Album Review: Christopher Owens - ‘Lysandre’

From spending the best part of his youth travelling the world with a religious cult to living in Amarillo with a wealthy oil tycoon, it would seem that Christopher Owens has had a rather colourful life. So it’s no surprise that when Owens moved to San Francisco to become a famous artist he instead, after meeting Chet “JR” White and bonding over similar tastes in music, formed the band Girls. Two successful albums into his new found life as a musician and you would have thought that Owens would be getting comfortable with his situation and would be ready to leave a scattered life behind, but unfortunately, the ever changing nature of both the band’s line-up, and the frontman’s life, led to Owens walking away from Girls and searching for stability in life as a solo artist.

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The topic of Owens’ debut album: a long lost lover he met on his band’s first tour. You might even go so far as to call this record a “concept album” as it, chronologically, delivers the bitter sweet love affair piece by piece. The album documents the excitement of touring (‘New York City’), the joys of falling in love (‘Lysandre’), and finally the difficulties of saying goodbye (‘Everywhere You Knew’).

The record begins as it means to go on in the form of a melancholic melody that courses through the record; ‘Lysandre’s Theme’ kicks off the album and concludes a lot of the tracks featured. The melody manages to highlight the beautiful instrumentation of the record by giving the unusual choice of instruments a chance to shine, ranging from the glam rock guitar concluding ‘Here We Go Again’ to the honking saxophone found at the end of ‘New York City’. Owens has created something completely original and fresh by combining a range of unique instruments. From the sweet vocal harmonies and woodwind instruments to the harsh brass and heavy guitar, Owens has produced a very different experience from anything he has done before.

In terms of song writing, Owens has never been more honest. The hopeless romantic has avoided veiling his feelings with decorative language or figures of speech; instead it seems he has chosen to go down a more direct route with his song writing. For example, Owens couldn’t be more to the point as he tells the sad story of a broken friendship on the wistful track ‘A Broken Heart’ and how he wishes they hadn’t parted ways. However, the song writing highlight of the album is found in ‘Everywhere You Knew’ which demonstrates Owens’ captivating storytelling. This sweet and humble tale of how Owens fell in love can be construed as “cheesy”, thanks to such lines as “when I took your hands in mine and I kissed you/I don’t think there was anybody else in the world”, but I like to think that this is an example of Owens’ warm sincerity which is dotted across the record.

Every song on this album is necessary for the purpose of telling Owens’ story but some tracks on this record could be characterised as necessary evils.  ‘New York City’ tells the story of Owens’ first trip to New York with his band but in such a way that makes you cringe from start to finish. I am aware that Owens wrote all the lyrics for this album in one evening (apart from the beautifully folky closer ‘Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)’ which was written on a separate occasion) which sheds light on how such lines as “Look at us in New York City/Everybody’s listening to me/Here we are in New York City/Rock and Roll in New York City” have turned up on the record. ‘Love is in the Ear of the Listener’, on the other hand, is a very self-indulgent declaration of Owens’ fears of being judged. Regardless of the honest sentiments behind this track, it wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of Sesame Street. It seems that Owens never gave the lyrics featured on the album a second thought and had a very “in-the-moment” approach to writing, which at the best of times provides an honest, sincere, and focused account of his story, but at the worst of times comes across as rushed and lazy.

The striking instrumentation and refreshing song writing on this album have led me to the conclusion that ‘Lysandre’ is as bold as a debut album can be; it has flaws, but is the perfect example of a solo artist finding his feet.