The New York band Charly Bliss have just about the most perfectly millennial origin story I’ve ever encountered. When frontwoman Eva Grace Hendricks met guitarist Spencer Fox, both of them were 15, and they were in line outside a Tokyo Police Club show at Webster Hall. Fox was carrying a soda bottle full of liquor, and they got to talking. It’s perfect. You could pour Sparks directly down my throat while yelling old Hipster Runoff entries at me and you wouldn’t bring me back to the blog-rock era quite as forcefully as that story. Charly Bliss are the children of an era — one that now seems positively paleolithic — when giddy and hooky underground rock music seemed to burst with possibilities, when it seemed like all the energy was churning just under the surface.
Of course, most of the bands of that era never had a chance to break through that surface — and, if we’re being honest, most of them weren’t good enough that they ever really would’ve stood a chance even if they had. The best thing about Guppy, Charly Bliss’ debut full-length, is that it brings back that sense of energy and possibility, injecting it into songs that could’ve withstood that level of attention. If Charly Bliss had come along a few years earlier — if, say, they had signed with Downtown Records in 2007 — I’m pretty sure we’d still be talking about them today.
I’ve been calling Charly Bliss a pop-punk band, but that’s not quite the right genre descriptor. There’s no Green Day in them, and I have a hard time imagining them ever playing a Warped Tour. Hendricks sings about relationship drama and not being sure you’re ever good enough, but she’s a long ways away from being emo. Instead, Charly Bliss make ragged, frantic, hooky indie rock that recalls Superchunk, in all their yelping and awkward and melodic and triumphant glory, more than any other band I could name. And when they don’t sound like Superchunk, they sound like ultra-low-budget ’90s-vintage Weezer, or like an urgently messy version of Letters To Cleo. Their songs can be thoughtful, and they can be cathartic, but they’re always driven by a sense of fun, by giddy hooks and forward propulsion. They write great choruses and even better bridges. Their keyboards aren’t too prominent, but when they do come in, they always arrive at the perfect time.
As a songwriter, Hendricks remains focused on the agonizing, exciting confusion of living in your 20s, of trying to forge relationships with other people and having no fucking idea how to do it, of never being quite sure whether you’re good enough but also never quite being sure if other people are good enough either. She can be mordantly funny: “I laughed when your dog died / It is cruel but it’s true / Take me back, kiss my soft side / Does he love me the most now that his dog is toast?” She can be uncomfortably real: “I can’t cum and I can’t lie / I can’t stop making myself cry.” She can be brutally economical: “Am I the best? Or just the first person to say yes?” On “DQ,” maybe the best song on Guppy, she comes up with two outrageously quotable lines in the space of one three-minute song: “I always get dumped on my birthday” and “I’m gonna end up working at Dairy Queen.” But her greatest vocal moment isn’t any of those lines; it’s the howl of sheer, wordless delight that she’ll sometimes let out right when the guitar solo comes blazing in.
Guppy is a fast and loose and delirious debut, an addictive sugar pill. It sounds immediate and irrepressible, like all these great songs just came bursting out when someone pointed a microphone in this young band’s direction for half an hour. Of course, that’s not what happened. It took real work to make something this immediate. The band recorded an entire earlier version of the album with Parquet Courts/Speedy Ortiz collaborator Justin Pizzoferrato, and they ended up scrapping the whole thing, since its sound wasn’t the one they were looking for. (They co-produced it instead with Kyle “Slick” Johnson,” who did their “Soft Serve” 7″ and who’s also worked with people like Bleeding Rainbow and Priests and Cymbals Eat Guitars.) Listen closely and you can hear all the sharp and clever little melodic decisions that went into what they do. But before admiring their craft, it’s probably better to let the urgency knock you around a little bit, to let them leave your head spinning like you were 15 years old and they just passed you a bottle full of something strong.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Shamir’s self-recorded surprise-release indie rocker Hope.
• Kamaiyah’s as-yet-unheard Don’t Get It Twisted mixtape.
• Woods’ urgently empathetic reverie Love Is Love.
• DIY supergroup Real Life Buildings’ nervy, cathartic Significant Weather.
• Tara Jane O’Neil’s lovely, withdrawn self-titled album.
• GAS’ gooey ambient comeback Narkopop.
• Artificial Brain’s futuristic, experimental death metal opus Infrared Horizon.
• The Black Angels’ psych-rock zone-out Death Song.
• Valgeir Sigurdsson’s shimmering, cinematic Dissonance.
• Cotillon’s muffled, distorted rocker The Afternoons.
• Hot Chip member Joe Goddard’s solo move Electric Lines.
• Kinks legend Ray Davies’ country-fried Americana.
• Robyn Hitchcock’s driven, melodic self-titled album.
• Sheryl Crow’s grown-folks return Be Myself.
• Maxïmo Park’s bounding, theatrical Risk To Exist.
• The Vacant Lots’ toothy, psychedelic Endless Night.
• The Spookfish’s haunted, homespun Black Hole.
• Arto Lindsay’s abstract tropicália experiment Cuidado Madame.
• Ingurgitating Oblivion’s orchestral death metaller Vision Wallows In Symphonies Of Light.
• Artificial Pleasure’s Like Never Before EP.