Tag Archives: Pop

Charly Bliss: Fizzy Guitar-Pop That’s Big, Bright, and Full of Feelings

CharleyBlissBandcamp_334

Charley Bliss. All photos by Tawni Bannister.

It was only two days into their two-week tour with Dan Boeckner’s band Operators that the members of Charly Bliss decided that they needed some candy. They were wandering around Ottawa when they hit on what appeared to be the motherlode: a hulking, warehouse-sized building promisingly named “Sugar Mountain,” which seemed, at first glance, to be just the kind of confectionary wonderland they were looking for. The minute they opened the door, however, everything went Lynchian.

“It was one of the strangest experiences of my life,” says Dan Shure, the band’s bassist. “We opened the door and walked in, and it was totally silent. There was no one behind the counter and—the most unsettling thing—there was no music playing. It was just dead silence.”

Slightly rattled, the band began working their way through the store, when a basket at the end of one of the aisles caught frontwoman Eva Hendricks’s eye. “There was this bucket full of Cyndi Lauper trading cards,” she says. “I was like, ‘Sick! I love Cyndi Lauper!’ and grabbed a bunch of them. I soon realized this huge candy store somehow came into the ultimate inheritance of Cyndi Lauper trading cards, because they were everywhere. There were more Cyndi Lauper cards than there was candy. I’ve never seen so much of anything in my entire life.”

“It was… weird,” says guitarist Spencer Fox. “We kept waiting for steel blinds to slam down over all the windows and for the guy from Saw to come rolling out.”

The band is relaying this story in the slightly-cramped green room at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Records, where they’re killing time before their 40-minute set. In a few weeks, they’ll release their long-gestating debut Guppy, an album they recorded once, scrapped, then recorded again, and whose overall lifespan from concept to completion took roughly the same length of time it takes a newborn to learn how to talk. In its own way, Guppy is not entirely unlike Ottawa’s Sugar Mountain: its day-glo pop-punk guitars and endless-rainbow hooks provide the bait, but the minute you’re deep inside, lured in by the promise of confections, the door slams shut and the knives come out. To wit: “Glitter” is a honeyed, perfectly-constructed pop number that doubles as a barbed kiss-off to an ex, and the giddy, pogoing “DQ” opens with Eva proudly declaring: “I laughed when your dog died.”

When the band finally take the stage at Rough Trade, they open their show the same way they open Guppy, with the giddily rambunctious song “Percolator.” In the canon of great album-opening tracks, it’s somewhere up near the Pixies’ “Debaser” for the way it both establishes the band’s knack for irresistible, off-kilter hooks and efficiently sketches out the thematic blueprint for everything that will follow. It’s a tightly-pulled slingshot made of rubberband guitars and avalanche percussion, and on stage in Brooklyn, the band tears through it with the kind of frenzied, maniacal joy that has become their stock-in-trade. Midway through the song, Eva leans into the microphone, lets out a spine-splitting scream, and launches herself into the air. Soon, the entire band is airborne, and the stage becomes a dizzying blur of color and motion.

When the song ends, Eva, sweating and beaming, grabs the microphone to work the crowd. “Hi, we’re Charly Bliss from New York City!” she announces cheerily. “Who here struggles with crippling anxiety?”

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This Week’s Essential Releases: Actress, Ulver, Braxton Cook & More

Seven Essential

Welcome to Seven Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend six new albums, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.

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Two Dragons, Estonia, and a New Solo Project for Erki Pärnoja

Erki Parnoja

Erki Parnoja by Tonu Tunnel

There aren’t many “big” Estonian bands. A nation of just over one million people with limited large cities can’t sustain many full-time musicians. (On the flip side, in a culture heavy on traditional folk music, it can often seem like everyone in the country has some kind of musical skill.) That makes Ewert and the Two Dragons’ success both at home and abroad all the more exciting.

Two Dragons guitarist Erki Pärnoja is piggybacking on the band’s international reach with a new solo project, though he has no plans to turn his back on the folk-rock outfit. After two albums, multiple international tours, and even a 2013 European Border Breakers award, he’s entirely wrapped up in Ewert and the Two Dragons. But thanks to a game of “what if,” Pärnoja found himself craving a bit more than band life. With Efterglow, his full-length solo debut, Pärnoja got his answers. It started with him wondering what would happen if he worked alone and embraced the Beatles and Rolling Stones—the two guitar heroes from his youth. It ended with one of his tracks scoring a mini-documentary about the life of his grandmother. In the clip, scored by the album’s title track, his grandmother returns to the ruins of the textile factory where she for the majority of her life. Like Pärnoja’s music, it’s both largely left open for viewer interpretation. It’s also deeply moving.

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The New Sound of Norway

Anna-of-the-North

Anna of the North

With all due respect to the nation’s strong metal tradition (see: Mayhem’s creepy pig-head-featuring live shows or the 1990s string of church burnings), Norway’s recent musical export of choice has seemingly been pop, as witnessed by the rise of AURORA, and the emergence of Sigrid. And with festivals abroad like SXSW encouraging discovery, and Oslo’s by:Larm Festival becoming a destination for anyone looking to unearth nordic newbies, it’s now easier to spot emerging talent. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Norwegian government has been known to invest in the nation’s artistic and musical talents.)

Is the Nordic pop legacy likely to fade? Probably not—it’s been 32 years and no one can get a-ha’s “Take on Me” out of their heads. Up until now, Norwegian pop has been viewed as shiny, radio-friendly fodder. (See: production team Stargate, who has worked with everyone from Beyonce to Demi Lovato.) But a new batch of musicians are poised to challenge that assumption. The guitars are big, the lyrics are English, and the electronics are everywhere. From Alexander von Mehren’s jazz-influenced soundscapes to Sløtface’s sonic assaults, here are 12 Norwegian artists breaking from tradition.

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SXSWatch: Brodka’s Haunting Songs of Love and Cannibalism

Brodka

Brodka, SXSW 2017. All photos by Daniel Cavazos.

It’s the day after her 29th birthday, and Monika Brodka—better known simply as Brodka—has shocked her fans with an Instagram post of her freshly shaved head. The Polish singer/songwriter laughs at the frenzy she’s accidently created while still in bed with her two cats in her Warsaw apartment. But perhaps it’s also the surprise she still has the ability to shock at all that has her smiling.

Brodka’s breakthrough in her home country came thanks to her 2004 win on Polish Pop Idol. Her first two efforts minted her as a mainstream commercial pop darling, an image she successfully began to subvert with 2010’s Granda, which she recorded using traditional Polish folk instruments, which she then remixed to create spiky electro pop. Last year’s Clashes (her first international release) further fiddled with the script, an exercise in eclecticism with its arms around both stripped-down, Patti Smith-style punk and melancholy folk. Over the course of 12 tracks Brodka manages a confessional sort of storytelling without actually revealing anything personal—her tales of sex, heartache, and breakups veiled behind images of cannibalism, funerals, and a girl dreaming about horses. (That last detail sounds like it owes something to Belle and Sebastian, but is actually a nod to Courtney Love.)

Brodka played an official showcase in Austin last week at SXSW, at the chaotic center of the festival on corner of Red River and 6th Street on the final Friday. Outside, roving packs of K2 zombies celebrated St. Patrick’s day while sophisticated Europeans with bejeweled faces played pop music. During a rocky soundcheck, the monitors went so out of whack that the ceiling shook and dust fell onto the stage, causing Brodka to proclaim, “It’s snowing in Austin.” The set began with a somber electronic organ and tambourine before a skull-pounding single drum joined in. Her stoic confidence and shaved head can’t help but conjure a comparison to Sinead O’Connor. But Brodka is her own brand of 21st century pop star, inspired by post-punk and a survivor of Poland’s answer to American Idol.

In person, the musician is incredibly forthcoming, recounting her struggles to focus, love of working in different cities, and that one time at SXSW when she embraced her inner rock star.

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