a devastatingly good record (and you suspect Owens has it in him to make this very soon). As it is this is an enjoyable but not essential listen. However, as an opening statement of intent, independence and ambition it’s an impressive start to what will no doubt be a long and varied solo career.

7/10

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