Features | Awards

The Pinkerton Award for Uncomfortably Confessional Songwriting

By Maura McAndrew | 6 December 2010

Girls’ Christopher Owens
“Lysandre” Parts 3 and 8

I was worried when I first heard Girls’ new EP Broken Dreams Club that Chris Owens had started to leave confessional songwriting behind. Many of the songs seemed less plain-spoken and more distant than the band’s debut; the first track was even in (gasp) third person. But my fears were quelled when I saw the mini-performance videos he made for Pitchfork TV during the Matador 21 festival. Nestled in a teacup-style bathtub in a fancy Vegas suite (“We’re dipping in the same waters as Kanye!” he chirps), Owens awkwardly balances the guitar while wearing a backwards ball cap and an enormous windbreaker. Playing a series of songs, all mysteriously part of one epic piece entitled “Lysandre,” he looks tiny, childlike, and nervous.

But the songs, for my money, outshine anything on Broken Dreams Club. “Lysandre 3” is a simple love song detailing the pain that comes when your love interest gets a girlfriend and forgets all about you. “I wish it wasn’t true but / All you cared about was the girl,” he sings. With its standard four chord waltz melody and knife-in-the-heart sincerity, “Lysandre 3,” especially as performed from a bathtub, feels pretty fucking lonely.

Owens ratchets up the pity-party with “Lysandre 8,” an achingly literal ballad about a solemn indie rocker who meets a girl on tour and spends one night with her. The scenario is a bit melodramatic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not relatable and heart-wrenchingly sad. There’s the inane detail of getting to know someone, with lines like “You took me to your mother’s house / And we watched television on the couch.” Then there’s the melancholy drama: “…I nearly cried / Later I did when I was bored on the plane / But it was all right.”

This is the meat of confessional songwriting: our protagonist, needy and not always likable, lays it all on us. The way Owens sings those words sung in his sweet voice over those lullaby melodies that cuts right to the quick. He ends “Lysandre 8” on a strangely expository note, as if to confirm the truth of the experience: “Falling in love with you / On the first tour with my band.” With that, he stops and grins sheepishly; he laughs. Owens knows how to make it hurt.