Eva Hendricks has bars. Two years ago, when Hendricks’ band Charly Bliss came out blasting with their debut album, Guppy, it was easy to miss some of those bars. They got lost in the frantic sugar rush of the band’s ragged, fired-up power pop. But when you got used to those hooks, these beautifully crafted lyrical gems were sitting there, waiting for you. “I laughed when your dog died, it is cruel but it’s true.” “I always get dumped on my birthday.” “I can’t cum and I can’t lie / I can’t stop making myself cry.” This was brutally funny, viscerally evocative early-20s slice-of-life stuff — a whole lyrical sensibility that hits with some of the same uncomfortable precision of some of the best stand-up comedy.
Two years later, Hendricks has only gotten better. Charly Bliss have a whole new sound now, and their bars are going to be even easier to miss when you’re still wrapping your brain around their bright, hard new-wave intensity. Young Enough, the band’s second album, sounds the way major-label debuts used to sound. In interviews, the band members point out that it’s the first time they’ve been able to write songs without being distracted by day jobs, and they have really worked those songs over, polishing their hooks and sharpening their sound. They’ve recorded the new record with Joe Chiccarelli, a music-business lifer who’s got an ear for indie rock but who’s also got, like, Pat Benatar records on his resume. (Fun fact: Chiccarelli produced the sole self-titled album from Y Kant Tori Read, the hair-metal/Richard Marx type of thing that Tori Amos was attempting to do in 1988. I’m willing to accept this Charly Bliss album as penance for that.) And Charly Bliss have figure out how to make polished, hooky rock music that radiates energy and life, something of a lost art these days. All of that stuff rules, but we can’t let any of it distract us from Eva Hendricks taking her place as one of the best rock songwriters working today.
Hendricks has said that much of Young Enough is inspired by an abusive relationship — about the feeling of liberation and excitement of moving past that relationship, as well as the confusion and pain of being in it. And over the course of the album, she finds pointed, concrete ways to convey every stage of a relationship. The initial attraction: “It’s just the way your hair hangs in your face makes me wanna die.” The all-conquering feeling of bringing a new person into your life: “I wanna eat the world with you and float like dust inside of you.” The part where you’re feeling like you can’t get out: “Nobody knows you, the weight of your trust / How I crushed and consumed you and loved you too much.” The creeping codependency: “I can barely keep myself afloat when I’m not saving you.” The feeling of watching yourself shut down: “Contraceptive hollow / One more pill to swallow / When he follows me, the light inside my stomach dies.” The feeling of watching yourself romanticize your own pain: “We’re young enough to believe it should hurt this much.” The anger: “Bite the hand that feeds the boy / He’s beautiful and I’m annoyed / 40 years or days from now / I’d kill myself to cut you out.” The thrill of escape: “I’m kissing everything that moves / I’m kissing anything that takes me far away from you.”
Young Enough isn’t a chronological concept album or anything. Maybe I’m reading some of those lines wrong, assigning them meanings other than the ones Hendricks meant. But all of those lines just sing. Hendricks has a way of putting together words in ways that’ll stick with you, if you let them. Sometimes, those lines capture some innate absurdity of circa-now life: “Someone used my card to buy a camera in California / $556’ll get you almost nowhere.” And sometimes, they tell you everything you need to know about a relationship in a line or two: “I wanna rip myself in two with part of me attached to you / I’ll occupy your nation, fool / I can’t get out from under you.” (“I’ll occupy your nation, fool!” I would rake broken glass across my forehead if it granted me the power to write anything that good.)
Sometimes, when songwriters are capable of bars like that, the melodies suffer. They put the words front and center, and they organize the music around those words. Charly Bliss don’t do that. You might not even notice a lot of those lines on the first or second or tenth listen. Because those lines come in the form of laser-guided hooks, hooks worthy of Paramore or Sky Ferreira. On Young Enough, Charly Bliss have brightened and broadened their sound, adding new clarity and texture without sacrificing any of the full-speed-ahead immediacy that they had on Guppy. They’ve made the keyboards more prominent. (The one-minute “Fighting In Dark” is nothing but synths and Hendricks’ voice, and it’s lovely.) And the melodic intensity never lets up over the course of 40-or-so minutes. It’s a fun record to an almost exhausting degree.
And all that fun works in service of something. Maybe there’s some tension in an album about tense, perilous emotional circumstances being this much of an all-out blast. But Young Enough doesn’t have to sound like a confessional, and it shouldn’t. Sometimes, rock music can be about life-affirming catharsis, about getting through a dark period and seeing the light at the other side. After all, you never feel freer than you do when you first get your freedom back. And on Young Enough, Charly Bliss sound free as fuck.
Young Enough is out 5/10 on Barsuk.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Holly Herndon’s intense electronic art-piece PROTO.
• Mac DeMarco’s low-key amble Here Comes The Cowboy.
• Ciara’s as-yet-unheard Beauty Marks.
• Jamila Woods’ glowing, thoughtful soul record Legacy! Legacy!
• Lydia Ainsworth’s glitchy, melodic Phantom Forest.
• Get Up Kids’ reunion hookfest Problems.
• Greys’ noise-rock ripper Age Hasn’t Spoiled You.
• Radiator Hospital’s sensitive DIY indie-popper Music For Daydreaming.
• Sigur Ròs ambient side project Dark Morph’s self-titled debut.
• Clinic’s nervy, krautrocking return Wheeltappers and Shunters.
• Dehd’s scrappy indie rocker Water.
• Pottery’s jittery post-punker No. 1.
• Nots’ synthy noise-rocker 3.
• Tim Hecker’s companion-piece album Anoyo.
• Ludovic Alarie’s indie-pop bliss-out We’re A Dream Nobody Wrote Down.
• A.A. Bondy’s hazy, hypnotic Enderness.
• Efrim Manuel Menuck and Kevin Doria’s ambitious collaboration are SING SINCK, SING.
• Guitar Wolf’s righteous garage-punker LOVE&JETT.
• Vultures Vengeance’s old-school metal stomper The Knightlore.
• Rhye’s Spirit EP.