Christopher Owens – Lysandre
Christopher Owens may’ve stepped away from Girls, but he’s just as in touch with his sensitive side, writes DOUG WALLEN.
For someone making his first solo record, Christopher Owens doesn’t divorce himself from his former band altogether. In fact, he zooms in on Girls’ debut 2008 tour for a touching song-by-song yarn about how love came to him and then departed. The thrill of meeting Lysandre’s namesake Frenchwoman dovetails with the glory of being on the road for the first time and connecting with listeners around the world. Despite the fact that neither the relationship nor the band last to this day, Owens doesn’t succumb to bitterness. He’s oddly wise and mellow about it all, seeing the beauty in the end as much as in the start.
The music reflects his inner-peace, right from Vince Meghrouni’s weightless flute passage on the opening, instrumental title theme. It’s a sign of the breeziness to come, as is the album’s first lyric on the next song: “So here we go.” From there the journey unspools as smoothly as can be, even through bleaker anecdotes of cops, drugs and easy money (‘New York City’). Such youthful misadventures may be overly familiar – “Rock and roll in New York City,” he sighs – but it comes off more like an archetype than a cliche. And it’s very much Owens’ unique story, guided by his comforting voice and such babbling, folk-centred arrangements.
At his best, Owens makes those archetypal themes seem fragile and new. He gets at both the consuming and healing aspects of new love, and how some of both carries on even after the love has run its course. Such serenity can give the album a fleeting vibe and, in contrast to Girls’ frequent longwinded sprawl, no songs hit the four-minute mark. There’s also an adult-contemporary placidity to the music itself. But again, lightness is the goal, from the lyrics on ‘Here We Go Again’ about shaking off the bad vibes brought by others to the painstakingly kitschy sax lines, dub twinges and female harmonies of the mostly instrumental ‘Riviera Rock’.
“He’s a relaxed and romantic balladeer, as at peace with himself as, say, Jonathan Richman”
That doesn’t mean Owens can’t still floor us with a perfectly delivered sentiment. “Everything I say has been said before,” he croons on ‘Love is in the Ear of the Listener’, again fully aware of the well-documented feelings he’s expressing. “But that’s not what makes or breaks a song,” he decides, even as he thinks aloud about other things he could sing about. He’s a relaxed and romantic balladeer, as at peace with himself as, say, Jonathan Richman. “Always make the time for love,” he instructs on the cutesy title track, while ‘Everywhere You Wear’ includes an invitation to sit on his lap and a dissection of that long-time-coming first kiss.
That innocence is very much a throwback to 1950s crooners and Buddy Holly-type early rockers, and Owens plays up to all of it. But he’s not ignoring the sad side of the story; he’s more weaving it so closely with the happy that they’re not so much contrasting as coexisting. The closing ‘Part of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)’ gets at this best, its Fred Neill-ish stream of acoustic guitar leading him to a line that’s both thankful and frank: “Oh you were a part of me/But that part of me is gone.” He touches on the challenge of distance too, geographical and otherwise.
As Owens begins to increase his own distance from the acclaimed band he ended in mid-2012, one can only hope he remains as lucidly in touch with his emotions.