The Story Behind the Loveliest Rock Album of the Year (So Far)

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Breaking down Girls' Father, Son, Holy Ghost, track by track, with singer Christopher Owens

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If the new album from San Francisco rock act Girls isn't quite an instant classic, it at least sounds classic. Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the duo's second full-length, is as clear an example as you could find of modern bands raiding their parents' record collections for inspiration: You'll hear Dick Dale, Pink Floyd, the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, and, always, the Beatles, in these tracks. Call it another manifestation of culture-killing Retromania, or call it another entry in the grand tradition of flattery-by-imitation in rock.

Either way, the album is lovely: sonically pretty but also substantial, diverse on a track by track basis, able to surprise even when harkening to the past. And, to hear singer Chris Owens tell it, the band's thievery is shameless in the best way.

"The only reason I write songs is to copy guys I like," Owens says over the phone. "I don't want to make anything new here, I just want to be part of something I really like."

As the many critics who have raved over the album have pointed out, it's Owens's songwriting that elevates Father, Son, Holy Ghost. In a wounded, gooey croon, he delivers lines that sound, on their face, like boilerplate rock talk about love, drugs, and family. But he's a rare indie-music optimist, which is funny, given the band's much-noticed back story: Owens was raised in a Christian cult called Children of God until he was a teenager, when he escaped to Amarillo, Texas, leaving his mom behind. His songs don't explicitly address that tough past, but come from the point of view of someone who's gingerly, openheartedly making his way in a new world, trying to figure out how romance and stability can coexist.

Father, Son, Holy Ghost is one of those albums that's easy to obsess over, in that it's a fun listen with more going on than its surface sound would initially indicate. So when I spoke with Owens a couple weeks ago, we ended up discussing nearly ever song on the album: what the lyrics meant, and what bands he'd been channeling with each track. Below are Owens's thoughts on the album's 12 songs.

Father, Son, Holy Ghost is available on iTunes here.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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