Ex-Girls leader Christopher Owens is one of those rare artists who manages to be both streetwise and guileless: When he sings of escaping a “Hellhole Ratrace,” despair and dreams alike dance vividly in his weary delivery because the former Children of God cult member pursues truth and self-expression to the near-exclusion of all else. Of course, plenty of lesser artists have made fools of themselves attempting to do just that: Joni Mitchell and James Taylor set an introspective example that many followed but few matched. Owens evokes that early-’70s era with his solo debut, a singer-songwriter concept album about being a young singer-songwriter. “And if your heart is broken you will find fellowship with me/And if your ears are open you will hear honesty from me,” he sings at its start, as if lacking irony on a molecular level.
Lysandre is his autobiographical tale of Girls’ first short tour in 2008. It deals with his excitement and insecurities while playing in New York City and Paris, running into former lovers, partying on the road and falling in love with a stranger he must soon abandon. Every song except the final, elegiac one that waves goodbye not just to the album’s title character but also to his own bandmates is written in the key of A, and musical themes reoccur across its compact 28 minutes as if the album was one sustained composition. Tempo, volume, and intensity fluctuate far more than the Mitchell/Taylor norm: The sax-driven “New York City,” for example, evokes Lou Reed’s Transformer, the dirty, sexy flipside to the immaculate folk paid homage to elsewhere. There’s a unreasonable amount of florid flute tooting supplied by Vince Meghrouni, former leader of SST’s ’90s jazz-punk oddballs Bazooka; the arrangements are gentle but excitable as its narrator, who looks at the world wide-eyed and besotted. This is a love story that actually feels like love, not fabrication.