Girls | Broken Dreams Club EP (True Panther)

Think of it as an ode to love as a chemical, the loss of it as withdrawal and rock’n’roll as the corresponding dose of methadone.

One of Girls’ debut LP Album‘s numerous charms was its semi-scratchy, "we recorded this in a beach shack" aesthetic. Therefore, it’s surprising when Broken Dreams Club greets you with a clean, clear production. That’s not a bad thing; it’s striking and professional, but not soulless. As lead Girl Christopher Owens mentions in the EP’s endearing hand-written press release, "we took the money we’ve made on tour and worked with the kind of equipment and musicians that would have been too expensive for us in the past.” The new release doesn’t ooze unmistakably Northern Californian weirdness from every pore quite like Album did, but as if to compensate for dialing down the freakiness ever so slightly, it ups the songwriting ante. This only bodes well for a band that was born with ramshackle, yet very noticeable, chops.
There’s an incremental experimentation streak running through Broken Dreams Club. For each effortless piece of indie pop, like single “Heartbreaker,” there’s a counterpoint wandering in a less straightforward direction. “Oh So Protective One” amplifies the group’s extant predilection for Elvis-era rock and doo-wop and is boosted by a swooning, heartsick horn section. It radiates a recently spurned, heart-on-sleeve vulnerability and swaggers with the confidence of a bandleader after a show, whispering in a passing audience member (and prospective lover’s) ear.
The fuzzy, psychedelic, Broken Social Scene-esque buildup of “Carolina” has the atmosphere of an accumulated sleep debt, with the simultaneous blurring of the edges and occasional bouts of immense focus that accompany it. The final minute’s shift to fast, straightforward rocking out is the first cup of coffee kicking in after a long, bleary night.
“Alright” is punchy and immediate, blending distant Calexico style horns with wiry, meandering guitar solos and, in what’s a bit of a first for Girls, off-kilter Fables of the Reconstruction-era R.E.M. jangle. The title track continues with an interestingly odd Southwestern road movie vibe, adding the cries of a steel guitar to nakedly emotional torch song balladeering, love-drunk organ riffs and burbling trumpet. It’s the sound of being almost too bummed out to party.
The mood is never desperate or wallowing, but even the most amped up of these songs wear extra layers of disillusion and heartbreak like thick winter coats. Sure, the debut packed plenty of wistful, after-the-breakup moments alongside its frenetic, hedonistic obsessions with getting high, aimless beach days and sucking the marrow from life on the young adult bohemian fringe. But those were songs heavy with 20 year old, quick-recovery heartaches. This record feels like a reaction to a more deeply felt sorrow. And sure, there are still drugs; just listen to “Substance,” where chunky, phased guitar solos and flanged riffs hug it out with out of nowhere female backing vocals and more ’50s pop plaintiveness. However, Broken Dreams Club’s substances aren’t taken solely for thrills, but also to forget, and sometimes the drug is also the very thing you want to forget. Think of it as an ode to love as a chemical, the loss of it as withdrawal and rock’n’roll as the corresponding dose of methadone.
This is in no way a stopgap, pile-of-leftovers type EP, nor is it an explicit preview for the next full length. Think of it as a really big standalone single, its six songs exploring, stretching and serving as breadcrumbs on the path to wherever Girls head next. I suggest taking a little time off to follow along. A- | Mike Rengel
RIYL: the ambient energy you soak up from simply being in San Francisco; Broken Social Scene as the band at Back to the Future’s “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance; the furious energy of early Elvis Costello filtered through the Flaming Lips’ skewed outlook and pop sense; taking a bunch of shrooms and going on a desert road trip with a guy raised in a cult.

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