Named after a French woman he met on the road, “Lysandre” traces Mr. Owens’ evolution from rock star wannabe to professional musician. It’s a concept album about his band’s sudden rise to fame, with each song depicting a different milestone. “New York City” captures the euphoria of Girls’ first show in the Big Apple, for example, while “Riviera Rock” — an instrumental tune that begins with the sound of waves lapping a shore — evokes memories of the band’s tour in France.
If “Lysandre” feels like an autobiography, then the titular character doesn’t show up until one of the final chapters. Once she does, the album takes a turn for the intimate, with acoustic guitars and softly-brushed percussion replacing the zanier moments of the album’s first half. “Everywhere You Knew” is a crushingly tender account of the night Mr. Owens and Lysandre fell in love, and the image it burns into the listener’s mind — one of two 20-somethings lying side-by-side in a European park, falling asleep with the stars above and the manicured grass beneath — is the album’s indisputable highlight.
For a record that’s meant to evoke the highs and lows of a 21st century indie musician, though, “Lysandre” flatlines under the weight of some bad arrangement choices. A rip-roaring saxophone solo hijacks the second half of “New York City,” a move that evokes old-school Bob Seger more than present-day Manhattan, and the two instrumental “themes” that bookend the album sound like something you’d hear at a Renaissance fair, thanks to strummed lutes and tooting flutes.
Combine those songs with a handful of summery indie-pop tunes, including the excellent “Here We Go Again,” and you’re left with an album that tries to be too many things at once: a love story, a road journal, a commentary on the alienating aspects of fame. There’s no cohesion here, even when snippets of the Baroque-sounding “Lysandre’s Theme” pop up throughout the album, and “Lysandre” winds up being a mixed bag of hits and duds.