Christopher Owens’ backstory always comes dangerously close to trumping his front one. The former singer and songwriter of the San Francisco indie duo Girls was raised in a fundamentalist religious cult until he broke free when he was 16. So it makes sense that his band’s music—a combination of lo-fi garage rock and graceful nostalgic pop—sounded a little naïve, like it was made by someone whose formative teenage years didn’t transpire until he was well into in his 20s.
On his debut solo album, Lysandre, the 33-year-old Owens (who quit Girls in mid-2012) tells the story of his band’s rise and some of the heartbreak found on Girls’ second and final album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. A year before they released their 2009 debut, Album, Girls’ first tour took them to a festival in France, where Owens met the girl he named his solo LP after. He quickly fell in love—and just as quickly he returned home.
The narrative song cycle is bookended by brief opening and closing instrumental themes (complete with flutes and Renaissance-era acoustic guitars), with an epilogue tacked on for literary heft. But the middle chapters offer the most revealing peek into Owens’ somewhat fractured mind. “If your heart is broken, you will find fellowship with me / And if your ears are open, you will hear honestly from me,” he sings on “Here We Go,” a chronicle of Girls’ whirlwind first year and Lysandre’s statement of purpose.
While some of the songs head for friskier territory (“New York City” is fueled by a saxophone straight out of Ziggy Stardust, and listen closely for the wah-wah guitar in “Here We Go Again”), they’re mostly layered in the AM Gold sounds of the soft-rock ’70s: wistful harmonica, breezy flute, plucked acoustic guitars, and softly brushed drums. And they perfectly fit the sadness in Owens’ hushed voice on songs like “A Broken Heart” and the truly heartbreaking “Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue).”
But even with the thematic ties running throughout Lysandre, it isn’t overly ambitious: The 11 songs clock in at less than half an hour, and the main musical theme that shows up in nearly every one of them becomes a wearisome prop by the end of the album. Still, Owens has one of the most intriguing stories in music these days, and Lysandre is his firsthand account of the neuroses, insecurities, and self-doubt that result from it.