Girls follow up flawless debut with new EP

Jeremy Lim

The San Francisco-based indie band Girls debuted to almost universal acclaim with the creatively titled “Album” in 2009.

The band had a compelling, attention-grabbing back-story: Lead singer Christopher Owens was raised in a cult, escaped and fended for himself before a millionaire discovered his talent and helped support him. The music was even more compelling.

“Album” sounded fresh, fun and sun-soaked (as any good California band should sound) with its ’60s pop melodies, surf rock and a slight folksy/country jangle filtered through a thoroughly modern rock sensibility.

Girls has a talent for marrying catchy hooks with reverb; the phrase “lo-fi Beach Boys” or some variant thereof was used in many reviews.

Their new six-song EP, “Broken Dreams Club,” builds on and expands that sound, but the heart of the band remains the same.

The emotion is carried by Owens’s lyrics: sad, melancholy, filled with longing but never overly morose or self-pitying. And even if some of the lyrics may read mawkish on paper, there’s no irony involved. Instead, Owens sings with empathy and sincerity.

Those traits are evident on the EP’s opener, “Thee Oh So Protective One.” Owens does his Taylor Swift thing — singing to the angst of a teenage girl, “Oh little girl, they just don’t know/about the weight you carry in your soul.”

The band expands its sonic palette by incorporating Latin-influenced horns while Owens clips and stretches his voice, sounding almost like Roy Orbison.

In fact, it sounds like something Orbison might have written or sung, which is perhaps about the highest compliment one can give.

“Heartbreaker” is more conventional and straightforward, but it still manages to add something vibrant to the record, subtly interweaving twinkling piano keys with the rough twang of the guitar.

As an upbeat number, it’s in direct contrast to the slow, almost mournful title track, in which Owens resignedly sings, “I just want to get high/but everyone keeps bringing me down.”

“Substance” veers into more interesting territory, with Owens half-muttering hazy musings bolstered by pedal steel and keyboard sounds.The band deploys a female vocalist on the hook near the end of the track to great effect. It’s a first for the band and a welcome addition.

The EP closer “Carolina” calls to mind previous hit “Hellhole Ratrace,” with a long, slow build before an eruption of sound. It has a vaguely psychedelic quality before it morphs into an up-tempo rock number with light cymbals and background chanting straight out of “Good Vibrations.” It’s the sound of the band’s past and future in one track.

Because of its relative brevity, “Broken Dreams Club” can only offer a hint of what Girls has planned. But if nothing else, the EP shows a band that is extremely confident about what it wants to say and extremely competent about how it will go about saying it.

Despite having only two releases to its name thus far, Girls has the self-assurance of a much more experienced band. If the group can release a full album’s worth of material this quality, it will be able to call itself one of the best bands out today.