Matt on Music: Christopher Owens’ solo debut “Lysandre”
If you were to look at a list of my favorite instruments, you would see a lot of diversity. Saxophone and steel drum are my top two, and also high up on the list are the bass guitar, combo organ, violin and ukulele. What you won’t see on my list, however, is the flute. On Christopher Owens’ solo debut, “Lysandre,” the first sound heard is that of a flute. And I have never heard the instrument sound as horrendous as it does, opening this record.
Christopher Owens got his start in the acclaimed indie rock band, Girls. Formed in 2007, the group released two LPs and one EP between 2009 and 2011. Then, in the summer of 2012, Owens announced he was leaving the band to record music solo.
Due to the prominence of his band, “Lysandre” has been one of the most-hyped releases of this year. Still, I really didn’t care about it. As much as Girls has been described as a sublime indie band, they’ve always seemed subpar to me, and I’ve never heard a song by them that made it past “that sounds pretty nice” territory. If other critics felt the same way about Owens as I did, I probably wouldn’t have even cared enough about “Lysandre” to check it out. But, he’s relevant, so I listened to it.
“Lysandre” makes Girls’ discography look like heaven. It is high school cafeteria food to Girls’ five-star restaurant. If Girls’ debut album was Twitter, “Lysandre” would be Google Plus. I did not expect much from a Christopher Owens solo album. I didn’t actually expect anything from a Christopher Owens solo album, but this album legitimately surprised me with how unenjoyable it was.
There is a lot you can say about Girls, but their music never painted Owens as someone capable of this. Nothing could have predicted an album influenced mainly by Renaissance music and ’70s television theme songs (it’s pretty remarkable how well Owens’ “Here We Go Again” synchs up with the “Lavern and Shirley” intro).
The flute-dominated opener is followed by “Here We Go,” a basic baroque pop song that gets interrupted every now and then by a fuzz-guitar solo. “New York City” comes next, the first example of Owens’ apparent love of sitcom themes. His attempt to juxtapose the happy music with gritty lyrics is undermined by the fact that you can practically see the song playing over the opening sequence to “The Jeffersons.”
The first time “Lysandre” really revealed how irritating it was happened during track seven, “Love is in the Ear of the Listener.” Owens sings in the chorus, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder/Love is in the ear of the listener.” But, he overemphasizes the word “beholder,” making it sound like “bee holder.” This was a lot more frustrating than it should have been, but so is everything on “Lysandre.” Everybody seems to agree that it’s not a particularly good album, but these annoying little moments make it so much worse than it should be.
Last year, many tracks on Jens Lekman’s “I Know What Love Isn’t” showed orchestration done right. This album does the opposite. Saxophone, flute and string parts are all written in the cheesiest way possible. In a way, it brings to mind Nico’s debut album, “Chelsea Girl.”
Nico was famously scornful towards that album because of all the over-arrangement, and, most of all, the excessive use of flute. “Chelsea Girl” is different from Owens’ album though, because, for one, the songwriting is far superior (Nico, at the very least, never sang the phrase “Don’t try to harsh my mellow”). It’s also different because I can’t imagine Owens being dissatisfied with his album’s production.
“Lysandre” is the first album I’ve reviewed here that I can’t pick a key track for. Granted, there are moments I can see people enjoying, and there are even occasional moments of decency. But, none of them are worth listening to for any reason other than fandom or curiosity, due to the consistent cheapness of the music.
If you’re an Owens fan though, listen and enjoy. Plenty of people will probably find something in this album, and that’s okay. After all, beauty is in the eye of the “bee holder.”
Key tracks: None.