Brooklyn-based quartet Charly Bliss — with Eva Hendricks on vocals and guitar, brother Sam Hendricks on drums, Dan Shure on bass and Spencer Fox on guitar — recorded their debut record Guppy with a couple things in mind: they felt out of step with the Brooklyn scene, and they loved pop music.
They've combined that into something truly unique here: Guppy is a hyper, loveable, endearing, gritty, catchy romp through early 20s confusion, love, lust, travel and therapy (seriously: "Ruby" is an ode to Eva's therapist). It's like an updated, somehow catchier Dookie, scratching that existential itch of young adulthood with stigma-free honesty, gritty guitar and reckless, hyper-pop sensibilities that tie it all together.
Opener "Percolator," which dropped in March as the record's second single, is a punchy, streamlined introduction; sparks fly from the first single-coil riff, before the whole band slams in for an early, authoritative climax, only leaning back when Eva's delightful, commanding voice cuts in. "Come on baby, get me high!" she belts, as though from the backseat of a top-down, cherry-red convertible careening down the highway. It's a blissful, action-packed thesis statement.
The album is a clever exercise in repositioning of boring genre rules: sugary melodies set to grungy, fuzzy walls of guitar; pop structuring married with Eva's unabashed lyricism. Where you expect Charly Bliss to zig, they zag, in all the right ways. The chorus of "Black Hole" could've been a conventional affair, but a subtle shift in chord transition keeps things interesting. Elsewhere, the plucky, Cars-style power-pop sheen of "Glitter" is woven with Eva's unfiltered authenticity: "I can't cum and I can't lie / I can't stop making myself cry / I'll have my cake and eat it, too!"
The later tracks up the ante sonically: the band's jammy grunge tendencies (the members all cite Weezer as a touchstone) are indulged on the lumbering "Gatorade," with Fox's clever, understated leads stealing the melodic spotlight from Eva. "Totalizer" doubles down on the theatrics, riding along at a pop-punk hum before descending into a huge, head-banging meltdown.
That spits us out into "Julia," the record's apocalyptic closer. It takes the previous two tracks' hints at total grunge-rock abandon and extrapolates them, wasting no time with pleasantries. It's a slow stomp, with Fox's guitar and Eva's vocals taking swings at each other over Shure's and Sam's monolithic bottom end. It's a chaotic, unpolished final word, a declaration of territory; the fading feedback and ambient clatter seem to mutter over their shoulder, "We'll be back."
That Charly Bliss don't prescribe to nor care about conventions is their identifying feature, but it also makes Guppy a little hard to place; this is a non-gripe, really, but it's worth noting that it's sometimes hard to suss out what Charly Bliss want to be. They make ultra-catchy power-pop songs one minute, and a grimy foray into desert rock the next. Bands should be free to dip in and out as they please, but the lane-changes do make for the occasional cognitive inconsistency. Even if that's the desired goal, it's still jarring.
Good art is supposed to push the thresholds of comfort, though; it's not supposed to be an easy ride. That's not an absolute rule, but then again, if there were absolute rules, we might not have Guppy, in all its radical, naked emotion. (Barsuk)