Introducing: Charly Bliss. Eva Hendricks is the bubblegrunge heroine fronting genre progenitors Charly Bliss. She wields a beat-up Fender Mustang adorned with go-faster stripes, and has at her magic disposal, a voice like treacle. On lead guitar is Spencer Fox, whose younger years saw him voice-cast as Dash in The Incredibles (naturally, a better superhero film is yet to be made (wake up sheeple!)). Spencer continues to this day his work with the truly incredible, one-upping his kid, executing fuzzy awesomeness with suave abandon, oozing cool as he goes. Sam Hendricks, Eva’s brother, is the director of the beat laboratory, and Dan Shure rumbles away beside him, carving a path through the songs with subtle but always impressive bass work. In interviews and on social media, the band read like a family of friendly hand-puppet rodents, who play good-humoured practical jokes on the denizens of their make-believe forest and use discarded thimbles as drinking vessels. When they play, they fuse this feel-good quality with fierceness to max out their fierceness on the Knowles-Carter scale, an energy manifesting in defiantly humorous lyrics and kickass crunch guitars.
The state of things is such that Guppy (featuring a psychic fish named Toby as its cover star) is most likely unknown to your world. The self-built band, six years into their journey together, have yet to play outside the US, with international access to their album restricted by the availability of imports. Thanks to the glorious interweb however, all of that can and will change… and once you’ve heard it, there’s no denying that Guppy is surely the most remarkable debut studio effort of the year (maybe even, the last ten).
Being as two of our writers were poised to draw pistols at dawn over the gleaning of authorial privilege re: this album, the review will comprise two sections, one for each side of Guppy’s vinyl release…
Side 1 – by Oliver Rose
Guppy explodes into life with a visceral, post-glam nail varnish explosion named after a manual coffee-making machine. What’s not to love, already? Percolator has big licks, bigger riffs and all the fun of the youthfully unfair, from self-aware metaphorical rhetoric on sexual teasing and self-worth, to the exquisitely high-octane image of desperate final breaths in an escape vehicle. When it’s not lyrically out-performing the entire institution of alternative pop, the best album-opener of the century (I am dead fucking serious) is a superbly-produced slice of key-lime rock, with bending distortion, wonky jangle, saccharin double-tracking and, naturally, shrill screaming. It defies belief that this isn’t the biggest song in alternative music at the moment. I just love it.
After a gnarly segue, we’re suddenly in Westermarck, a song whose title references the reverse sexual imprinting effect of the same name – the hypothetical suggestion that people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to sexual attraction in one another. Finally, pop music that aligns with Finnish philosophical proposals for the incest taboo… and all this thanks to the real-life oddity of Hendricks’ ex-boyfriend leaving her for a long-lost cousin. Apparently written in the week before recording commenced, Westermarck introduces Pinkerton-esque, Casiotone synths and a brilliant, Cobain-indebtted vocal melody guitar solo.
Track 3, meanwhile, carries on its sequin breeze a savage lyrical polemic against the well-established institution of the love-song. “Am I the best,” asks Hendricks on Glitter; “or just the first person to say yes?” It’s a frail, and beautiful thing, occupying the sad honesty of post-naivety, but with the fierce assertion of mature, artistic independence. It’s also a joyful, buoyant grunge song, much like Black Hole after it (formerly titled Bad Box): catchy chord progressions, cautiously experimental dynamics, and gut-wrenchingly beautiful tone – this whole equation is just orgasmic. No band in recent memory has mixed quite so fine a cocktail as this, effortlessly blending crippling angst with hyperactive delight. It’s unsettlingly good in fact, which is why it’s so kind of the band to close side 1 with the drum-machine driven assertion that ‘[they] don’t wanna scare u’.
Picks: Percolator, Glitter
Side 2 – by Billy Brooks
Side 2 of the album begins with Ruby. This is a different recording of the same arrangement released last year as a single (accompanied by one of the video highlights of 2016), notable for the addition of acoustic guitar throughout and some delectable distortion tones and keyboard parts, which is in-keeping with the stellar production throughout the LP. This side of the album begins as it intends to continue lyrically, with a tongue-in-cheek confrontational tone punctuated by humour and vaguely off the wall imagery. DQ (an abbreviation of Dairy Queen, presumably for legal reasons), begins with the unforgettable lines “I laughed when your dog died / it is cruel, but it’s true”. Eva’s lyrical prowess is matched only by her sickly sweet vocal work and general badassdedness. Her total willingness to engage the audience in an almost Freudian analysis of her deepest anxieties would recall the lyrical tradition of the emo genre if her wit and humour weren’t razor sharp.
Fans of the band will know Ruby and track 8, Gatorade, from their Audiotree session from months ago. Gatorade now features some wonderful backing vocal harmonies and synth double-tracking, two of the defining textural techniques on the album which give it a subtle and alluring sheen. Totalizer is an ode to loneliness punctuated by some of the most impressive guitar work on the LP, and could ostensibly emerge as a highlight for me in time; it’s already proving to be a grower. It features one of two or three occasions where Eva simply deigns to completely lose control over her vocals, each of which manage to contribute as much meaning as her lyrics to the frustration that drips from these tracks like honey.
The only fault I can find with the LP is that the final track, Julia, is something of an anti-climax. It is the longest and slowest song on the album, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the arrangement lacks the dynamic and textural contrasts that characterise Charly Bliss at their best. Although any songwriter would be proud to have written Julia, its slow pace is incongruent with the album’s structural unity, and it feels as though Guppy goes out with a whimper rather than a more fitting bang.
Overall, you would certainly be missing out if you didn’t take thirty minutes from your day to check this out. It’s a revolutionary body of work in an all too under-recognised package.
Picks: Ruby, DQ