Music Reviews

Christopher Owens Lysandre

(Fat Possum/Turnstile) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

Christopher Owens is the quintessential “hopeless romantic.” Lost loves, the one that got away, the ones he had to let go – Owens seems to have experienced all of the above, or at the very least understands the pain they all can bring. Don’t believe me? Just look through the entire discography of Girls, Owens' now defunct band. Through two impressive albums and one EP, it’s hard not to find a moment that’s not dripping with heartache and desire. There are songs named after girls, songs about loving and losing girls, single covers featuring pictures of girls, heck, the band itself was called Girls! And what other way could Owens have concluded their brilliant final album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, other than with the line, “But I miss the way life was when you were my girl,” with unmistakable sincerity.

So it should come as no surprise to fans of Girls that Lysandre, the debut solo album from Owens, gets its namesake and concept from, you guessed it, a girl that Owens had once loved. Through Lysandre’s eleven tracks, Owens takes us through the highs and lows of his experiences falling in love on the road, revisiting locations and events along the way. The lyrics are as straight-forward and uncompromising in their meaning as anything Owens has written before, and while you may expect Lysandre to be a more stripped-down affair due to the “solo” implications of the record, Owens’ debut has a full and robust sound complete with a full band, woodwinds, and even some good ol’ sax thrown in here and there. In a sense, it seems like Owens has figured it all out, and, by stepping out on his own, he was able to properly channel his heartache into the vintage, heart-on-sleeve album that he’s been trying to make all along.

But despite the fact that Lysandre is, for the first time, Owens’ show through and through, the presence of Chet “JR” White, his former band mate, never seemed so needed. Though Owens was often considered the principle songwriter as a member of Girls, you can’t help but feel after listening to Lysandre that White certainly brought a fair share of balance to the equation. Without his presence, Owens’ debut often feels misguided and confused, with questionable production choices marring some otherwise decent tracks. I mentioned the use of saxophones earlier in the review as an example of how Owens can still beef up his own songs despite going solo, but in tracks like the peppy New York City or the rather pointless Riviera Rock, these additions end up sounding more indulgent than complimentary. The same could be said for the almost excessive use of woodwinds, which attempt to turn even the simplest of tracks into medieval love songs, but, ultimately, make everything sound a bit same-y.

Though Owens takes precise measures to avoid it, the downfall of Lysandre ultimately comes down to this same-y-ness, as the majority of the album's tracks do very little to truly grab the listeners attention. One of the things that made Father, Son, Holy Ghost such an exciting and special album was the way in which Owens could perfectly implement his personality and feelings into an array of varied interpretations, ranging from bouncy, sunny pop songs like Honey Bunny to despair-drenched epics like Forgiveness, all with just the right blend of originality and pastiche. But Lysandre, despite its solid lyrical content, fails to offer a single standout amongst its eleven tracks, with tracks like A Broken Heart and Lysandre failing to leave a lasting impression even after multiple listens. There’s also a bit of a motif seen throughout the album, first introduced in opener Lysandre’s Theme, which pops up in a number of tracks in alternate forms. Though the motif tries to link everything together in the context of the albums overarching theme, it really only succeeds in making each track sound more and more familiar than the next, making it feel like you haven’t even progressed through the album even by track five.

“What if everybody just thinks I’m a phony / What if nobody ever gets it?,” Owens plainly states in Love Is In The Ear of the Listener. Though this vulnerable question of self-doubt might be typical for Owens, his response – “Well some people never get anything / And I shouldn’t care what people think” – reveals much more about his intentions regarding Lysandre – an album less about the titular female of desire and more about Owens fully immersing himself in the limelight and making the exact album he wanted to make. And though the results of his labor could have been much better, I really don’t think Owens would have cared whether I gave this album a 2 or even a 10. Lysandre, at the end of the day, is his album, not ours, and we’ll just have to let Owens revel in his own work while we patiently wait for something better to hopefully come along.