Christopher Owens, the singer/songwriter/guitarist of San Francisco's Girls, has a remarkable backstory—complete with a cult upbringing, heavy drug use and a millionaire surrogate father figure. Thankfully, Owens' biography is absolutely inconsequential to enjoying his shaggy, masterful debut.
Aided by Chet "JR" White—whose work on the album's production gives the lo-fi music uncharacteristic flourishes of depth and emotional vivacity—Owens seamlessly treks through music history. Owens and White cherry-pick qualities of the sunnier, more yearning music of bygone eras (from the Byrds to Black Flag, from Buddy Holly to My Bloody Valentine).
Owens' affected vocal shifts, from spiky shrieks to baritone moans, may lose some otherwise interested parties. Those who remain interested will relish the fervor and commitment with which Owens and White execute their hybridized tunes, interspersing jangly guitars with doo-wop and shoegaze ("Laura"), fuzzy pop with an achingly beautiful electronic sheen ("Summertime") and a country-Western ballad with hazy sonic soundscapes ("Lauren Marie").
The scariest part of this album may be that, as a debut, its 12 songs show little room for improvement. The album's sole instrumental, "Curls," an organ showcase whose flutier moments evoke the Middle Ages, is irresistible; even the Western tremolo guitar epic "Hellhole Ratrace" manages to craft its endlessly repeated chorus ("I don't want to cry / My whole life through / Yeah, I wanna do some laughin' too") into an affecting anthem in its own right.
A stunning success of musical pastiche, Album, like Owens, appeals as equally touching and troubled.