Christopher Owens – Lysandre

Christopher Owens - Lysandre
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On July 2, 2012, @Chri55yBaby left the independent music scene’s collective jaw dropped and overall mind fumbling to know why Christopher Owens had chosen to depart from the fairly short-lived group that he himself helped form. Girls, of course, also formed Owens into an icon of sort. The group’s sympathetic debut introduced the world to a shamelessly honest singer whose lyrics sounded as though they were ripped directly from his own diaries or letters. Girls strappingly continued releasing captivating musical arrangements with a foreshadowing EP and their 2011 masterpiece: Father, Son, Holy Ghost. According to Owens, Lysandre has been written for years and was even presented to the rest of the band (mainly bassist and co-founder of Girls, JR White) as a possible Girls LP. After a questionable response, Owens saved his personal love story for the appropriate occasion: a solo effort.

In comparison, his work with Girls and his solo debut are vastly different. Lysandre’s dry production is much woodier than early releases and the plethora of acoustic sounds throughout represent a new theme in Owens’ musical presentation: songwriting that is both more direct and more specific. From an instrumentation stand point, the sounds used on Lysandre are far less intricate than anything from Girls in both their tone and performance. This isn’t to say that Girls’ music feels processed at all, but their production was overall glossier and decreasingly subtle as their career expanded. The group was especially known for their musical symmetry between man and tool. Owens’ singing wasn’t automatically the forefront of a song, even as his voice’s audio level was bumped up further and further throughout releases. Instruments weren’t for support; they were on equal ground with Owens’ pain stricken voice and consistently blended into a single, expansive unit. This is definitely not the case with Lysandre. The album’s simple performance style naturally pushes Owens to the head of each song, something that didn’t happen often in his previous band setting.

The pressure unconsciously created by Lysandre’s dependency on lyricism and vocal management is severely felt on tracks such as “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener.” To be fair, Owens has never been one to avoid clichés, but his newly found straightforward approach is often cringe worthy. It’s as if he expects this reaction when he awkwardly informs the listener that “you can roll your eyes at whatever you choose to and really it’s all up to you.” Yikes. This lyric is somehow even more painful in the song’s context, especially since it follows Owens’ utterly uncomfortable back-and-forth with himself that deviates from the album’s apparent theme in an intense manner. The title track sadly follows this with what is possibly the weakest song Owens has ever recorded. His comments regarding love are far too abrasive and come across as nothing less than cheesy. The songwriter has without a doubt had worse lines than the song’s embarrassing chorus, but the backing Owens had with Girls not only made these lyrics more than just acceptable; they were magical.

The initial notes played on Lysandre act as a returning point throughout the tale. This musical theme had potential to be both an interesting and powerful element of the album, yet its excessive use quickly becomes an annoyance. The quicker paced tracks, such as “New York City,” instantly lose their steam when “Lysandre’s Theme” is unnecessarily slapped in the middle of a driving climax. This happens once more in “Here We Go Again”; vibes are formed only to be tarnished by the album’s too frequently used theme. It should be noted that “Here We Go Again” is not only Lysandre’s fifth song, but also the LP’s fifth direct use of the melody. The song’s title is unfortunately ironic because by this point in the album, the melody has already reached a loathingly expected status. It’s only actually integrated in the instrumental, Riviera Rock. By this point, however, the damage is done and the tune of “Lysandre’s Theme” has become an unbearably predictable tool that Owens tossed around far too generously. The melody’s abundance leaves a lingering distaste and feeling of impatience upon the listener that ultimately ruins the “Closing Theme.” What would have been one of Lysandre’s most powerful moments and most appropriate uses of the album’s linking melody is shamefully met with a bitter sigh simply due to overuse.

Although the majority of the LP is haunted by the forced use of “Lysandre’s Theme” throughout and callused by the dreadful songs that don’t feature it, Lysandre’s ending is quite satisfying. Owens’ storytelling is excruciatingly believable on album highlight “Everywhere You Knew.” Unlike previous tracks on the album this one is able to be direct without sacrificing the surreal emotion that made Owens so loveable in the first place. Being the actual story of his short lived love with the album’s star, it’s a surprisingly adorable treat that it is actually narrated for Lysandre herself. Chronicling their last night together, Owens sudden separation with his newfound affectionate other is heart wrenching as the helpless lover describes his content with dying whilst thinking of her. The album’s epilogue, “Part of Me,” is equally as emotive and easily one of the most lyrically potent songs Owens has ever crafted. Even after experiencing some of the most devastating musical moments with Girls, hearing “you were a part of me, but that part of me is gone” from the lips of such a caring individual such as Christopher Owens is excruciating. Grippingly, the track is much unlike Owens’ normal drear. Lysandre’s collective hope and grief are more than adequately arranged together in a tight nit, bittersweet package lasting just over two minutes. It does what many songs on Lysandre failed to: present Owens’ lyrics as the noticeable leader of the music without obvious force. This can also be attributed to the restraint shown in lyrical songwriting—something that can’t be said about much of the album.

As much as there is to complain about Lysandre, it truly shows a promising future for Owens outside of his famous origins. Even with the annoying cloud that is “Lysandre’s Theme” hovering over the first half of the LP, there are some pretty memorable moments. Following the album’s instrumental greeting, tracks shuffles back and forth between Owens’ delicate meltdowns and carefree, dark hope. These tracks are also the closest to achieving a musical balance, but are sadly pulled down by their reprises and regrettably unforgettable tracks to follow. The only thing consistent throughout Lysandre is what makes Owens’ future career something to look forward to: his undeniable charm. Even at its lowest point, the LP shows a singer whose passion is best received through song… even if it can be overbearing at times. But when he says something like “I’m not gonna beg so baby come around to me-e-he-e” or naturally blurts an occasional “alright” before a short saxophone solo, how can one deny this man’s appeal? With Girls, Owens gave pieces of himself and left listeners begging for more. His solo response of shocking boldness may have given too much, but this is only a stepping stone in Christopher Owens’ imminent career.

Jonathan Williams

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