You’d be hard-pressed to find a descriptor in the contemporary rock landscape more loaded than “bubblegum.” Blame it on rockism, indie orthodoxy, or garden-variety grumpiness, but bands who season their craft with the sugary sounds of Top 40 will face skepticism regarding their staying power, and by extension, their musical credibility. This narrative, it should be noted, is frequently and ironically perpetuated by today’s bubblegum faithful: namely, their tendency to frame the work of contemporary power pop bands in terms of decades-old teen comedies, a low-key backhanded compliment.
Charly Bliss are wholly aware of these risks. Hell, their old merch setup featured a gumball machine filled with stickers and pins. But they couldn’t care less, probably because these relative rookies are sitting pretty at the top of the New York concert circuit. The quartet’s tight live show seamlessly blends high-fructose hooks with high-octane grunge, presided over by frontwoman Eva Hendricks: a spunky firebrand who zips around the stage like a Tasmanian Devil in Docs, pausing every so often to introduce her demons (“Who here struggles with crippling anxiety?”, she chirped at a show earlier this year). The bandleader’s emotional bluntness is the band’s greatest asset, with her distinct squeal (think Courtney Love, after ingesting half a canister of helium) coming in at a close second. Sharpened properly, a sweet tooth can be a most formidable weapon.
Charly Bliss successfully translate their viral onstage energy to record on their debut album Guppy, providing definitive, if ephemerally stated, proof that there’s a lot more to bubblegum than easy cheer and Weezer worship, although there’s certainly plenty of that as well. The 10-track, 30-minute effort was originally conceived as a grungy set, produced by Justin Pizzoferrato (Speedy Ortiz, Dinosaur Jr.), but the band would go on to scrap that version and start again — this time with an uptick in immediacy. Considering Hendricks’ brief tenure writing jingles, it’s no surprise that her hooks cling to the ears like flypaper: “Glitter” swims with warm harmonies, followed by a white-hot solo from guitarist (and erstwhile The Incredibles star) Spencer Fox; the chuggy “Totalizer” climbs, plummets, and coasts like a roller coaster engineered by Kurt Cobain and operated by a chain-smoking cartoon character.
Speaking of characters, as far as 2017 releases are concerned, there isn’t a snappier, more introspective heroine than Hendricks on Guppy. “Show, don’t tell” doesn’t cut it for her when it comes to detailing her personal experiences with mental illness, heartbreak, and 20-something ennui, all dire narratives which stand in stark contrast to the sunny sonic proceedings. Instead, she shouts out her therapist (“Ruby”) and her ex’s new girlfriend (“Julia”), laughs at a love interest who’s mourning his dead dog (“DQ”), and laments over depression-induced inorgasmia (“Glitter”). Sure, lyrics like “I bounced so high, I peed the trampoline/ I’m too sad to be mean” certainly qualify as over-sharing, but that’s the point. Guppy lures you in with fine-crafted honey, before blindsiding you with a sudden downpour of vinegar (or piss, take your pick). This is why they call it “power pop.”
Essential Tracks: “Glitter”, “DQ”, and “Totalizer”