Charly Bliss – Young Enough (Album Review, Stream)

by Steven Spoerl

In the spirit of the vulnerability that’s displayed with next to no reservation on Charly Bliss‘ extraordinary Young Enough, I’ll be breaking one of the site’s cardinal rules and writing from a first person perspective throughout this review. Beyond just finding a way to honor the devastatingly wounded narratives that pepper the record, it’s a choice that allows me to make a few disclaimers. In the early days of Heartbreaking Bravery, guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks became a supporter of not just this site but me personally, offering up laser-directed beacons of support and encouragement through a barrage of messages.

Before long, we had a familiarity that led to a brief time where we became long-distance confidants. Not too long afterward, after the umpteenth “quit your job and move to New York!” text, I did. I’m not sure I would’ve without Hendricks’ repeated insistence and it remains one of the most impulsive decisions I’ve made in my life but it did allow me to orbit Charly Bliss’ world — and many other acts/people I continue to adore — for a short while. During that time, I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by people and bands that made me feel like I’d found a home away from where I’d grown up. Charly Bliss was one of those acts.

Enveloped by a rare buzz that preceded their breakout debut record, Guppy, I saw how the band operated instead of just hearing about small moments secondhand via personal retelling. There was an undeniable electricity present in the band and it seemed to not just sustain the four members but actively push them towards something greater. Listening to Young Enough, it’s abundantly clear that particular — and comparatively unique — trait remains a singular, dominant force within the band’s genetic makeup.

When Guppy finally got released sometime after its second recorded pass, the band seemed to be swept up in an optimistic surge of adrenaline. After a series of smart decisions, they were being propelled toward a future that seemed increasingly boundless. Word-of-mouth, strong editorial placement, a series of high profile appearances connected to people and publications who hold a certain amount of industry weight, and a sense of accomplishment could’ve had the band feeling placated, content to repeat the motions that had brought them success but the band’s hyperactivity seems to make stagnation an impossible outcome.

Together, the four members of the band boast a remarkable musical pedigree by virtue of their education and upbringing. All of them hold degrees in music-oriented fields and at least a few of them can lay claim to their guitar teacher being ’90s rock n’ roll royalty. Pair those aspects with being habitual over-achievers and its not surprising that the band continues a rare kind of ascension. What serves the band well is that they continue to grapple with self-doubt and have found means of support through each other; whether it’s one assuring another that a riff isn’t too simplistic or that a sharp stylistic shift isn’t too far out of reach.

Utilizing that support as a dynamic allowed Guppy to thrive but without it, it’s hard to imagine Young Enough existing at all. By most means, this is a bold jump of a record suffused with head-turning moments in both the micro and the macro. The band’s fully embraced the pop sensibility that’s always been present and enhanced it to the nth degree, creating a confection that feels removed from their earlier work while still being a natural extension.

Much of Young Enough was written after one of Charly Bliss’ tours with Wolf Parade and that band’s influence shines through on the fatalistic opener, “Blown To Bits”, which successfully reintroduces the band and sets up the record with a simple grace. It’s also somewhat of a warning: while the music and composition is undeniably sunnier and more wide-open than the band’s first few releases, the narratives are darker. A lot darker.

While brief bursts of violence have long populated Hendricks’ lyrics (Passed out on the subway/with blood in my hair from “Ruby” has proven an exceptionally hard line to shake), the extent of how far Hendricks — and by extension, the entire band — is willing to go on this record is staggering. Several of the songs deal with abusive, nihilistic relationships that Hendricks has survived. Physical and emotional assaults are addressed, with Hendricks repeatedly finding ways to not only pick up the pieces of the shields that were shattered in those instances but rebuild them to be stronger without sacrificing personal openness.

A lot of this record served as an unpleasant reminder of the kind of cruelty Hendricks has had to face down and it’s why the record’s centerpiece, it’s astonishing 5+ minute title track, had me beaming through tears and made me stop the record on my first listen to recover. It’s at that point I realized Young Enough wasn’t just an ambitious pop record but a complete reclamation of identity for a person I’ve been fortunate to know as a friend, that’s burrowed deep into something uncomfortably private and unknowably thorny.

Taking the record on through that lens doubles the impact of the areas where the band continues to improve. Reticence and reluctance are discarded in favor of a directness that the band draws strength from, supplying barbed narratives with a clear-eyed focus that was occasionally lost in the overwhelmingly addictive sugar-rush of their earlier works. By slowing down just a touch, the hooks sink in deeper and the wounds they create grow more palpable, forcing the listener to confront their meaning.

Everything from the enormous pop-minded advance singles (“Capacity”, “Chatroom”) to “Running in the Dark” (essentially an interlude track) to the material that most closely resembles the band they were in the past (“Hard to Believe”, “Under You”) benefits from the band’s newfound commitment to an exploratory fearlessness. Each of them have grown as musicians and Hendricks has certainly grown as a lyricist, with both truths coalescing neatly across the record but coming to a head on the shattering “Hurt Me”.

By several miles, the darkest song the band’s recorded, “Hurt Me” shows off the restraint of artists who have mastered their craft while doubling as a desperate plea to escape untold violence. It’s a breathtaking instance where instead of punctuating a narrative to offer it an unexpected jolt, its the focal point in all of its miserable agony:

Remember all the plastic proof?
How I punished me for you?
Mirror over everything
Sometimes you feel nothing

The way your shirt hangs off your back
Easy, but you’re nothing like that
Eyes like a funeral, mouth like a bruise
Veins like a hallway, voice like a wound
You don’t wanna hurt me
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby
You don’t wanna hurt me
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby

“Hurt Me” is punishing poetry that confronts a dark shadow that becomes a reality for far too many people. Infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure, the nature of the song’s composition allows the words to jut out like barbed wire, each knotted point drawing blood along the fencing. More than any other song on Young Enough, “Hurt Me” signifies this is the start of a new chapter for not just the band but Hendricks personally, as the songwriter relearns self-love and how to healthily coexist with thoughts borne out of bleak moments.

While the band may still question their decisions, throughout the record it’s easy to hear their impulse to doubt falling away, bit by bit. They’ve earned that confidence and the reaction to Young Enough should buoy them further still. For all of the harrowing hallways the record navigates, Young Enough ends on a slightly brighter note, tackling the daunting prospect of family planning in a sharply funny and painfully relatable track that serves as somewhat of the band’s long-held penchant for sardonic wit while retaining just enough sincerity to lend it an extra punch.

By seemingly every metric, Young Enough is a tour de force. From the more evident (the jaw-dropping vocal performance on “Young Enough”, the ) to the minutiae (pacing, instrument production), there’s not a false move to be found. Charly Bliss’ second effort is a masterpiece of assured craftsmanship from a band that’s learned to navigate their doubt and trust themselves. A landmark achievement for a band that’s learning that what they’ll be able to achieve together could be limitless.

I’ll continue to follow every step of that journey and look forward to what it brings, armed with the records it’s already produced as a permanent soundtrack. I’d encourage others to join me, especially when the results include benefits like Young Enough, which may very well be the best record of 2019. Dive into it below, get lost in its world, and come out on the other side remembering that it’s okay to allow yourself happiness, love the good constants in your life, and be thankful that you’re still here to think about any of this at all.
Listen to Young Enough below and pick it up from Barsuk here.