Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Album Review

Doe – Grow Into It (Album Review, Stream)

Just a few years ago, Doe released Some Things Last Longer Than You, an incredible record that made good on the promise of their early work and wound up as a joint selection for this site’s 2016’s Album of the Year. Since then, they’ve been touring relentlessly with an extraordinary cast of bands that have allowed Doe’s profile to continue an ascending pattern. Grow Into It, the trio’s latest album, finds them full of confidence, charisma, and conviction.

The record’s their first effort for both Topshelf (who will be releasing the record in the US) and Big Scary Monsters (who will handle the UK distribution) and the opening run of tracks makes it plainly clear why both labels came on board. Doe have expanded their ambitions, refined their songwriting, and seem more willing to take the kind of risks that can yield important dividends. The pace is a little slower, the tone’s a little more casual, the instrumental palette’s broadened, and somehow Grow Into It surpasses the intensity of their previous effort.

A synth props up “Labour Like I Do” and bleeds into “One At A Time”, which is augmented by guitarist/vocalist Nicola Leel‘s most tender vocal delivery to date and a gorgeous fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure. It’s part of a recurring trend throughout the record of connected nuance, lending the record a sense of completion. The narratives are still laced with Leel’s sardonic wit and wry observations, only this time they’re held up by repeated calls to action. It’s a decision that grants Grow Into It a greater immediacy, allowing it to read as a pointed reaction to a frequently disheartening political climate.

It’s easy standing still goes the refrain of “But It All Looks the Same” — far and away the record’s boldest track and most significant departure from the band’s older material — offering up a reassurance in the middle of an incredibly charged record. It’s an acknowledgement of a communal struggle, the sense of difficulty that can lead to complacency, and the importance of resisting the urge to stand still, making the lead-in to the record’s lead single, “Heated“, doubly effective.

By the record’s final stretch, its clear that Doe are presently as concerned with what questions to ask as they are with the difficult answers those questions demand. Some of these questions exist in the micro, like reflections of self-worth (“Even Fiction”) that can be extrapolated to a larger picture. There are stakes at play and Grow Into It makes a decision to not shy away from the kind of decisions that define our humanity. Despite the considerable weightiness of the lyrics, Grow Into It as a record remains one of the most consistently enjoyable listens throughout its run time.

At every turn, Doe matches introspection with clever, thoughtful, and grin-inducing arrangements that keep Grow Into It a vibrant record, tethered to a wellspring of life that’s genuinely affirming. For all of its subtle intricacies and attention to detail, there’s never a point where Grow Into It feels burdensome, which is a testament to its empathy. Moreover, the band’s never sounded so inspired as musicians, offering up a record of career-bests across the board in terms of structure, dynamics, and lyricism.

Doe may have had a strong grasp on their identity as early as their first year together as a band but that sense of self can get challenged. Grows Into It finds Doe doing just that; this is a band that knows the path to becoming the best version of themselves. Grows Into It is the wild, genre-marrying soundtrack to accompany that journey. Easily one of 2018’s strongest records and a potent reminder of Doe’s seemingly limitless strength. A modest masterpiece.

Listen to Grow Into It below and pick it up here.

Two Months, 12 Records

Over the past two months, hundreds of good records have found release. This post takes a look back at a dozen of the most notable titles in that crop. A handful of site favorites make appearances here, with the styles ranging from gentle folk subgenres to incredibly volatile brands of explosive strains of punk. A few records choose to cast their sights on hope, while others embrace an unrelenting heaviness. All of them, of course, are worth owning. Explore, listen through, and find ways to support the records that connect.

Saintseneca – Pillar of Na

A band that has yet to put out a bad record keeps that trend alive with Pillar of Na. Even with a slight lineup change (Maryn Jones parted ways with the band after relocating to the East Coast), Saintseneca‘s identity shines through on another album that finds the band embracing a more prominent Eastern influence within their Appalachian Folk-informed music. Pillar of Na also feels even more contemplative and complete than the band’s previous effort, Such Things, which is a point driven home by near-circular bookends. Not a false note from start to finish, Saintseneca’s records remain an immense joy.

Options – Vivid Trace

When post-punk and basement pop exist in harmony, the results typically range from good to incredible. Options’ Vivid Trace makes it abundantly clear from the opening salvo onward that this is a record — and a band — that skew towards the latter. Masterfully composed, produced, and sequenced, Vivid Trace is an important reminder of the potential of a niche subgenre that has direct ties to this site’s very roots. Vivid Trace is the exact type of album that Heartbreaking Bravery was built to celebrate: an astonishing work from a band fighting an uphill battle for greater recognition.

Lonely Parade – The Pits

A trio of advance singles suggested that Lonely Parade may have a legitimate Album of the Year contender on their hands, especially within the realms of energetic post-punk. The Pits confirms those suspicions with emphasis. Every song on the record’s teeming with ferocity, hooks, charisma, and conviction, as if the band’s been allowed to unleash all of their unchecked aggression. It’s that sense of purpose that makes how refined The Pits ultimately winds up being even more impressive. Lonely Parade intentionally take the train off the rails and treat us all to an unforgettable ride.

Fred Thomas – Aftering

Billed as the final installment of an ongoing trilogy of records, Fred Thomas delivers another record that cements his reputation as one of today’s most thoughtful songwriters. Aftering, Thomas’ latest, also finds the songwriter collaborating with contemporaries far more than usual, a decision that reflects on some of Aftering‘s narrative themes (especially the importance of support structures). As is always the case with a new Fred Thomas release, a few career highlights are thrown in, ranging from sunny, fast-paced basement pop to devastating ambient ballads shot through with a wealth of longing and regret. Being alive brings us to the peaks of joy and cycles us through unimaginable pain but Aftering is good company to keep no matter where the hammer falls.

Waxahatchee – Great Thunder

Ever since American Weekend began Katie Crutchfield‘s transition from a DIY circuit staple to an internationally beloved voice, Waxahatchee has picked up an increasing amount of scrutiny. Curiously, Great Thunder — Crutchfield’s project with Keith Spencer (formerly of Swearin’) — managed to get lost in the wake. The duo released two lovely records, before retiring the project, leaving behind some of their best work. Waxahatchee’s latest release pays homage to that project and Crutchfield’s roots as a songwriter, rescuing some of the project’s standout material to present in a new light. Great Thunder winds up as one of Crutchfield’s warmest releases as a result, rendering the EP unmissable.

The Sofas – Nothing Major

The Sofas proudly wear their influences on their sleeve from the very jump of Nothing Major, which immediately recalls Sonic Youth’s most pop-leaning moments in their Rather Ripped era. Fortunately, those influences never threaten to overwhelm the proceedings, each track standing firmly on its own, letting the record stand as a collection of noise-leaning, feedback-heavy basement pop triumphs. Every song on Nothing Major has addictive qualities, striking the perfect balance between an influx of energy and an incredibly present sense of melancholy.

Mutual Benefit – Thunder Follows The Light

In 2015’s “Not For Nothing”, Mutual Benefit can already claim one of the present decade’s best songs. Anything any artist does from that point forward comes with great expectation and Thunder Follows The Light renders those expectations meaningless. Every song is guided with the same gentle hand, infused with the same sense of calm and tacit understanding that allowed the project’s earlier works to thrive. Every gorgeous, mesmeric second on the record seems to instill a sense of peace, making Thunder Follows The Light a deeply important record in the face of today’s overwhelmingly combative climate.

Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship

The debut record from Whitney Ballen‘s one of many releases on this last that grapples with a challenging dichotomy. What sets You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship apart from those releases is its operative velocity. A breathtaking record in the truest sense, You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship finds Ballen grappling with deeply uncomfortable truths, desires, and impulses, while delivering compositions that suggest lighter material. Imbued with genuinely shocking moments, a masterclass in sustained dynamic tension, and a sense of steady control amidst an expressed sea of uncertainty, Ballen’s released one of the year’s most unforgettable records.

Dilly Dally – Heaven

One of 2018’s most heartening moments came in the form of Dilly Dally‘s self-resurrection. The band opened up about their own difficulties recently and Heaven is their testimonial offering of those challenges and where they’ve arrived as a band: reborn and with a renewed sense of purpose. Desire was a record that embraced the ugly and the damaged as beautiful, with a suggested distance between the band and those observations. Heaven reframes that dynamic and positions the band dead center in a brutal storm of reckoning, staring out at a sliver of light on the horizon, knowing that the ruins of the world will be theirs for the taking.

LOOSE – Haircut 

A relatively new band to this site, LOOSE nonetheless make a sizable impression with Haircut, an extremely impressive record that finds them tethering together strains of math rock, emo, basement pop, noise-punk, and bedroom pop. It’s an endlessly fascinating listen that never wavers in its surging momentum, anchoring ambitious compositions with relatable narratives. Head-turning in the best sense, Haircut suggests a wealth of talent and an abundance of promise reside in LOOSE. Unpredictable and unexpected, Haircut is an extraordinarily pleasant surprise.

Puppy Problems – Sunday Feeling

Sami Martasian‘s Puppy Problems project has been going for quite some time now, steadily evolving over the years while gaining a small cult following. All of those lessons come to a head on the project’s debut record, Sunday Feeling. As always, Martasian proves to be a commanding lyricist, waxing poetic on meditations about what it means to be a young adult today. Gorgeous folk-leaning bedroom pop compositions abound, echoing traces of (SANDY) Alex G‘s quieter works while containing enough personality to stand on their own. It’s an impressive record from a project that deserves an expanded audience.

Advance Base – Animal Companionship

Owen Ashworth’s projects have an infamous penchant for tapping into a sense of overwhelming sadness to create work that ultimately winds up life-affirming. Animal Companionship, Ashworth’s fourth effort as Advance Base, sees this formula ringing especially true. Corpses, both literal and metaphorical, riddle the record’s landscape, with an emphasis on pets. Throughout, Ashworth turns in the best work of an illustrious career, reaching something so human and so intangible that Animal Companionship can momentarily become a difficult listen. In the end, the journey becomes worthwhile, and Animal Companionship stands proudly as one of 2018’s finest, most moving records.

 

 

 

Dentist – Night Swimming (Album Review, Stream)

Dentist‘s name has been appearing on this site for a few years now, suggesting they’re capable of the kind of longevity most bands covet. Night Swimming, the band’s most recent album, stands as their strongest — and biggest — moment to date. Operating in the intersection between power pop and basement punk, the band’s crafted a rich, engaging work that plays to their formidable abilities as songwriters.

“Upset Words” and the title track constitute the 1-2 combo that opens Night Swimming, making the band’s penchant for hooks. dynamics, and intuitive structuring incredibly evident. It’s a combination that also familiarizes the uninitiated with Dentist’s approach, which is to pitch their work at a low-key level, opting for the kind of songwriting that draws in listeners gradually and envelops them over time. The beauty of Dentist’s work is that it barely requires patience; all of these songs register as works of understated brilliance on first listen.

From front to back, Night Swimming operates within those guidelines and works its way to an enchanting whole. It’s the kind of record no one wants to stop playing or skip through, choosing instead to revel in the smallest details. The mid-fi production accentuates the material nicely, presenting Dentist as they are: at a crossroads between their DIY roots and the increasingly tangible possibility that their work could elevate them to a recognition that vastly exceeds their earliest ambitions.

Here’s hoping this is the record that guides them to that breakthrough.

For now, just lean back and enjoy one of the best basement pop releases 2018 will have to offer.

Listen to Night Swimming below and pick up a copy here.

Clearance – At Your Leisure (Album Review, Stream)

Few bands can maintain consistency at a high level and evolve within those parameters. We’ve seen some of the biggest bands fall pray to their own hubris in unsuccessful reinventions and some smaller bands discover confidence that they didn’t realize they had after expanding their ambitions and embracing plunges into unfamiliar terrain. While Clearance doesn’t tip towards either extreme, At Your Leisure firmly suggests they may be headed towards the latter.

The band’s earlier works earned them a lot of comparisons to Pavement and those comparisons were legitimate and justifiable (which isn’t always the case when that name gets thrown out). At Your Leisure finds Clearance presenting a more confident version of themselves, a look that pays immediate dividends. The arrangements are more nuanced and the records stands as their most cohesive effort to date. While their past work still merits applause and investment, they’ve clearly hit another level.

Leaning significantly harder into jangle pop sensibilities, Clearance still holds their slacker punk roots firmly in place, allowing them to ground an incredibly winsome effort. Every song on At Your Leisure is one that’s allowed — and encourages — a patient growth, something that’s reflective of the band’s own evolution. While there are some head-turning moments scattered throughout the record (the chorus on “Destination Wedding” being the first of a handful), there’s never a cheap attempt at something designed for immediate, attention-ensnaring impact.

By utilizing a meditative pace and allowing their songs to breathe, Clearance unearth a way to provide an overarching texture on At Your Leisure that’s both fascinating and relatively uncommon. There are peaks and valleys throughout the album, to be sure, but they all act in the service of a greater whole rather than as a way to elevate an individual set piece. “Had A Fantastic” is the only track that comes close to breaking that form, which is likely why it was released as an advance single; the song’s urgency and insistence inject a significant amount of life into the record but can easily stand as a self-sustaining track when removed from the record and placed on a mix — yet it still provides the pacing of At Your Leisure with a necessary kick that benefits the material that comes before and after its appearance.

None of the tracks on At Your Leisure are dull and every facet of the release seems to have been provided with a fair amount of thought. All of those elements work in its favor, allowing the record an intoxicating appeal as a legitimate record. Not a singles collection. Not a greatest hits. Not a record that was padded out. Not a record that was designed to serve a purpose beyond its existence. At Your Leisure is a true version of the classic record; a welcome curiosity in a shifting landscape that’s all but eliminated its ilk. That alone is worthy of praise. Fortunately, for everyone, the music more than backs it up.

Sit with this one. Give it room to breathe. Get lost in its spell. Then do it all over again and get inspired to make a record the way a record should be made.

Listen to At Your Leisure below and pick it up from Topshelf here.

Two Weeks, Three Records

In nearly every two week run this year, it seems like there’s been a record that’s posed a legitimate threat to crack a handful of year-end lists. It’s been true from literally the opening seconds of 2018, which saw the surprise release of Jeff Rosenstock‘s exceptional POST-. While there have been a few lulls in select spots, that intensity’s remained and fueled a great year for music. A trio of records that emerged over the past few weeks have the kind of potency to either crack those lists or carve out a spot as a well-hidden cult favorite. All three are worth hearing. Dive in below.

Ovlov – TRU

The three advance singles that teased Ovlov‘s unexpected comeback album, TRU, all netted featured positions and seemed to suggest the band was operating in rare form. Turns out, that suggestion only scratched the surface of what turned out to be a monumental effort from the recently reunited act. The finest Ovlov record by some margin, TRU is a towering behemoth that could only exist through the lens of a band that’s kept finding ways to survive themselves. An examination of impulse, longing, and mental health, TRU bristles and seethes at an unmatched velocity, anchored by the burden of knowledge.

Scintillating from start to finish, buoyed by a series of inspired moments, TRU is tethered together with a narrative through line that makes it feel overwhelmingly whole, even in the face of its persistent ruminations on incompletion. While the band still finds life at the intersection of grunge, slacker punk, and basement pop, the way they’ve reshaped that musical identity on TRU is commendable. Wielding an expanded palette, a seemingly limitless scope, and a desire to improve, Ovlov have created what’s easily one of 2018’s finest records. Additionally, TRU acts as a very welcome reminder of a singular band’s extraordinary talent.

Pipsy – Users

Giddy, scrappy basement pop gifted with dream pop and powerpop sensibilities, Pippy’s Users was an incredibly welcome find what had been proving to be an otherwise desolate patch of new releases. The kind of record that makes sifting through an endless amount of dreck worthwhile, Users is teeming with the liveliness that can serve as its own adrenaline injection. Full of hooks, the record never eases off its acceleration pedal, resulting in a ragged, irresistible collection of distinctly crafted basement pop.

Sean Henry – Fink

It’d been apparent from Fink‘s advanced tracks that Sean Henry had tapped into something a little more otherworldly than usual, swinging from one contemporary reference point to another but refusing to offer tidy reconciliations. A record that’s intentionally opaque, Fink weaponizes its musical palette and allows it to convey emotional heft in lieu of easily idenitifiable narratives; the musical equivalent of Shane Carruth’s absorbing Upstream Color. A record that’s content to soak in the dirt and the grime of the world, wallow in its own carefully guarded desperation, and reluctantly admit to slivers of hope, Fink finds Sean Henry operating at a new, fascinating level. It’s a journey worth the misguided shortcuts, scratches, and tangles. Every bruise is worth earning in Fink‘s fucked up wonderland of folk-tinged, psych-damaged, punk-learned basement pop.

Bent Denim – Town & Country (Album Review, Stream)

When last week’s chapter of releases came to a close, a handful of exceptional records found release, including the latest from site favorites Bent DenimTown & Country. The duo’s previous release, the Diamond Jubilee EP premiered on this site last year and went a long way in establishing the project’s tonal and overall consistency. They’ve yet to make a bad record and have kept on an ascending trajectory in terms of quality (something that every band strives for but few can ever achieve).

Town & Country is a gentle creature, showing signs of curious affection and minimal affectation, the duo settling into a comfortable confidence with their identity they’ve established. Each song finds Bent Denim leaning into heartrending ambient pop numbers that have flourishes of a multitude of other genres but never seem to exist outside of they very distinct and specific niche they’ve crafted for themselves.

On the opening stretch of Town & Country, any single one of the first handful of songs could be enough to reduce a listener to tears if it hits them at the right moment. That’s the inherent power buried inside Bent Denim’s music, it’s a subtle, magnetic pull but once it finds an object to entice, the effect is overwhelming. Each of these songs is imbued with so much tenderness and empathy that it’s next to impossible not to find yourself moved at any given moment.

Creatively, the record’s as ambitious as anything in their sterling discography, finding new nuances and new heights in exploring their own experimentation. Whether it’s something as simple as dramatically boosting the keys in the mix or as complicated as slightly tweaking the vocal layers on Town & Country, the choices don’t just work but serve a unified purpose. Through impeccable production and intuitive sequencing, Town & Country stands strong as the most complete of Bent Denim’s work.

Unfailingly gorgeous, tethered with meticulous through lines (in both narration and composition) and unified by a soft, weary delivery that still retains a sense of hope, Town & Country is another in a sting of gems from Bent Denim. One of the best ambient-leaning records of 2018, this is a record worth holding onto for isolated summer nights and quiet moments of introspection. It;s an album worthy of being kept in as many collections as possible.

Listen to Town & Country below and pick it up here.

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review, Stream)

A small sampling of some excellent records to find release were already given a few posts back but to not mention the records put out by Bambara, Pole Siblings, Big Buddy, Look Vibrant, Stimmerman, No Thank Youdné, and Breakfast Muff would be doing everyone a massive disservice. All of those records are worth exploring, as always, but the record that this post’s going to focus on is one that registers as a standout for a long list of reasons: Hop Along’s breathtaking Bark Your Head Off, Dog.

Hop Along, over the course of their history, have built up a fervent following that’s greeted the band’s music as if it were their own religion. Even a cursory run through their discography would help contextualize that response, as their catalog’s full of blisteringly intense and incredibly emotional pleas, statements, and revelations. The band seems to be constantly operating in a do-or-die mode, where literally everything needs to be put on the line and defended with every last ounce of vigor the members can muster.

They’ve already put out two records that many hold as sacred, in Get Disowned and Painted Shut, virtually guaranteeing any news of new material would be greeted as an event with a capital E. A cathartic live show built and shaped by years of intense touring and the band’s proven record in studio had everyone bracing for another towering record full of the life-or-death dynamics that have become the band’s established pattern.

To their credit, Hop Along took a massive artistic risk and subverted that formula to deliver the most measured and nuanced work of their career. More impressively, they found a way to retain the level of emotional catharsis that’s earned them such a devoted following. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly ambitious record, with things like imposing orchestral arrangements scattered throughout its runtime.

From the record’s opening track, “How Simple”, it seems as if it’ll be business as usual for a while, with the band echoing the late-career work of Rilo Kiley (another band with notable ties to Saddle Creek) but it offers glances towards something a little different. Even with that lingering sense things might be about to change, the closing minutes find room for a vintage Hop Along moment with the repeated mantra of “Don’t worry, we will find out, just not together.”

It’s at that moment that the record — and the band’s slightly revamped dynamic approach — start to click into place. Across the rest of the record, they take small risks to arrive at maximum impact, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes, causing them to lean in and invest. As a tactic, it’s incredibly effective and the band uses it masterfully throughout some of the most impressive work of their career.

Bark Your Head Off, Dog is more than just one impressive arrangement after another, though, and Hop Along grants it as much — if not more — emotional heft than either of there previous two outings. There are times where the record goes beyond feeling personal and tips into feeling like it was borne out of necessity. Thankfully, for us, we can now reap the rewards of that need with what’s bound to stand the test of time and remain one of 2018’s most incredible records.

Listen to Bark Your Head Off, Dog below and pick it up from Saddle Creek.

Winter – Ethereality (Album Review, Stream)

April’s off to an exceptionally strong start on the new records front, with Rich Girls, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Pompey, Andrew Younker, Amen Dunes, Dreamend, Paul Cherry, Goodnight, Texas, and Paperbark / r beny all turning in notable efforts. Joining their ranks is Ethereality, the latest from shoegaze-leaning pop act Winter, a solo project that’s been releasing solid records for the better part of the present decade.

Even in the context of a commendable discography, Winter’s Ethereality is a standout effort. Ten tracks of pristine, genre-hybrid high-wire acts of a balanced grace, Ethereality finds Winter — spearheaded by and named for guitarist/vocalist Samira Winter — in rare form. It’s the kind of record that washes over anyone fortunate enough to be listening, imbued with so much warmth that at times it feels like a long hug from an old friend.

All ten tracks have a collection of beautiful moments wrapped into small bursts of a contented exploration. Yes, there are times when the narrative strands of Ethereality splinter towards unsparing self-examination, awash in the kind of tacit self-awareness that keeps them from becoming too overwhelming but even then, Winter’s careful to allow room for hope.

It’s that concept of hope, whether it’s present or distant, that anchors Ethereality and transforms it from a pleasant record into a notable one. Appropriately, the record’s songs are as close to dream-pop as Winter’s ever been over the course of a record and that decision goes a long way in providing the record with its pulse. Relaxed, aware, full of well-earned knowledge, and moments of genuine beauty, Ethereality is the happy sigh after a powerful moment of clarity. It’s nothing short of a triumph.

Listen to Ethereality below and pick it up on bandcamp.

Hermetic – Postscript (Album Review)

A lot can be released in a week’s time. Fortunately, that means there’s a lot of room for excellent material, like the music videos Lydia Loveless, Kamikaze Girls, Kino Kimino, Duncan LloydSløtface, White Reaper, Mise en Scene, TV Sets, Angelo De Augustine, Guerilla Toss, Thick, and Brightness made public. More than just music videos surfaced, though, and — as always — a lot of what cropped up came from unheralded or barely-known artists. Hermetic was one of those projects but Postscript, the project’s latest full-length, proved that they’re worthy of recognition.

A duo comprised of Eric Axen and Bart Newman, Hermetic find success on Postscript by meticulously mining a lot of aspects of post-punk, bedroom pop, and their various niche hybrid offshoots that tend to get overlooked. From Albini-esque production and tones to palpable nervous tension to the dynamic composition, Postscript never comes across as anything less than ridiculously historically-informed. Hermetic’s done their homework and it shows from the record’s surprisingly heavy opening track, “Fault-Finding Mission” which brings to mind both acts like The Wrens and an innumerable slate of shoegaze-leaning projects.

Following Postscript‘s ridiculously impressive opening statement are a cavalcade of tracks that throw a variety of punches, finding clever ways to land each blow. Hermetic rarely dips out of insistent mid-tempo mode throughout the course of the record and it creates an absorbing accumulative effect. Everything from the ambient swirl of “Relics” to the moody mid-song turn in “Withering” is elevated because of the record’s tonal consistency. Each track has something to offer and stands out on its own but they create a much larger whole together. It’s an outstanding release from a band that deserves a lot more attention. Hit play and leave it on repeat.

Listen to Postscript below and pick it up here.

Charly Bliss – Guppy (Album Review, Live Videos)

Reviewing a record that you’ve spent years becoming entwined with, falling in love with, and essentially establishing as a core part of your identity is a difficult prospect. It’s always nerve-wracking to attempt to do justice to something that’s become so personal. When it’s made by people that you’ve grown to love and even consider part of your extended family, it becomes a lot murkier. And yet, every single time Charly Bliss’ Guppy starts up, all of those thoughts fade away and the record rises up, bares its fangs, and clamps down with such a vengeance that it’s difficult to think of anything other than the music’s sheer, overwhelming power.

Guppy is a record I’ve been fortunate enough to watch evolve since its first permutation in 2015, which featured a handful of songs that didn’t make the cut for the official release (including “Turd“, which was released in advance of Guppy as a standalone single) and boasted a production that emphasized the low-end aspect of the band, providing it an immense punch. That Guppy has not only retained that punch but emphasized it by balancing out those levels is nothing short of miraculous.

To get to that point, the band weathered quite a few storms and put more notches in its belt than most people realize. The band first hinted that it might be more than your standard punk-driven basement pop act with the releases of 2013’s A Lot To Say EP, which was highlighted by its towering title track. Following that was the release of an astounding single in “Clean“, the invaluable addition of Dan Shure on bass, and the release of the Soft Serve EP, which — along with their scintillating live show — acted as the band’s calling card for a handful of years.

Soft Serve acted as my introduction to the band and I’ve never been so thoroughly dismantled and blown away by a band I’d never heard of as I was the day I clicked play on that record. It topped Heartbreaking Bravery’s EP’s of the Year list for 2014 and still stands proudly as my personal pick for the best EP of this decade and it’s very unlikely that anything will unseat it by the time 2020 rolls around. No band has every put me all in as quickly as Charly Bliss managed with just three perfect songs.

I didn’t know it at the time but that EP would wind up legitimately changing the course of my life. Eva Grace Hendricks, one of Charly Bliss’ two guitarist/vocalist/songwriter’s, joined the A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors roster shortly after Soft Serve‘s release and wound up being an instrumental part of my decision to relocate to Brooklyn for half of 2015. Our shared, vocal support of each other’s ventures meant a great deal to me at the time and still does today, as it stood (and stands) as the type of mutual support that Heartbreaking Bravery has aimed to establish since the beginning.

Enter: Guppy‘s first run, an astonishing demo that laid out the particulars and quickly overtook everything else in my listening habits. Any doubts that any of the members of Charly Bliss may have had at the time were wildly unwarranted; even at its most humble stages, Guppy was a behemoth of a record. For the next two years, the band would fine-tune different parts of the songs, the production, and they’d introduce new material that usurped a few scattered tracks that were initially grouped in with what would eventually become Guppy.

To promote the record, the band did everything right and still managed to hide a few tricks up their sleeve: touring America as the openers for Veruca Salt and PUP, releasing “Ruby” as an early single and following it up with a characteristically clever music video, unleashing the single greatest Audiotree session I’ve seen (no small feat), and finding ways to advance their jaw-dropping live show, from perfecting four-part harmonies to studiously analyzing old footage to look for subtle tweaks to potentially make. All the while, a handful of labels had taken interest and the band had a huge decision to make and took their time to make sure it was the right one.

Barsuk Records eventually won the rights to Guppy and all of the tenacity they likely poured into their campaign to secure the record should pay massive dividends for the label going forward. It’s a move that helped secure Guppy the vaunted NPR First Listen slot, replete with an effectively effusive write-up. Stereogum immediately awarded the record its Album of the Week honor and Pitchfork gave it the kind of score that’s a short step away from verging on their Best New Music territory (a rarity for the publication’s appraisal of this particular genre).

While all of the praise remains heartening to see and the critical analysis provided to the record was both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it’s difficult to tell if any of those reviewers grasped the magnitude of what this type of record can accomplish if it keeps being awarded effective platforms. It’s also difficult to tell if any of those publications had a handle on not only what this band can eventually become but what they’ve managed to become already. As mentioned above, Guppy is a record capable of obliterating critical thinking as it plays and then rewarding it to an obscene degree when it wraps, putting it in extremely select company.

From the energy-bolstering opening seconds of “Percolator”, Guppy lets its listeners know that they’re in for something that’s as ebullient as it is aggressive, finding a transcendental sweet spot between bubblegum coating and a shockingly dark undercurrent. Hendricks, from the outset, dives into a narrative that grapples with not only her own mortality but the self-awareness everyday interactions have come to necessitate. Spencer Fox, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, provides what’s quickly becoming his trademark: economical but dizzying guitar riffs that don’t sacrifice feeling for technique (or vice versa).

If people weren’t aware that Fox is currently one of the best guitarists in music, Guppy should go a long way in providing that (admittedly understandable) ignorance a remedy. While Soft Serve‘s “Urge to Purge” remains one of the best riffs of the present decade, Guppy is where Fox stakes his claim, something that becomes abundantly clear throughout the course of the record. Not only are all of Fox’s contributions spectacular but the work Dan Shure and Sam Hendricks (Eva’s brother) are doing as a rhythm section have allowed them to quietly become one of the most vicious tandems currently on the circuit.

While Fox and that rhythm section remain impressive throughout, Guppy‘s beating heart rests in Eva Grace Hendricks and that heart’s beating at a relentless pace. Hendricks anchors each one of these songs with a frightening determination and a mischievous joy. All of the come-on’s are equipped with a warning, every smile comes with a missing tooth, and every invitation comes with an advance apology.

In “Ruby”, Hendricks’ loving ode to her therapist, she rides a subway with blood on her hair. On “Glitter”, there’s the realization that a relationship’s shortcomings can sometimes be equally distributed across both parties. In “Scare U”, there’s the recognition of greed and the unapologetic desire to be in complete control.  At seemingly every turn, Hendricks comes to grips with the duality most goodhearted people constantly view as a struggle. By subverting these thoughts and latching onto something defiantly celebratory, Charly Bliss comes together to reclaim their own deeply damaged narratives as learning points, important mistakes, and necessities of personal evolution.

It’s in that context where each of the band’s decisions gains importance. They’re not just making music because they like to make music; they’re using it as a coping outlet. Every single snare hit, vibrato, and squeal comes loaded with personal meaning and they’re reaching those confrontations as a unit, drawing from each other’s strengths to pummel all of the perceived difficulties back into something that feels inconsequential in the face of what they’re doing together. Nothing is half-assed. This is the embrace of life vs. the acquiescence of  a life given over to being constantly haunted by past mistakes.

As that aspect of Guppy comes into focus, it’s legitimately hard not to be blown away on several levels. Chief among them, the strength this band’s gained through both familial experience and shared camaraderie. There’s no judgment present, just the willingness to take a sword to the throats of the dangerous things that threaten the well-being of their friends. If there’s a dragon to be slayed, Charly Bliss’ tactic is to conjure up a battering ram to force it into becoming a piñata and bathing in its blood as the ugliest contents come pouring out, greeting the event as a ritualistic party to share with all their friends.

Managing to make things even more impressive is the fact that the band’s doing this with what’s more of a whip-smart advancement of ’90s slacker punk & powerpop aesthetics than a faceless imitation. Sure, Guppy will get compared to Letters to Cleo, Josie and the Pussycats, and any other act that fits that mold- but (in addition to some possible casual sexism) that’s only faintly scratching the surface of what’s actually happening on this record, especially in terms of composition. That’s a victory all on its own and Guppy should go a long way in contributing to what looks to be a seismic shift in the way bands pull influence from that particular pocket of music.

Guppy is far from a retread and it’s decidedly modern bent helps secure it a spot as one of 2017’s essential releases as well as a bona fide genre classic. There are no standout songs among the 10 because virtually all of them rank among the best to be released this year. From wire-to-wire, Guppy is a breakneck record that revels in destruction and comes off as a staggering show of force. Everything from the dirty ditty-turned-guaranteed showstopper “Black Hole”  to the unrelenting blows administered by “Gatorade”, “DQ”, and “Westermarck” are enough to make anyone sit up and start paying the type of attention this band should’ve been receiving for the past several years.

As “Totalizer” races by with abandon and all of the requisite snark, cleverness, and thoughtfulness that have come to define Charly Bliss songs, it’s still difficult to think most will be adequately prepared for the record’s final breathtaking moment. “Julia”, Guppy‘s sludgy closer, is the heaviest track the band’s committed to record by miles. It’s one final reminder that the band’s not as cute as they appear at first blush and that Guppy, while a fun record on the surface, conceals a wellspring of damage that the band’s not afraid to confront. Full-throated, deeply felt, and ferociously delivered, Guppy is a basement pop record for the ages. Whatever troubles come, I have no doubt that Charly Bliss will be standing above the wreckage, breathing in the smoke and looking to start a roaring fire all their own.

Listen to Guppy below, pick it up from Barsuk here, and watch a collection of live videos that I personally shot of the band playing at six separate shows over the past few years.