It's an interesting coincidence that within a year of each other, we got two excellent albums by bands named Women and Girls. What's more, they both show an affinity, if not slavish dedication, to the sound of 60s music. Where Women traced out a noisy blend of pop that sounded like a modern update on the Velvet Underground's monolithic White Light/White Heat, Girls are much more blissed out, dreamy and stoned. Their production and sound recall a less meticulous, less orchestral version of Brian Wilson and/or Phil Spector, filtered through a haze of smoke, pill bottles, and piles of empty beer cans.
The apathetically named Album also bears a very clear vinyl record pacing and tracklisting. You can practically feel yourself getting up to flip the record over after the long 'Hellhole Ratrace', a song that has a circular progression and emotional peak that suggests it should be the album closer instead of the mid-point. It does, however, set the mood for the album's more languid second half. 'Headache', 'Summertime', and 'Lauren Marie' are in no hurry to get anywhere and offer ample opportunity to let you space out and daydream. Even 'Morning Light', a noise-pop shot in the arm which sounds like a cover of something off of No Age's Nouns, has a "late afternoon, riding the couch" vibe to it.
Indeed, this "vibe" is the key to the album's greatness in my opinion. Girls are Californian through and through, and much like how the Beach Boys got their start writing about the culture they experienced in that state, Album has a--you knew this word was coming--sunny, summery feeling that feels unique to California. But where the Beach Boys innocently pined for girls, surfboards, and cars, Girls are only interested in (no pun intended) girls and drugs. Even the bummer songs are catchy and endlessly listenable while being mellow enough to chill to. Yes, even the wall of sound, shoegazer-meets-surf-pop of 'Big Bad Mean Mother Fcker.' This track is pretty much Girls's version of Yo La Tengo's shoegazer cover of the Beach Boys's 'Little Green Honda' from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, and that's not a bad thing. But I digress. The most immediately enjoyable bits of Album are the pleasant pop of album opener 'Lust For Life' and the 60s soul/girl group-style ballad 'Headache', two tracks that argue strongly for the fact that you can wear your influences on your sleeve but not have to rip them off in the process.
I took awhile to come around to Girls, if only because this is a summer album to its very core and it's hard to enjoy that when it's the midst of winter in Ohio. The Shins at least had the good sense to issue Oh, Inverted World in June of '01, but whatever. Like fellow 2009 breakouts The xx, Girls manage to sound utterly original and fully formed despite: being so young, having some obvious sonic influences, and never having recorded anything before. Album is among the best albums of the year, but here's hoping they name their next album something different so sentences like this one don't sound so redundant out loud.