Charly Bliss‘ debut album Guppy sounded nearly as perfect as grungy power pop gets. There’s a good reason for that—the New York band spent the better part of five years working on it, recording two different versions of it, and nearly resigned themselves to the fact that it was fated for a limited self-release at best. So by the time they ended up at Barsuk, their signature sound—emotionally vulnerable indie rock with perfect vocal harmonies and impossibly catchy hooks—had pretty much been polished and wrapped up in a neat, pristine package.
Guppy‘s 29 minutes are the stuff that mixtape dreams are made of, its singalong standouts littered with moments of anguish, humiliation and relationships gone wrong. I’m still not sure how their songs haven’t been picked up for every teen or young adult coming-of-age movie in the past two years. Young Enough, the band’s follow-up, offers another chance for music supervisors to take notice. With a year of heavy touring and increased press attention under their belts, but likely less time living with these songs, Charly Bliss sound a little more seasoned and adventurous, and with what sounds like a bigger budget. Like fellow Barsuk alums Death Cab for Cutie and Phantogram, Charly Bliss have embraced a more polished studio production sound with a heavier synth presence, and it’s a move that flatters their already airtight songwriting.
Young Enough is largely built from the same stuff as its predecessor: crunchy guitars, radio-friendly melodies, songs that (mostly) run their course in about three minutes, and the often brutal honesty of vocalist Eva Hendricks. A song like “Under You,” for instance, could have easily fit in among their previous batch of songs, Hendricks singing “I want to tear myself in two…I can’t get out from under you” against a melody so earwormy it’s practically a jingle. But just one track earlier, on first single “Capacity,” the band finds a new freedom in shiny synthesized surfaces and bigger spaces to explore. There’s a lot more happening, more sonic details to pick apart, but at the heart of it is still a pitch-perfect pop melody underlying a narrative of denying one’s own self-maintenance: “I can barely keep myself afloat when I’m not saving you.”
The best moments on the album can be found on both extremes. “Young Enough” is a soaring, five-minute centerpiece that recalls Death Cab at their peak, while the shimmering opening track “Blown to Bits” is a climactic and massive production that’s essentially a non-stop rise toward a climax that never quite crests. Yet “Hard to Believe” is Charly Bliss returning to the thing that made them spectacular on their debut and reminding us of how goddamn good that sounds. (Unfortunately their recent standout single “Heaven” wasn’t included on the album, though it’s an understandable exclusion given it doesn’t quite fit in with the other songs.) For how often these songs delve into moments of panic, hurt, frustration and self-doubt, the music is never less than compelling and frequently outstanding. They’ve figured out how to make great rock music, there’s still plenty of time to sort out the rest.