Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
Courtesy of the artist
Charly Bliss: Guppy
Courtesy of the artist
At its most potent, a pop song can lift your spirits while belying the intimacy and sadness at its core. That's especially true when the singer is Charly Bliss' Eva Grace Hendricks. With her bubbly voice and rapid-fire, sugar buzz phrasing, the frontwoman and guitarist regularly sounds downright overjoyed as she unleashes with youthful abandon over a relentless jolt of distorted guitar hooks. Scratch just below the surface, however, and Hendricks' wide-eyed charm melts away in favor of a pissed-off sneer. She flings off razor-sharp one-liners aimed at anyone who may have mistreated her ... but also at her own insecurities. Embedded amid the impossibly catchy hooks of Charly Bliss' new album, Guppy, her words are vibrant and real.
That sense of immediacy make this New York band's songs feel familiar even on first listen; you might find yourself singing along by the second chorus, as if this band's been soundtracking your adolescence all along. Some of that comes from Charly Bliss' influences, which clearly echo Weezer in those feverish guitar riffs and of bands like Veruca Salt and Letters To Cleo in its melding of sunny melodies and distorted heft. It's also the by-product of an innate chemistry between the bandmates — Hendricks and her brother, drummer Sam Hendricks, and longtime friends guitarist Spencer Fox and bassist Dan Shure — that can only come from growing up together, and sharing a history long before the band ever existed.
Charly Bliss formed more than five years ago, and has been honing its pop punk on tours and gigs around New York ever since. Yet, until now, the band only had a handful of singles to show for it, namely 2014's three-song 7", Soft Serve. The band's path to making its full-length debut was marked by false starts and digressions — including recording and scrapping its first attempt at this album after feeling dissatisfied with the results. But the extra time spent retooling the formula has paid off on Guppy.
Right from the outset, on the album's bracing opener, "Percolator," it's clear Guppy was worth the wait. The song, like every one of the LP's fast and fevered tracks, is constructed with taut cohesion around Hendricks' windswept guitars and Fox's blistering riffs and paint-peeling solos. It's a winning combination that continues throughout Guppy, enlivened with the occasional breathless unison singalong or dynamic vocal harmony. On the closing "Julia," the band varies its canvas and tempo — beginning as a dreamy, arpeggiated ballad that crests into a stormy and corrosive lament driven by so-thick-it-hurts distortion, as Hendricks yowls "We have built a life together / Don't just laugh and say whatever!"
But there's more to Charly Bliss than its delightful, throttling sound. An album of vulnerability and blunt honesty, Guppy finds Hendricks addressing her emotional wounds and regrets, frustrations and heartbreaks in love and sex, and facing down misogyny and harassment — all while growing more comfortable in her own skin by accepting her flaws and bolstering strengths. On the infectious highlight single, "Glitter," Hendricks unfurls a seething breakup anthem about what it's like to be with someone who treats her badly. But the song soon reveals itself to be a more self-reflective dig at her own self-absorption and destructive behavior that contributed to the relationship's fraying: "I'll have my cake and eat it, too / I wish I could be good to you / Am I the best? Or just the first person to say yes?" Hendricks asks. Later, on "Black Hole," she documents an emotionally abusive relationship that has left her feeling like she's lost part of herself after putting in so much time and energy to make it better, and trying to muster the courage to get out. "She's got her toe in the cornhole / Bleeding out in a sno-cone / Lost my will to the black hole / Stuck my gum on his soul," she pines.
The result is a record that captures the yearning angst and spitting anger of youth — and details feeling rootless and restless while coming of age. Guppy is one of those ecstatically empowering records you'll return to again and again.