Last year was very much about Girls. The duo of Christopher Owens and JR White made a whole lot of waves in 2009 thanks to their well-received debut record, ironically titled “Album”. Flanked by the two strong singles of “Lust for Life” and “Hellhole Ratrace”, Girls have become known for sunny pop with a strong 60s influence – great for a day at the beach or catching some waves. So after a year’s worth of touring around the world, including a high profile set at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, the band wants to send a love letter back to the fans that have supported them here there and everywhere. They’ve earned enough money for a proper trip to a recording studio and are eager to show everyone just how they’ve progressed. The result is the “Broken Dreams Club” EP, a six-song, 30 minute collection of songs that really is a celebration of diversity, change and the inevitable compromises we all make when things don’t work out the way we planned.
The “Broken Dreams Club” EP opens with “Thee Oh So Protective One”, a track that feels carved out of time itself, with Owens channeling his best Buddy Holly voice and the vibe being decidedly 50s in nature. It’d be the perfect sort of song to play at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance from “Back to the Future”. As the first piece of evidence that Girls are starting to turn into “young women” (pun 100% intended), the song is also spiked with a horn section that’s both surprising and a delight. As a new single and something that’s been played at Girls’ live shows since “Album” first was released, “Heartbreaker” is a delight. The guitars are remarkably crisp, and the light touches of keyboard with the harmonized chorus just adds a little extra magic to an already catchy and seemingly light song. Of course the stark reality is that the song is anything but bright and sunny, the title alone gives that away. Owens’ sad sack vocals are also another clue, as his ability to convey emotion with a simple chorus and the word “why?” is remarkably great. The five minute title track is a ballad measured out in slide guitar and wistful trumpet, and a splash of organ really brings out Girls’ alt-country side. It winds up falling somewhere between Wilco and Band of Horses…if they used trumpets. The horns show up again on “Alright”, though the jangly guitars really make the melody what it is. What turns the song really interesting is how free form and non-linear it is, largely negating a catchy chorus and verses to simply groove for a bit and keep your toe tapping. The entire second half of the song is just full-on instrumental, save for some echo-laden “oohs” and “aahs”, and for just a moment it feels exactly like something Broken Social Scene would do. Surf rock grooves come on board for “Substance”, which is either an ode to drugs, giving up on life, or both. “Who wants something real/when you could have nothing?/Why not just give up?/Who wants to try?” Owens sings, later proclaiming “I take the key in my hand and it takes the pain away”. The song’s not something you exactly want to be playing when trying to boost your mood, but then again neither are most Girls songs. The nearly 8 minute atmospheric jam session that is the EP closer “Carolina” takes the psychedelic path of least resistance. Effectively trippy is a good way to describe the song, and the main lyrical and catchy chorus portions of it are sitting right in between two instrumental ends. The issue with that midsection is that the way Owens sings it brings up strong memories of the “Album” track “Ghost Mouth”. Listen to both tracks back to back and try to determine how many vocal notes in the choruses are different. I’m willing to be it’s very few. Still, “Carolina” is a very good track and a rather cool way to finish the EP.
There’s great news for Girls fans on this “Broken Dreams Club” EP. The band takes a few steps towards improving their fidelity and diversity of sound, but come off no worse for the wear. In other words, it seems like they are taking the next logical steps forward, and it will likely work to their advantage once again for their sophmore album. There’s not really a clunker among this bunch, even if there’s some interesting stylistic variations. The very innocent 50s-inspired way that “Thee Oh So Protective One” introduces the EP may be effective, but the sharpest moments still remain in some of the catchier, faster-paced songs. “Heartbreaker” is arguably their third best song to date, even if it feels drawn from the same cloth that their debut was. It’s a track like “Alright” that really stands out though, relying much more on atmosphere and a groove than a verse-chorus-verse structure. Chances are that won’t be where Girls go next, but if they do it could yield something truly brilliant and innovative for them. As it stands though, you need to get this EP if you even like Girls a little bit. It’s the perfect little stopgap between where they were as a band before and where they might be headed next. Even more exciting times are ahead for this band, I can feel it.