One of the most prevalent staples of indie pop is the common juxtaposition of bittersweet, nostalgic and sometimes explicitly sad lyrics set to summery, sugar-coated melodies and peppy performances. In their 90s-throwback sound that teeters between indie rock and power pop, new blood fresh out of Brooklyn, Charly Bliss, take this divide between upbeat music and downtrodden lyrics to its extreme. The performances of frontwoman Eva Hendricks come close to J-pop levels of sweetness at times, and she certainly retains somewhat of a bubblegum pop sensibility, as she recites her sarcastic and bitter tales of heartbreak above fuzzed-out and fun-loving guitar licks. Although Guppy is Charly Bliss’ first full-length studio effort, the four-piece had already established this colourful collision of snide lyricism and overjoyed indie pop on the album’s singles, not to mention the bluntly-titled Turd, released in response to the election of Donald Trump last November. On the surface, Guppy has the appearance of a light-hearted pop record, but digging a little deeper will reveal a punk-tinged attitude of piss and vinegar in Hendricks’ sardonicism, and a garage rock aesthetic in the back-to-basics reliance on fiery chord progressions played with a feisty exuberance and with the fuzz turned up to full. In this sense, the appeal of Charly Bliss on Guppy is rather straightforward, but is no less strong as a result, with Hendricks’ piercing wisecracks being pleasingly blunt as to satisfy the angsty teen within, and with catchy power pop instrumentals to get the blood pumping. The band’s compositional capabilities may run a bit thin at times, and their clear-cut blueprint makes for a record that is somewhat one-dimensional, but at a healthy 29-minute runtime, Charly Bliss cut the crap and blister through Guppy, leaving a trail of catchy hooks, impassioned performances and sneering but loveable lyrics strewn in their wake.
Following a Pixies-esque build up of rigid drumming and single-note bass and guitar strumming, the opening track, Percolator, kicks Guppy off with the invigorating vitality that barely lets up at all across the course of the album’s runtime. As the frantic crash cymbals and wailing guitar leads give way to the song’s perky groove, the stage is set for Hendricks’ bright, bubbly voice, as she proves her knack for sweet, infectious and well-written vocal melodies right from the onset. Her inflection really is impressively saccharine and cutesy, but this only makes the sly remarks about her own self-image, such as in lines like, “My conscious is fucked and my judgement is leaking”, all the more potent in how amusingly unfitting they seem to be. The guitar pairing of Hendricks on rhythm and Spencer Fox on lead works with great chemistry, as the frontwoman keeps the energy amped up with her ruthless strumming, whilst Fox is given free rein to embellish the piece however he should choose, providing some jangly incidentals during the verses, whilst not being afraid to bust out a searing, flashy solo to round things off. Even on the streamlined anthem that is Percolator, Charly Bliss cram some succinct but effective compositional chops into this brief track, particularly during the chorus, with its abrupt shifts in dynamics and punchy accents to emphasise Hendricks’ irresistible vocal melody. Before this track’s final fanfare of feedback can fritter away, Charly Bliss keep the pedal to the floor and Westermarck bursts in at full-force, but quickly composes itself as its vibrant tunefulness settles in. The structuring of this track marks a definite influence from Weezer that appears elsewhere on Guppy, with the entire premise of Charly Bliss surely taking cues from the LA rock luminaries, who are known for marrying sunny melodies with self-doubting, heartbroken lyrics. As far as heartbroken lyrics go, Westermarck is certainly an interesting break-up story, with the title being an eponym of the hypothetical psychological effect that purports humans to become desensitised to sexual attraction towards those to whom they grow up in close proximity, such as family and close friends. Given Hendricks’ tale of losing her boyfriend to a long-lost cousin with whom he was reunited, exemplified in the line, “From across your room, I saw / Second cousins kissing on the lawn”, the song’s reference to the Westermarck effect in its title is rather biting and, despite the singer’s explicit feelings of betrayal, it also seems as if she recognises just how comically absurd the whole ordeal is. This is especially true when hearing such pained lyrics sung with a gooey girl’s voice amidst a kaleidoscope of bright guitars and poppy synth chords. Indeed, on Guppy, Charly Bliss pinpoint the bittersweet middle ground between sunny, playful melodies and overly-sentimental lyricism with streamlined precision, and with their own zestful twist on the notion that distinguishes them from the power pop groups of a similar ilk to have come before them.
Absolutely, when it comes to the anthemic energy needed to excite the listener with Charly Bliss’ brand of rock music, the band seems to have everything figured out, which is even more impressive considering Guppy is their first attempt at a full-length project. As such, for those dying to hear a mindlessly fun power pop record, this will tick all the correct boxes for sure. This being said, a heightened willingness to take the odd risk could go a long way for Charly Bliss, as Guppy does run low on original ideas at times. Given how effectively the group executes their formula, however, this can be forgiven, but considering the fact that the number of songs on here to boast an overtly unique personality is somewhat limited, Charly Bliss could definitely do to expand their stylings slightly. This is not to say Guppy is completely devoid of variation, however, as even amongst its concise 10 tracks, there are certainly some especially remarkable moments. The incorporation of the chromatic scale on Black Hole, for instance, differentiates the song from those surrounding it in the tracklisting by being one of the few cuts to genuinely convey somewhat of a bleak mood. This isn’t necessarily a break in character, rather it seems like a deliberate artistic choice, given that Hendricks’ detailing of an emotionally abusive relationship comes across as more serious than her other lyrical undertakings across Guppy, despite being delivered in perhaps her most dynamic vocal performance on the album. The closing track, Julia, compared to the previous, fiery, fast-paced cuts, is the closest thing to a ballad Charly Bliss are likely to put to tape, as a light, mid-tempo groove drives the song, whilst Fox’s melancholic guitar licks flutter away under Hendricks’ rendition of a modern-day Jolene. The ending to this song, and to the album, is particularly fitting, as the singer soars into her upper range and Fox’s goodbye guitar solo descends into a wailing wall of distortion, atop which it’s easy to imagine the band saying goodnight to an intimate crowd of sweaty teenagers. Outside of a few isolated incidents, however, Guppy‘s 10 songs tend to read rather similarly, but given that Charly Bliss have carved out such a compelling formula for themselves, and given the record’s brief duration, the apparent one-dimensionality of the album hardly hinders its replayability or overall enjoyability. In fact, this record is likely to be on repeat in many an angst-ridden adolescent’s bedroom for quite some time.
On Guppy, Charly Bliss are equivalent to the moody, bitter, bedroom-dwelling teen in the Pop family household, but are no less fun as a result. If executed poorly, balancing the defeated lyricism and sunny melodies of Weezer-style power pop can simply come across as clumsy and awkward, but Charly Bliss manage to elevate it to new heights skillfully and smoothly. The sarcastic quips of Eva Hendricks are just as entertaining as the brash and lively instrumentals and performances, all of which comes presented in a bundle of youthful impulse and sharp wit. Although the gist of the group’s modus operandi is apparent from early in the album’s runtime, and despite a slight need for some increased variety, Guppy is an endearing revival of 90s indie music that encapsulates many of the era’s key pop tropes as successfully as a lot of the band’s own influences. Although a bittersweet record, for the listener, it’s the sweet side that prevails.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10