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"Father, Son, Holy Ghost"

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
21 September 2011, 11:42 Written by Luke Winkie

Maybe it’s his voice, or their well-paved influences, Chris’ well-documented troubled past, or the fact they had the arrogance to call their debut album, Album, but Girls always seemed like a band ripe for implosion. Going the same lightning-struck ways as The Modern Lovers, Television and The New York Dolls, ostensibly all bands they adore.

Of course this was disproved with last year’s Broken Dreams Club, an EP with significant strength, considerable growth and sonic expansion, as well as deserved acclaim. Our doubts, (or my doubts at least) were fueled with the exact same sort of rock’n’roll fantasy Girls have spent their career so far crafting. Following the script calls for a supernova legend, with a neatly organized legacy. But this is real life pop, and as it turns out, Girls are much more of a permanent concern. Father, Son, Holy Ghost elevates the band’s potency in a beautifully obvious way – all the while sounding strikingly, and timelessly brilliant.

Much has been made of the weirdly uncanny nature of Christopher Owens’ songwriting – his compositions all wistful, nostalgic, and harkening, while all the while intensely idiosyncratic. It can sound like he’s writing from the dreamscape of how we all want to remember vintage pop, rather than its actual manifestation. It’s something that’s only elevated the more we’ve gotten to know him, in fact it makes perfect sense he’d open with such a generational tune like ‘Honey Bunny’ – a lovesick, delirious gallop of pop-rock clichés; radiating sunshine harmonies, jump-along drums, and Owens dewy, reconfigured voice. It’s distinctly Orbison, it’s distinctly Holly, it’s distinctly period-piece historiography, but it’s also distinctly enough Girls that they manage to pull it off without sounding crass – a paradox nobody’s quite been able to explain.

As hinted on Broken Dreams, he’s no longer singing in the overstretched croon that seemed to be impersonating both himself and many crooners before him. Here he’s almost microscopic, letting his faint, pregnant notes barely escape his mouth – often battered, and sometimes cracked in two, if you’re the type of person who favors aestheticism (and honestly, nobody can fault you for that) all the hype might seem rather bewildering.

But bewildering is what they aim for, Girls play beautifully bizarre songs and is mischievously confronting in their LPs. Father, Son, Holy Ghost was written to be a contender for classic-status, just note its epic title. You can definitely hear it in the closer ‘Jamie Marie,’ a ridiculously overwrought acoustic ballad that borrows in no small amount from mom-and-dad soft-rock schmaltz – the kind of stuff that gets covered in singing competitions to make a ‘statement.’ The guitar crests but never tumbles, an organ wraps inside and flirts along lazily, and then it fades away, almost defiantly, letting you draw the lines between pastiche and brilliance. Girls seem to get off on walking that balance, like fellow head-trip revisionist Ariel Pink, the band is big on coaxing art from the recesses of forgotten, long-dismissed sounds, but unlike Pink, they’re always doing it in the context of a band, rather than an art-pop Frankenstein. Take the talked-about ‘Die,’ it doesn’t represent the conceptual framework of late-‘80s bum-metal, aside from Owens’ shrunken voice, it is late-‘80s bum-metal. They force us to confront the restrictiveness of our global blacklists with the power of pure songwriting.

Those sorts of things certainly makes Girls feel important. It feels true, at least. But the biggest successes of Father, Son, Holy Ghost is simply that it’s a pretty easy record not to think about. My mom loves Girls, and I’m pretty sure she isn’t too concerned with the democratization of nostalgia, the encroachment and engagement with the relative biases of critics, the future-proof and potential downfalls of a band based firmly in the past, blah blah blah. She just likes the way ‘Vomit’ thunders, how ‘Alex’ bounces, how ‘Just a Song’ shivers, and the lilt to ‘Love Like a River.’ Transcendent pop music rarely needs an asterisk, and even with all the subsequent (and valid) discourse we’ve assigned a band like Girls, its sometimes meaningful to let it breathe, and let yourself fall in love. The place in the cosmos for Father, Son, Holy Ghost will be hammered out for decades. As of right now, it’s merely a great, great album with few caveats, which is something that can’t be taken for granted.

Stream the entire album in our track-by-track breakdown here.


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