Between June and August, an avalanche of great songs came crashing down into the world. From genuine song of the year contenders (Big Thief‘s “Not” chief among them) to bands striking gold multiple times (Lauran Hibberd, Pom Pom Squad, Kal Marks) there was a lot to consume. Here’s a playlist of the best of best, presented with no extra fanfare. All of these selections are bold enough to stand on their own.
A persistent and all-consuming myth among people that refuse to commit a shred of investment to any sort of search is that “good music just doesn’t exist anymore.” It’s the same sort of thinking present in the cavalcade of thoughtless attempts to shift any sort of blame for societal ills to a younger generation based solely on an outlook that was defined by a vastly different era. Fortunately, there are a host of artists to emphatically disprove brand of thinking and act as a counter to what could be construed as a subtle, insidious form of ageism. Below there are literally hundreds of links providing access to various songs, music videos, and records.
All of them are worth a shot and a good many of them are vastly different from their surrounding links. Each of those items came out in 2018 and there’s an entire world more of them waiting to be discovered by the people willing to put in the work. So use these as a starter pack of sorts or just scroll through and see what today’s musicians can offer. It’s a boundless scope and when its allowed to not just exist but thrive, there are a multitude of reasons to celebrate. Enjoy.
Looking back on 2017 was an exhausting effort that seemed to uncover a surprising truth: a lot of the year’s best records wound up standing out by a fairly wide margin. Not just because of the strength of their singles but because of the herculean overall efforts of the acts responsible for the year’s standout songs. To that end, the considerable overlap between the selections for Song and Album of the Year — by far the most that’s ever occurred in the four years these lists have been running — isn’t too surprising.
After listening to hundreds upon hundreds of records throughout the span of 2017, what was a little surprising turned out to be the endurance levels of the records being considered for this list. Some that seemed like surefire locks in the first few months of their release faded, while a few that lingered on the perimeter seemed to gain strength with each successive revisit. One thing that can be said for all the records included in this list is that they’re forceful works that have already proven to have attained the kind of longevity that will serve them well going forward.
From site favorites to year-end mainstays to new faces, the 17 records below offer up an interesting variety. Mental health, youth, aging, hope, despair, and togetherness are all dissected. Icy post-punk numbers, deeply personal folk, and outbursts of irrepressible energy stand shoulder-to-shoulder here, representing a microcosm of what many rightfully saw as one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Take a look back at these releases and grab hold, they should serve the future well.
Washer – All Aboard
Every release tied to Washer‘s name so far has been worth the listen but the band took a massive step forward in 2017 to release their first truly great record with All Aboard. Over the years, the duo has managed to perfect a very particular strain of post-punk, honing their minimalist setup into a jet-propelled engine. Overflowing with career highs for the band, this 15 track titan of a record proves the project’s range, versatility, and talent. It’s an essential release that managed to stand out among a very crowded field.
Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough
Great Grandpa‘s first official full-length absolutely explodes from the outset, “Teen Challenge” obliterating any lingering doubts that this band was ready to take on the world. Plastic Cough‘s ensuing nine tracks go on to continuously elevate the bar the band continuously sets for itself, running a stylistic gamut that ranged from hushed and burdened introspection to moments of gnarled violence. It’s an impressive show of force that never runs out of steam.
Petite League – Rips One Into the Night
Lorenzo Cook, the driving creative force behind Petite League, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for the past few years despite a string of formidable releases. In 2017, Petite League didn’t just make their biggest push into larger recognition, the band also made their best record to date in Rips One Into the Night. Clever lyricism, thoughtful arrangements, mid-fi production, and a charismatic presence elevated the project to a greater level of recognition that was long overdue (and still lacking, all things considered). A seamless mixture of bedroom and basement pop, Rips One Into the Night more than proves Petite League can play with the heavy hitters.
Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
For decades, mental health was something that artists seemed more inclined to subvert in their art, presenting it in a sly sideways glance rather than opting for something more direct. Over the past few years, that approach has noticeably shifted and brought to light some of the best works since the turn of the century. Cayetana‘s most recent effort — their career highlight New Kind of Normal — can now proudly join their ranks. As complete of a record as anything that’s come out this decade, it’s a harrowing confrontation with limitation, impulse, and the kind of desire usually left to the shadows. It also boasts the best arrangements of the band’s discography. A triumph.
Young Jesus – Young Jesus
Three full-lengths to their name and Young Jesus still has a perfect record, each three of those wildly different releases landing the continuously-evolving band a spot in the Album of the Year lists. With that kind of pedigree, self-titling a record would seem like a bold gambit to most but Young Jesusseems to suggest that the band’s in full control of its voice, having radically shifted its lineup and moved clear across the country. Poetic, thoughtful, euphoric, and devastating, Young Jesus easily set itself apart in 2017, thanks in no small part to the record’s towering final three songs, which may well have constituted the year’s most ambitious — and memorable — runs of music.
Deep State – Thought Garden
One of the year’s more overlooked records was also one that proved to have an excess of verve. Bristling with feeling, Deep State‘s Thought Garden was a masterclass in how to effectively translate kinetic energy without losing narrative focus. In lashing back at ennui with a concentrated frustration, Deep Thought created one of 2017’s most unexpectedly fiery releases. Brash and necessary, Thought Garden was — and remains — a record worth remembering, especially in larger conversations.
Weaves – Wide Open
Following a breakthrough record that catapults you from “best-kept secret” status to critical darlings is never an easy task but it was one Weaves had no trouble side-stepping with the breezy, playful Wide Open. Drawing influence from some of Americana’s high watermarks, the band melded and warped those traits into something tantalizingly singular, marrying those cues with tempos and structures that owe slightly more to the East than the West. Genre-melting and world-conquering, Wide Open more than proved Weaves to be one of the premier bands of the moment.
Landlines – Landlines
A small, self-released record that more than held its own against records with more fanfare, Landlines‘ self-titled found its plays incrementally increasing after its September debut. Beautifully combining the finest points of post-punk and basement punk into a cohesive whole that owed as much to Pavement as it did to Parquet Courts, Landlinesnever stopped impressing. One of the most exquisitely crafted records on this list, Landlines comes jam-packed with little delights that ensure each song is differentiated from the next but that the record stands as a complete whole. It’s a remarkable work that richly deserves a much, much larger audience.
Strange Relations – Editorial You
Few things are as thrilling as a band that’s confidently taking the type of measures that will push them to greater heights. Whether that’s expanding their ambition, increasing their levels of fearlessness, openly experimenting with ideas that may seem counter-intuitive, or simply spending more time on their craft, the end product typically winds up being something of note. In the case of Strange Relations‘ Editorial You, which encapsulates each of the tactics listed above, it’s also wildly successful. Editorial You is unmistakably the sound of a promising act finding their voice and confidently surging forward, fully equipped and ready for whatever might lie in wait
Fred Thomas – Changer
The clarity of voice on Fred Thomas‘ Changeris legitimately astounding. Thomas being one of this generation’s best lyricists hasn’t really been that much of a secret for a while but Changer takes those writing gifts to stratospheric highs with meditations on isolation, aging, individuality, and trying to feel alive. Changer doesn’t just survive on cleverness or memorable turns of phrase though, elevating itself through instrumental composition, demonstrating Thomas’ expanding palette in breathtaking fashion. Far and away the songwriter’s most direct work, Changer also stands proudly as an exhilarating career high. Not just the record that boasted 2017’s best book of lyrics but easily one of the year’s finest all-around efforts as well.
Big Thief – Capacity
One of 2016’s most promising breakout acts didn’t take long to issue a follow-up strong enough to eliminate any lingering doubt over their considerable talent. Big Thief‘s Masterpiecewas touted by many at the end of 2016 as one of the year’s best, even more publications followed suit with Capacityin 2017. Retaining the grand sweep of their breakout work, Big Thief got a little more exacting with Capacity. Deeply informed by tragedy and difficult circumstance, Capacity plays like more of a rallying cry than a death rattle, the band finding the heart and humanity in every broken shard of their past and clinging to it in the present as a means of knowing there will be hope for the future.
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Like Young Jesus, Cloud Nothings have registered a placement on the Album of the Year lists with each of their last three full-lengths. Ever since reforming as a full band, Cloud Nothings have been on an absolute tear, pushing their own limitations at every step (having slightly different lineups for each record likely necessitated a certain level of adaptation). Life Without Sound, however, is the first record the band’s made where it feels like they’re drawing from their past for inspiration. Typically, that glance backwards indicates a band running out of ideas but Life Without Sound is subversive and unpredictable enough to suggest that couldn’t be further from the truth for Cloud Nothings. This is a monstrous, career-encapsulating effort from a band that will always refuse to go quietly.
Tica Douglas – Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us
Over the past several years, Tica Douglas has quietly become one of our best songwriters. Joeywent a long way in earning Douglas a reputation as a songwriter worth watching and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us should further strengthen that argument. It’s a gorgeous record full of unsparing self-examinations and hard-won moments of hope and contentment. Each song taken as an individual piece is riveting but packaged together as a whole, the effect toes the line of being overwhelming. A complete listen is an immersive experience, with all of the scars and all of the healing being felt at every step. When all is said and done, Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us stands as a proud testament to both Douglas’ singular vision and resilient character.
Cende – #1 Hit Single
A band that was gone far too soon at least stayed long enough to gift the rest of us with their only proper full-length, #1 Hit Single. Cende — which boasted members of LVL UP and Porches — has been playing most of these songs out for years before this release and found exhilarating ways to do them justice. Whether it was through string arrangements, guest vocalists, or the production sheen, everything clicked and #1 Hit Single became one of the most winsome basement pop records of this decade in the process. Whip-smart composition, note-perfect execution, and attitude to spare ensured that Cende had enough through one EP and one full-length to leave a legacy that mattered.
Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go
One of a handful of artists on this list whose releases have gotten incrementally more impressive with each successive release, it’s hard to imagine how Palehound will top what they’ve achieved with A Place I’ll Always Go. Bandleader Ellen Kempner is in fine form throughout the record, delivering career highs across the board when each compositions is broken down (lyrics, guitar riffs, etc.). A Place I’ll Always Go is also massively successful in terms of pace and tonality, helping the record secure a position as the band’s most fully-formed and complete work. As enthralling as it is captivating, A Place I’ll Always Go solidifies and reaffirms Palehound status as an act worthy of our full attention.
Mo Troper – Exposure & Response
One of last year’s Album of the Year selections, Mo Troper returned this year with the startlingly bold Exposure & Response, that sees the songwriter taking enormous strides forward. From the opening cascade of Beach Boys-esque overlapping vocals on both “Rock and Roll Will Change the World” and “Wedding” to the unexpected grandeur of album highlight “Your Brand” to just about every other surprising minuscule detail on Exposure & Response, Troper finds ways to not just surprise but engage.
Everything that made Beloved seem as if it was destined to earn a rabid cult following and be hailed as a lost genre classic is still intact while other facets of Troper’s formidable songwriting talent has been expanded. Exposure & Response resides comfortably at the intersection of classical maneuvering and modernist delivery as Troper anchors the proceedings with trademark bursts of self-deprecating self-awareness. It’s a landmark record from a burgeoning talent that begs to be left on repeat. Somehow, it gets better every time.
Album of the Year:
Charly Bliss – Guppy
A record that’d been lingering in purgatory for nearly three years finally saw the light of day in 2017 as Charly Bliss set out to light the world on fire. Guppy, at every stage of its development, has always been a knockout record. In its first iteration, it was a growling monster full of low-end bite and emphatic force. The band stripped it back a little, polishing the edges and swapping out a few songs to present something more refined while still retaining a certain edge.
The record’s immediate success came as a surprise to virtually no one that had been paying a lick of attention to the band over the past several years. Touring with high-profile bands — whether they were storied bands with rabid fanbases or exciting upstarts — ensured their range of listeners would be wide. Every step the band’s taken over the past 5 years has been savvy, something that was already evidenced with what remains this decade’s best EP, 2014’s Soft Serve.
Still, making smart business decisions can’t generate any sort of impression if the product is subpar. Fortunately, for everyone, Charly Bliss’ insane musical pedigree (all four members have degrees in musical fields) essentially ensures that they’ll be operating at an extraordinarily high level when it comes to actually writing songs. Guppy provides an excess of proof that Charly Bliss — in addition to being masterful at their craft — have held onto an internal fire that’s fueled their music since their modest beginning.
“Percolator” kicks Guppy off with an insane surge of adrenaline, taking the band from 0 to 200 in one quick crescendo, leaving everyone else to catch up to the trail of dust the band leaves in its wake. Memorable song to memorable song, the quartet rips through their winsome brand of bubblegrunge with aplomb. Mixing twee asides with moments of vicious reality, the band creates a 10 course feast that somehow manages to feel both of the moment and timeless all at once.
A record that brings self-loathing, friendship, earnest sincerity, self-empowerment, and the way they all manage to connect into startling focus, Guppy is as much of a success as a narrative as it is in the instrumental arrangement department. The record’s ridiculously powerful — and surprisingly heavy — “Julia” even sees the band flexing its range, proving that they’ve got quite a bit more up their sleeves.
When all the smoke’s cleared and Guppy has disappeared into the ether, the impression it left in the moment never fades and keeps pushing for rediscovery. It’s a record full of hooks that dig in and stay. It’s a record that’s as willing to open scabs as it is to mend wounds. It’s a record that knows how to have several cakes and eat every last one. Finally, it’s a record that stands out as an easy pick for 2017’s Album of the Year.
August blew threw 2017 with no hesitation and left an enormous pile of exceedingly great material in its wake. This post will key in on the ten best music videos to be released over that period of time (with the first week shaved off and a few days of September tacked on). A lot of site favorites make appearances below but a new name or two found a way to make a splash. Each of those artists and clips has earned the praise they’ve been given or are about to receive. 2o17’s been overflowing with great clips and these are only adding to the year’s abundant strength. Dive in and go exploring.
Mike Krol – Fifteen Minutes
Over the past several years, Mike Krol has made a habit out of reveling in the playfully sardonic. Turkey, Krol’s astonishing breakthrough record — and first release for Merge — laid those groundworks bare. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Krol’s next step was to go back in time, re-release his first two records (cult staples among a very specific sect of the DIY punk crowd) and make a bizarre, tongue-in-cheek music video starring a mannequin for a song that came out six years ago. It’s perfectly Krol.
Weaves – Walkaway
Weaves‘ self-titled was one of the best records of the past few years and the band’s been making good on that momentum that release generated with their advance singles for their forthcoming release. “Walkaway”, the most recent, is anthemic, empowering, and has the kind of staying power to remain on the college airwaves for years to come. The song also now boasts a beautiful clip featuring the band getting a touch of aggression out in a sweeping field. It’s a striking video that somehow manages to make the song feel even more titanic than usual.
Lost Balloons – Noose
One of 2017’s best surprises thus far has been the duo Lost Balloons who feature the talents of Jeff Burke and Yusuke Okada, two names a large handful of people in both America and Japan should already have memorized. The project’s debut effort, Hey Summer, was the type of unassuming basement pop record that tends to stick longer in people’s minds than most would expect and they’ve granted one of that album’s best songs a beautiful animated clip in “Noose”. It’s a gorgeous tapestry that’s worth admiring.
Radiator Hospital – Dance Number
It’s been a while since Radiator Hospital released their incredible Torch Song so news of a new record was incredibly welcome. Even better: the announcement came on the back of the release of this charmingly straightforward clip for the characteristically excellent “Dance Number”, which renews the case for Sam Cook-Parrott as one of this generation’s most emotionally affecting lyricists. Poignant, bittersweet, and undeniably catchy, it’s a great song bolstered by a surprisingly effective video.
Charly Bliss – DQ
No band’s name has appeared on this site more over the past two years than Charly Bliss. The band’s recently-released Guppywent a long way in ensuring their prominence and a handful of excellent clips and performances kept their name in the rotation. “DQ” now joins their ranks, standing as one of the band’s most playful — and personal — videos. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks co-directed the clip alongside Andrew Costa (who helmed quite a few of the band’s other videos), which features everything from trampolines to cows to football sleds to a dog that’s great at playing dead. As is always the case with the band, it’s an absolute blast and surprisingly hard to forget.
Kielo – Radiate
A while back Kielo released an absolutely breathtaking song/video combination in “In Water” and the Laura Schultz-led project has now doubled down on that measure with the spellbinding “Radiate”. Comprised largely of photography-centric cinematography, the clip allows the song to be elevated by calming visuals, creating an effect that’s both warm and inescapable. It’s a genuinely gorgeous thing to behold and deserves all of the views and listens that can possibly come its way.
Bully – Feel the Same
One of the more invigorating acts of the past few years, Bully have shown virtually no signs of slowing down. The band’s also growing a little more confrontational, as evidenced by their nearly-antagonistic clip for “Feel the Same”, which features nothing but a balloon expanding in a darkened empty room until it starts leaking a stream of yellow liquid. As simple as it is, the imagery is incredibly hard to shake and the concept sticks. It’s bold, it’s abrasive, and it fits the band like a glove.
Julia Louise – Brat
A new name to Heartbreaking Bravery, Julia Louise somehow managed to evade this site’s radar over the past few years. Still, it’s hard to imagine the songwriter could’ve had a better introduction-at-large than the clip for “Brat”, a song that subverts the limitations of emo and standard pop-punk to mesmerizing effect. Aided by strong visuals, a charismatic central performance from Louise and a sense of conviction, “Brat” is the sound (and look) of an artist coming fully into their own.
Fog Lake – Rattlesnake
Last year Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” slithered its way into at least one best-of list that ran on this site. The song’s proven to have legitimate staying power and has now been granted a beautiful visual accompaniment. Calm, a little eerie, and deeply empathetic, “Rattlesnake” follows a man as he explores New York City, alone and content to wander. It’s incredibly affecting and stirs up a genuine, intangible reaction by simply disallowing the constraints of a discernible narrative and opting to focus on the emotional pull at the crux of being at home and separated from that home all at the same time.
See Through Dresses – Lucy’s Arm
A few months ago, See Through Dresses played an incendiary set as an opener for Charly Bliss in Minneapolis. The highlight of their set came via an impassioned run through “Lucy’s Arm”, a clear standout from their exceptional Horse of the Other World. The band’s wisely decided to go ahead and give the song the music video treatment, a decision that’s resulted in an arresting black-and-white clip with minimal effects. It’s a surprisingly effective clip that serves as an honorable testament to the song’s overwhelming power.
Over the past seven weeks, there hasn’t been a lot of regular coverage on this site. There’s a long list of reasons behind that which can all be condensed into this: Heartbreaking Bravery’s a one-person operation and life’s kept me a lot busier than usual. To amend the coverage gaps, three large recaps ran yesterday. Throughout the week, there’ll be “best of” lists that cover those three main categories: streams, music videos, and full streams. To break the monotony up a little, there’ll also be a trio of individual pieces running on some of the very best material to have appeared over the past seven weeks, starting with site favorites Charly Bliss and their note-perfect video for “Westermarck”.
Directed by Andrew Costa — who was also at the helm for the “Ruby“, “Percolator“, and “Black Hole” clips — “Westermarck” finds the band newly positioned and brimming with a confident joy that translates well to screen. While Costa was able to hint at the band’s outsize playfulness on the previous two directorial outings, the clip for “Westermarck” goes beyond just hints and expertly conveys the band’s entire identity. It’s virtually unmatched by any of the previous videos from either Costa or the group’s prior visual collaborator, Christopher George (who ably executed the visualaccompaniments for Soft Serve).
Reportedly loosely inspired by the Jonas Brothers’ Disney vehicle Camp Rock, “Westermarck” makes excellent use of a playground setting and allows the band to revel in just enjoying life. Combating depression, loneliness, insecurity, and weariness with a resilient positivity and healthy relationships with empathetic people was the underlying crux of the narrative that runs through Guppy, the band’s debut full-length and Album of the Year contender on which “Westermarck” appears, and is subtly conveyed throughout the visual treatment they’ve afforded “Westermarck”.
Josh Kanuck provided the clip with a worn colorization that balances pastels with more rustic leanings and plays up the nostalgia factor that peers through a lot of the band’s work, doubling down on the clip’s overall effectiveness (Charly Bliss has always been able to marry youth with hard-won knowledge and to be able to allude to that theme with the use of color is an incredibly clever touch). More than anything else, though, microanalysis aside, “Westermarck” stands as another perfect example of what virtually guaranteed this site would be spilling a lot of digital ink in following Charly Bliss’ exploits: it’s a deeply sincere affirmation of pure feeling.
Whether the band’s getting their faces painted, careening around on a skateboard, playing guitar while slacklining, dancing on tables, batting an inflatable ball around together, lighting sprinklers, or playing through the song on some docks or in a cabin, there’s a sense that the band — and a small group of friends — are enjoying the living hell out of every moment they have together.
At the end of the day — especially in an environment rife with projected detachment — it’s incredibly important to not only be reminded of the virtues that Charly Bliss so readily espouses but to see those virtues in action. While their last two records remain untouchable works of art, “Westermarck” just might go down as their definitive statement. Hit play and get swept up in Charly Bliss’ irrepressible joy.
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.
Over the past few years, Charly Bliss has been featured on this site with alarming regularity. Of course, no one’s doing a punchy basement pop/bubblegum punk hybrid at anywhere close to their level. And they keep improving. So, if anything, it’s a little shocking they aren’t featured in these confines even more frequently. Their debut full-length, Guppy, is only a week away from release and it marks a moment that’s been more than two years in the making.
Guppy‘s gone through a lot of changes over that time, from track switches to production alterations, and one of the most notable changes occurred with the addition of “Black Hole” (formerly entitled “Bad Box”), a song that started off as a vocal warm-up that featured slightly dirtier lyrics (the opening line remained a constant through all of its mutations). Everything that’s transformed this band into one of the best acts on the market is brought to the forefront in “Black Hole”, from the black comedy of the lyrics to the scintillating guitar work (and razor-sharp composition) and seemingly infinite amount of energy.
“Black Hole”, like every Charly Bliss song, is an immensely thoughtful, characteristically clever beast of a song, ably showcasing each band member’s formidable talents. On top of all of that, though, it’s also endlessly replayable, holding up and revealing new depths several dozens of listens past the initial brush, rendering it the umpteenth song this band’s unloaded that’s both immediately satisfying and carries enough power to sustain a near-shocking longevity. With all of that in mind, it’ll be a genuine shock if Guppy doesn’t wind up delivering on its early promise as a legitimate Album of the Year candidate. Until it’s arrival, though, it’s enough just to keep “Black Hole” on repeat.
Listen to “Black Hole” (and watch the band performing the song live in Minneapolis last year) below and pre-order Guppy from Barsuk here.