words by PETER TABAKIS
“New York City”
“Here We Go Again”
Unchecked self-expression, the first and best reason for an artist to go solo, has produced a few masterworks, plenty of memorable fiascoes, and countless racks of clearance-priced footnotes and afterthoughts. Lysandre is Christopher Owens’ first album since walking away from Girls last year. Alternately moving and reminiscent of a teenage diarist’s scribbling, Lysandre’s tales of romantic infatuation and artistic self-doubt constitute a sidestep and also a bit of a letdown after Girls’ final knockout effort, Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
Short in length but long on recycled musical themes and minutes of filler, the album warrants attention for its thorough, almost exasperating, self-indulgence. As a chamber experiment, Lysandre is the minor triumph Owens could only have made on his own.
Lysandre chronicles Owens’ experiences on the first Girls tour, particularly his romance with the woman who gives the album its title. Though many of these eleven songs could stand sturdily alone, Owens structures the album as a unified song cycle. Musical ideas are introduced and often recapitulated. Lilting flutes, honking saxophones, and female background vocalists further bind the material.
The style here is precious, oftentimes jaunty, early 1970s soft rock. Owens premiered the album live to rave reviews at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom just a few months ago. It would have debuted just as well forty years ago, as the opener to a James Taylor and Carole King set at Hollywood’s Troubadour.
Owens keeps Lysandre’s songs uniformly brief, with no single track cracking the four-minute mark. Good news for fans of Girls’ punchier compositions like “Honey Bunny” and “Lust for Life.” (Bad news for those hoping for another sprawling gem like “Vomit.”) Still, Owens wrings these short songs dry with terrific moments. “New York City” is breathless with the joy I imagine every artist feels when they first perform at a filthy Manhattan club. An electric guitar solo bursts valiantly from metronomic arpeggios on “Here We Go,” rescuing it from Wilco impersonation. “Everywhere You Knew” finds Owens at his simplest and most affecting, his plainspoken and literal lyrics working (somewhat miraculously, in this case) in his favor.
Lysandre doesn’t contain a bad song (even the filler works!), and yet it fails to come together successfully. “Here We Go Again” should be the album’s standout; if you ignore its ridiculous lyrics, it’s almost perfect. (Don’t mean to “harsh” your “mellow,” Chris.) “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener” has the opposite problem. I applaud its jabs at music criticism, but to the ear of this listener, the song’s mid-tempo swing blandly blends into the album’s title track. Both are easily forgotten. “Riviera Rock” is merely a pleasant Swinging Sixties throwaway.
Lysandre verges on greatness when first gulped, without scrutiny, and before that fucking flute theme begins to grate. I’ve tried hard to restore my original enthusiasm, now long gone, a wisp of memory. And yet the harmonica flourish on “Part of Me,” the album’s closing track, stirs enough interest for me to start over, to give Christopher Owens yet another shot. Maybe this next time my love for Lysandre will be magically restored. Or maybe I’m just stuck in bad relationship. [B]
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