Some iteration of the line “I wish I had a boyfriend” can be found in every teenager’s diary. And that’s how Christopher Owens, lead singer of the short-lived California-based band Girls, chose to open the song “Lust for Life.” But the track quickly descends into darker territory. “Yeah, I’m just crazy / I’m fucked in the head,” he sings, a disturbing sentiment if it weren’t for the surf rock guitar and bubbly supporting vocals surrounding it.
“Lust for Life” opens Girls’ brilliant 2009 debut, Album, which turns 10 today. At its core, the record draws heavily from surf rock vibes and bubblegum pop, but it’s so much more ambitious. We have the driving, shoegaze-inspired “Morning Light,” which alone could have revived the genre. The seemingly straightforward “Summertime” descends into a guitar and synth-driven swirl. The spacious final two tracks, “Curls” and “Darling,” play like the soundtrack to an old road trip film. For those who turned to indie rock because they wanted more from their music, Album went unmatched.
Yet Album is also dark. Very fucking dark.
On “Ghost Train,” Owens has seeped into depression after his girl decides she doesn’t want him. “I don’t know how to get up to heaven,” he sings. Sure, heaven could be a metaphor for happiness, but more likely, he’s wrestling with suicide. The ballad “Headache” could’ve been the final track played at a 1950s prom. Owen sings the sweet, simple lines “Yeah, I only want to be with you / All of the time.” Yet the song’s title tips his hand: he’s not with her, he only wishes he were, and he’s in pain because of it.
Owen’s backstory is depressingly sad. He grew up in the cult Children of God and lost his brother as a baby. He didn’t have a father (“Maybe then I’d have turned out right,” he sings on “Lust for Life”). And though he escaped as a teenager, it’s clear he suffered permanent emotional damage. Sure, listeners don’t need to know Owen’s story to intuit something genuinely painful in his music. Which brings us to an ugly truth: music this profound often comes from a dark place. As music lovers, we should remember this more often.
Girls had a brief lifespan (two albums and one EP). In an alternate universe, the band would’ve stayed together and become this decade’s equivalent to Animal Collective in the aughts or Pavement in the nineties. But that’s okay. In forty-four minutes, Album captured everything we love about indie rock.