For brandishing such a generic title for their breakout, Girls’ Album is about as immodest a declaration as any band could muster right out of the gate. With an equally vague moniker – boasting connotations of youth, sweet adolescent infatuation or heartbreak as much as meaning next to nothing at all – to mark their peculiar AM beach pop, the San Francisco outfit are damn near anti-Google. But when front man Christopher Owens evokes pop legends like Elvis Costello or Buddy Holly in a single throaty croon, then tints it all with drug-addled ’60s psychedelia, subtle washes of shoegaze and loose quasi-lounge, Girls make themselves a talent to be reckoned with. Even for all of that, though, Album never asserts itself too boldly, resorts to cheeky spin-offs of such rockabilly icons or wallows in the self-deprecation that can be plucked from every dismal lyric.
It all kicks off with their flagship song, “Lust for Life,” an endlessly catchy, guileless opener that sets the tone for the entire album and fully encompasses the best parts of Girls’ specific songwriting angles. Rather than following suit with Iggy Pop’s lecherous nightclubbing its title would seem to indicate, Owens seems far more worried about soaking up Cali sun, laying into a few green bong hits or simple lyrical catharsis. Lines as seemingly polar as “I wish I had a father/ maybe then I would have turned out right,” and “I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine,” fall so naturally into one another that they idly draw a straight line between childhood trauma and youthful ignorance without so much as a hint of pretension. This isn’t lust; like much of Album, this is just fucked up trying to feel a little normal.
It’s a theme that’s picked up once again more blatantly on closer “Darling,” as Owens confides, “I was feeling so sad and alone, then I found a friend in the song that I’m singing.” Even so, these bookends are hardly mirror images of one another, as “Darling” picks up a lethargic surf-pop bass line from the instrumental track right before it, “Curls,” only trading in its mellow keyboard flourishes for a slightly punchier version that brings Girls’ signature jangly guitar accents to the forefront.
What’s so refreshing and ultimately what lends Album such replay value is how neither one of these tracks give away half of the band’s surprisingly deep bag of tricks. “Goddamn” dishes out shimmering acoustic pop against hand-slapped percussion and the occasional baby rattle inflection, but drenches it all in a distant, lo-fi hum. It’s an apt segue into next-in-line “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” that plays as if broadcasted from a ’50s high school prom were it not for its gritty, somewhat lascivious vocals. From there we’re given Album‘s epic centerpiece “Hellhole Ratrace” that repeats itself almost unto some unconvincing reassurance, which is followed by lovelorn excursions like “Summertime” and “Lauren Marie,” and then capped off with the unforgiving shoegaze rush of “Morning Light” before heading into its comfortable close. Without so much as a bowtie or horn-rimmed glasses to reduce them to kitsch, Girls have created at once the most unassuming, endlessly listenable and hands-down best debuts of the year.