The music of Charly Bliss: A sugar-coated knife in the back

By Reece McCormack

Sometimes it’s what is said with a smile that hurts the most. In that sense, the songs on Charly Bliss's first two records - bright, shimmering power-pop collections tailor-made for summer days driving with the top down - are the musical equivalent of a knife in the back. Listening to frontwoman Eva Hendricks’ absurdly frank lyricism, though, (“I laughed when your dog died... Does he love me most now that his dog is toast?”), you are left with the impression that whatever she'd say behind your back is something she’d just as happily say to your face. 

And therein lies the beauty of Charly Bliss. Barely hidden behind the surface glitz of the production, slightly obscured by the catchy pop hooks, sometimes eclipsed by Hendricks’ sugar-coated prom queen vocals, is a band of palpable ferocity. While the music and lyrics are often unabashedly light-hearted, the singer’s lyrical diary can burrow deep into her own turbulent coming-of-age story, offering an intimate cocktail of anxiety and depression, self-doubt and shame, that refuses to shy from - embraces even - the thornier details. 

‘I watch her like its softcore porn', Hendricks admits on “Julia,” obsessing over her boyfriend's ex. Then there’s this slap in the face: “Am I the best? Or just the first to say yes?” Her words are as universal as they are deeply personal, rough vignettes offering a broadsheet on the caustic milieu of young America. 

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Charly Bliss are acutely aware of the delicate balance belying their sweet-and-sour formula: having originally recorded a grungy iteration of debut Guppy in 2015, the band decided to shelve it until they perfected that winning-recipe (1 cup guitar, 1 cup musical theatre, 2 cups sugar). Guppy was met with rave reviews when it finally arrived in 2017, ending up on year-end best-of lists from Pitchfork to Newsweek. Since then, the quartet - rounded out by lead guitarist Spencer Fox (almost too perfectly on-brand, he’s Dash from Pixar's Incredibles), bassist Dan Shure and Hendricks’ drummer brother Sam - has toured extensively, bringing their energetic live show across America and Europe.
 

The group’s 2019 sophomore effort, Young Enough, adds a rich, ‘80s-esque sheen to their repertoire, introducing twinkling synths to the mix. Eschewing the punkish brevity of Guppy, the follow-up still manages to hold the pace, bounding through with infinite energy and demonstrating that maturation need not sacrifice spirit. When they do slam the brakes during the title track ("We're young enough / To believe it should hurt this much"), it not only sees the band's essence become crystallized, but births their first bona fide anthem. “Young Enough” is a stadium-ready manifesto, complete with pounding kick-drum, fuzzy guitar and Hendricks’ most impassioned vocal performance to date, building to a crescendo that demands the catharsis of a live audience. 

Catharsis is something that can be found all across Young Enough, as Charly Bliss rework pain into expressions of joy and sink their melodic hooks even deeper than before. The temptation to allow its songs to wrap you up, to envelop you like a warm hug, is stronger than ever. But be careful, those synthesizers are laser sharp - and they’ll cut you.

The Charly Bliss Bandbox features our debut exclusive pressing, Guppy on pink vinyl (limited to 300 copies), plus a full-color, 16-page zine featuring an oral history and track-by-track breakdowns of Guppy and Young Enough by all four band members.


Reece McCormack is a writer based in Gloucestershire, England. His fiction has recently appeared in recent editions of Carve and New England Review.

 

Photos: Ebru Yildiz, Ben Stas