Show Review: Charly Bliss – Pop Music, But Make It Sad

I have to admit, for someone like myself who has an intense passion for music, I’m lousy at trying to define genres or explain to people what someone’s music sounds like. I don’t particularly like to compare musicians to each other in terms of their sound or overall vibe, especially if I’m trying to explain to someone what another artist sounds like and they’ve never heard them before. When it comes down to it, my perception is that attempting to define what an artist sounds like can be limiting.

TLDR: trying to define an artist by genre is really hard and can be misleading!

After I came across a band called Charly Bliss last fall, I had a hard time defining to myself what they really sounded like. The 4-piece band from Brooklyn’s’ Wikipedia page labels them as “power pop,” which was a subgenre of music I have no real knowledge of. I found myself into a Wikipedia hole clicking through links, trying to understand what power pop is. To be simple and not contradicting of everything I just said, I will give you this. Power pop is defined on Wikipedia (my go to, apparently) as a genre that “incorporates melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, an energetic performance, and “happy”-sounding music underpinned by a sense of yearning, longing, or despair.” Basically everything that I already enjoy listening to, so nothing that surprising, but something that I don’t see very often stated so explicitly.

charly-bliss-young-enough-_-press-pic-3-credit-to-ebru-yildiz
Photo Credit

Charly Bliss is fronted by Eva Hendricks (vocals, guitar) who grew up with devoted music fans as parents. Her brother, Sam, plays drums for the band. Eva crossed paths with Spencer Fox outside of a concert in New York City and they later began to collaborate on music in high school. Early videos of the duo’s music was posted on YouTube. The band’s first EP under “Charly Bliss” was released in 2011 on Bandcamp, titled EP. Shortly after, Eva, Sam and Spencer all attended college at separate universities but continued creating music.

Two more EPs were self-released in 2013 and 2014. After another band member was added to the roster (Dan Shure on bass), the band set out to record their debut album, but eventually shelved the original product and re-recorded it after they realized the album was not what they waned it to sound like. They decided to re-record it with more of a pop sound in mind. 

Guppy was released in 2017 on Barsuk Records (Death Cab For Cutie, Phantogram, Ra Ra Riot) and the band began touring across the United States and internationally following positive reviews on their debut album. Charly Bliss opened for Death Cab For Cutie in 2018 and released their second album Young Enough, earlier this year. Their follow up album also received rave reviews. 

I originally first discovered Charly Bliss’s single “Heaven” (released in September 2018) and was hoping to hear new music from them in the future – which is exactly what happened. Isn’t it weird how things work out that way?

I started listening to them more after they were announced as apart of Tomorrow Never Knows, a music festival in Chicago that took place earlier this year. As they continued releasing singles leading up to the second album, I loved each one more and more and was so excited to cover their show in Chicago last weekend.

The band’s show ended up being at my favorite venue in the city – Lincoln Hall. The show was just shy of being sold out – I’m convinced it would have sold out completely if the weather in Chicago wasn’t 50 degrees and felt like an actual Saturday night during a midwestern summer. A floor to ceiling length shiny, pink backdrop adorned the back of the stage as the band arrived just after 10pm. Since I had never seen Charly Bliss live and never actually watched any videos of them performing in any setting, I was pretty ignorant on what to expect.

Each of the male band members were dressed fairly casually onstage – then came Eva. She waltzed onstage dressed in a bright pink dress equivalent to the kind that you would see in a dress up box (in the greatest way possible). Completely contradicting the messy man of blonde hair falling into her face as she smashed a guitar solo during the opening track “Blown To Bits,” a song that instantly became one of my favorites after hearing it live.

The high point of the band’s setlist for me was their performance of their most recent release, “Young Enough,” – which is easily my favorite track on the album, and hit me in an emotional way more poignant to any other song on the album (though the line “I don’t know what’s coming for me after twenty-four” from “Blown To Bits” is a close second) – understanding and breaking down this song more than any of the others hits close to home for me.

The band spoke with Consequence of Sound about each song on the album:

“This song is about feeling nostalgic for a moment in your life when you really believed in the teen-drama, Twilight-era trope wherein a relationship being painful meant that it was worth it. It’s about feeling grateful that someone tried to love you as best they could, and simultaneously feeling even more grateful that you don’t buy into that anymore and you’ve made it out the other side.” 

The contrast between Eva’s onstage persona and her singing voice (think Carly Rae Jepsen singing pop punk music) compared to what they are actually singing about is what makes them such an interesting band to watch right now. Though there are so many artists out there who can encapsulate the concept of creating sad or emotional music disguised as upbeat pop songs (I think that bleachers does this very well), there is something inherently unique about Charly Bliss when they do it.

It may be because they seem like they are truly having fun onstage when they perform: nothing seems robotic or too rehearsed. Or maybe it’s also because power pop, pop punk or whatever you want to call it seems to be on the outs (or at least to me) and it’s nice and refreshing to see it reimagined in a way that is being critically acclaimed and accepted as great music. It doesn’t seem like it’s buying into stereotypes: it exists how the band wants it to, without fear of being gimmicky or expected. It’s emotional without screaming “pay attention to my feelings!” and is upbeat and poppy without the “play this on the radio!”

Being upbeat but not too upbeat and sad but not too sad seems like a narrow line to tread to me, though the band is blissfully walking the line with ease (see what I did there?)

Young Enough is currently one of my favorite albums released this year so far. I’m curious to see where it falls at the end of 2019.

Click here to check out Charly Bliss’ remaining tour dates.

Thanks for reading!
– Kristin

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