Indie-pop has often found itself judged on how quirky it can be, to the point where that’s often seen to its detriment above all nowadays. That’s not to say that quirkiness is automatically a pejorative, but when it’s something that an artist struggles to balance, the performative aspect really begins to grate more than it should. One band who’ve really done well with that balance in the past is Charly Bliss, who’ve tended to lean on the genre’s poppier side given their use of synths and Eva Hendricks’ incredibly sweet vocal style, but it’s usually been tempered with enough indie crunch to prevent that sweetness from being totally overriding. It’s what made Guppy as solid an album as it was, and while it can certainly be argued that the indie-pop deluge has submerged it more than anyone would like to admit, it did enough to ensure that Charly Bliss have the sustained longevity to make an impact with at least another album. But for as precarious as the balance has previously been, Young Enough could be where a detrimental quirkiness begins to take full hold; the preview tracks have not only seen a previously tasteful electronic element made even more tart and pushed further forward, but a general decision to embrace pop almost in its entirety has set some bells ringing with regards to where this album will go.
But with each listen, what consistently comes to mind with Young Enough is the career of Carly Rae Jepsen, albeit in a progression that’s been reversed. Whereas her biggest successes came with twee, sugar-coated pop hits before moving on to something a lot tighter and more willing to embrace maturity, that’s where Charly Bliss ultimately started, and playing into that tweeness here feels like something of a regression. That’s not to say that Young Enough is entirely bad, and there’s enough of interest and nuance here to prevent the least flattering comparisons to surface, but on the whole, this doesn’t feel like the most auspicious of directions that Charly Bliss could’ve taken.
That’s definitely important overall, but it’s worth acknowledging how much heavy lifting the writing does before any of that, mostly because that’s often a defining feature within indie-punk and indie-pop, and in Charly Bliss’ experiments with the dichotomy between light and dark in their music, it’s hard to deny overall that the dark carries the most presence. Here, Hendricks reflects on a past abusive relationship, detailing the instances of manipulation faced on Under You and Hurt Me and a naïveté that was taken advantage of on Chatroom in a way that does suitably amplify the ripples of darkness beneath it, with her vocals right at the front of the mix to place the contorting emotions in as stark a context as possible. But there’s also light at the end of it all, especially on Capacity that sees Hendricks adopting self-love and trying to break away from the need to please everyone that kept her in such unhealthy situations. It’s never given a definitive resolution, but more so than others, it’s clearer how much the light and dark sides of Hendricks’ outlook jostle below the surface, and for a narrative that can be rather unreliable in its progression, it does feel compellingly told overall.
But away from all of that, there’s the execution, the area in which Young Enough stumbles the hardest. It’s not hard to isolate these issues either, primarily coming in the form of production modulation that places an emphasis on synths that blast through everything in their wake and grate far more than they should. Charly Bliss have always played around with sharper synth tones in their music, but here, there are moments like Capacity which piles on layer after layer of discordant buzzes that struggle to mesh into a cohesive whole, or Bleach which is underpinned by a razor-wire tone that feels so piercing and uncomfortable. Being saccharine is something of a given, but this feels boosted to unreasonably tart levels, and with Hendricks’ vocals that can reach a level of tight, caffeinated tweeness, it can feel so sonically unbalanced at points in a way that the more grounded lyrical content can’t even level out. At least there’s enough to the more organic palate-cleansers that can hit higher watermarks – the title track is genuinely excellent in its buildup into chugging, emotionally charged indie-rock, and Camera and Hard To Believe are more in line with the band’s older, more equable material – but even their presence highlights how wobbly the overall transition between sounds has been on this album.
It doesn’t help that the dichotomy between Young Enough’s light and dark is approached with such a harsh spike, but cycling through sounds within electronica, indie-pop and indie-punk without a detailed, cogent direction doesn’t do Charly Bliss many favours. Even in its moments that do have an inherent strength, whether in the writing or instrumentation, it’s hard to ignore how transitional this all feels, like the band are tentatively touching upon something new while still being reticent to dive right in. And that’s ultimately what feels the most wrong here; Charly Bliss are moving into something that can be seen as more of their own, but either they don’t commit to enough, or it’s not implemented in a way that feels beneficial to them. They deserve credit and praise for trying, and when they strike upon something good, the impact is noticeable, but they’re yet to reach a point where that crystallises into something stronger all the way through, and being just generally okay at best what disappoints the most.
For fans of: Slingshot Dakota, Diet Cig, Cayetana
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Young Enough’ by Charly Bliss is released on 10th May on Lucky Number.