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Posted on August 22nd, 2011 (11:00 am) by Bradley Hartsell

Girls' 2009 acclaimed debut, Album was the picture perfect example of how to take familiar influences and make something fresh and resoundingly good at the same time. Jangly sunshine pop has been in vogue since Eisenhower, and making such music nowadays gets you dismissed as retreads or backhandedly praised as "nostalgic." Indie snobs are a hard bunch to win over, but Girls did so admirably. With a combination of Christopher Owens' nasally voice and visceral lyrics, smart album crafting (the buzzy neckbreaker "Morning Light" added an interesting wrinkle to the album), and terrific pop hooks, Album actually contributed something poignant to the well-worn '60s pop genre. One of the great things about Girls is even a throwaway song like "Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker" has value; it's a familiar Beach Boys surf rock tune, but the song builds to Owens calling himself "a big bad mean mother fucker." Pretty atypical.

While Album was unabashedly great, as was their follow-up EP Broken Dreams Club, you had to wonder if their charm, wit, and wide-eyed melodies could carry another great record. Well, this isn't a retread of Album, that's to be certain. "Honey Bunny" opens the album with a rollicking rhythm, sunny harmonies, and a fun vocal performance from Owens. It rings very true to their debut--but that'll (mostly) be the last we hear of Girls as we knew them.

Father, Son, Holy Ghost is the sound of the band growing up, refining their sound. The drawback is Girls' latest work often times sounds more ordinary, as they've marginalized their idiosyncrasies. Girls' music architect Chet "JR" White builds a bigger sound, filling space with synth, piano, and more pronounced guitar riffing, reducing the band's notable jangle. Owens, as if speaking meta-commentary to the audience, sings "feels like nobody's happy now / it just feels like it's gone away" on "Just a Song." Indeed it sounds as if the band has stopped having fun. They're certainly entitled to progress their sound as they please, but Owens has been miscast as a reflective crooner, instead of the snarky, honest, exuberant soul on Album. "Die" tries to be another "Morning Light," but instead sounds like an arena rock jam (complete with a soul-drenching solo at half-tempo) rather than the scuzzy lo-fi scorcher of "Morning Light."

The '60s influence pervading throughout the debut feels cast aside in favor a '50s doo wop (especially prevalent on "Magic" and "Love, Like a River"). Remember, wit and the right amount of weirdness drove what essentially was an old-school pop record, on Album. It was great, but it wasn't exactly innovative. Holy Ghost, however, sounds (from Owens to White) like a much more conventional band. The rhythms often drag too much for Owens to go into full melodic mode; and White, while I believe is a masterfully proficient musician, I'm not convinced he's all that cutting edge. But because Owens is so good when given the space to work, and White is still better than 99% of musicians on Earth, there are some stunning moments on Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

"Vomit," the six and a half-minute lead single, is a soulful ballad, sung in a way only Owens would think to sing it. The music rises into powerful crescendos, then falls back into reserved verses, where the pensive melody shines. "Just a Song" is another ballad, nearing seven minutes, this one even more reflective and brittle. "Vomit" hints at darkness, "Just a Song" just feels lonely. "Jamie Marie" (continuing the knack for great Marie songs by the band), is also a ballad, armed with only a clean electric guitar and Owens' sweet melodic ability for a little over three minutes. The song nails honest balladry in a really organic way. The aforementioned "Honey Bunny" is a great throwback pop song, akin to what we've come to expect from the band. "Magic" feels strongly debut-worthy, as well--another song where Owens comes back into his own.

However, it sounds as if Girls is still finding their way out of Album, full of ideas but uneven execution. Too many moments, while all pleasant on their own, feel lagging or ordinary. Most of this album sheds light on humble nostalgia, but fails to blaze new trails as consistently as we'd like to hear from the band. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is solid, if unspectacular, yet still full of wonderful moments only Girls can pull off.

Track List
1. Honey Bunny
2. Alex
3. Die
4. Saying I Love You
5. Ma Ma
6. Vomit
7. Just a Song
8. Magic
9. Forgiveness
10. Love, Like a River
11. Jamie Marie

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Our Rating

74 / 100
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