ALBUM OF THE DAY Charly Bliss, “Young Enough” By J. Edward Keyes · May 10, 2019
Photos by Ebru Yildiz

Charly Bliss spent five years playing punk clubs, sorority houses, and coffee shops; they weathered the loss of a drummer, and survived a botched first attempt at a full-length before finally releasing the critically lauded Guppy in 2017, and ending up the opening act on a Death Cab for Cutie tour the year after. Other bands might use album number two to exult in their triumph, but vocalist Eva Grace Hendricks opens Charly Bliss’s sophomore LP with a vision of the end: “I’m still alive, best year of my life,” she sings, “It’s gonna break my heart to see it blown to bits.”

That wry sense of fatalism is part of the Charly Bliss playbook; live, they whip and wail like a tornado, and the majority of Guppy was as fizzy as a shaken soda can. But for all of their sugar-candy hooks, their songs have always been undercut by the tart taste of sorrow. The raucous quiet/loud/quiet “Debaser”-isms of “Percolator” masked lyrics about actual debasement, and the pogoing pop-punk “Glitter” contained this romantic bon mot: “Like a husband loves a wife / Milk my brain and take my life.” It’s in keeping with that tradition that, on Young Enough, the band fuse their biggest and most immediate pop songs to date with lyrics that are almost ruthlessly grim. “Anesthetized, desensitized,” Hendricks sighs on “Under You,” “Hell consumes the earth—surprise.”

That song is the only time the band follows Guppy’s giddy guitar-punk blueprint. Across Young Enough, synths and keys outnumber guitars, and Sam Hendricks’s rhythm patterns on songs like “Capacity” and “Bleach” could almost be mistaken for drum machines. Or, if you want critical shorthand: they’ve gone from Riot to After Laughter in the space of one album. That change is jarring on first listen—anyone waiting around for Young Enough to deliver its “Totalizer” will be waiting a long time. But those willing to let go of their fealty to the past will find a record that is, in many ways, deeper, richer, and more rewarding than its predecessor, centered around the compositional long game as opposed to short blasts of power. Lead single “Capacity” may be the band at their most overtly “commercial,” but it’s also a study in detail and texture. The song is an atlas of carefully placed flourishes: the contrapuntal keyboard line that chases Hendricks’s voice on the bridge, the arena-filling drum roll that appears after the chorus then vanishes, the way Spencer Fox’s guitar ducks in and out of the song at carefully chosen moments. Hendricks’s writing, too, is sharper and more measured; Guppy sounded like the bracing, immediate writing of someone who was feeling 30 different things at once, but on Young Enough, Hendricks slows down and privileges craft over quick catharsis, resulting in deft internal rhymes like, “Sever every microscopic atom of connection to / I can barely keep myself afloat when I’m not saving you.”

Charly Bliss

Those lines provide a good indication of the bleakness lurking in Young Enough’s iridescent pop. Hendricks has said that many of the album’s songs document an abusive relationship, and she writes about it in language that is both honest an unflinching. The breathless forward charge of “Under You” paints it as a love song, but the lyrics suggest the opposite: “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.” A similar contrast drives “Bleach,” a bounding track lit up by a sizzling synth line and nestled in a spiderweb of guitar, on which Hendricks howls, “I’m fucking joy, and I hemorrhage light / He can destroy everything that I like / Big as buildings, bleach-stained white.” She saves her most potent visual for the album’s final moments; halfway through the musically triumphant “The Truth,” the band drops out and Hendricks sings, “I’m alive but I’m dead inside…silent scathing smile / The family planning aisle / I can feel my sanity dissolve.” The band rushes in immediately after, but the mood has irreversibly changed.

Writing that stark would sink into darkness without music bright enough to buoy it, which is where the group’s decision to bank hard toward the mainstream pays off. The layers of keyboard, the skyscraping vocal melodies and the bright-eyed choruses sugar the lyrics’ bitter pill. More than that, though, they suggest the possibility of triumph and survival. 

Young Enough peaks in the center with the title track, which is not only the album’s high point, it’s one of the best songs the band has ever written—a close cousin to the strongest moments of Death Cab for Cutie circa Transatlanticism. The trick is in the way they allow the song to build, one element at a time, and in the way Hendricks holds back during its opening verses, sounding tender and confused all at once as she delivers devastating lines like, “We’re young enough to believe it should hurt this much.” The song is big and wide and powerful enough to contain all of the album’s themes: the pain of a dysfunctional relationship, the naive justification of the same, the slow realization of the truth (“He is full of the worst, and he looks it”) and also the frozen moments that linger long after the connection has burned to ash (“Do you remember running barefoot against the dark”). Finally, in the song’s final minute, the band lets go, and the song rockets up into the air, keyboards over guitars, guitars over drums, Hendricks swimming her way to the top of the mix. She sounds thrilled and defiant and ecstatic and sad and angry. But mostly, she sounds alive.

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