Recording an excellent debut album is mostly a blessing, of course. But there’s some curse involved, too, in that you have to figure out how to follow it up.
That’s not easy to do. Usually, it means refusing to stagnate, lest you be labeled a one-trick pony. So you must try to record a set of songs that showcase some artistic growth and aesthetic ambition, but at the same time, you don’t want to stray too far from what worked so well the first time out.
On their second album Young Enough, Charly Bliss navigates these various pressures and pitfalls without overthinking them. The hotly-tipped New York City combo broke through nationally in 2017 on the strength of its debut album Guppy, a perfect — yeah, I said it — 10-track blast of sweetly serrated pop-rock supercharged with punky energy and plentiful hooks. Two years later, Young Enough introduces new moods and textures without tamping down the band’s irrepressible likeability.
The primary driver of that likeability is singer Eva Hendricks, whose distinctively squeaky voice makes her sound like she’s overjoyed about everything she sings, even when her lyrics veer toward the darker side of life and love. There’s a fair amount of the latter on Young Enough, but it’s balanced by a thread of hope and resilience and independence that runs through these songs. “Bite the hand that feeds the boy. He’s beautiful and I’m annoyed,” Hendricks sings in “The Truth,” the album’s rumbling synth-rock closer. “40 years or days from now, I’d kill myself to cut you out.”
The prominence of synthesizers and keyboards are the biggest difference between Young Enough and Guppy. The backbone of opening track “Blown to Bits” is an oscillating tone that drones as the rest of the song builds to its peak. The keyboard-driven “Hurt Me” is the closest Charly Bliss has come yet to a ballad. In “Capacity,” Hendricks’ hand-wringing about her faults is surrounded by mechanical beats, a buzzing bass line and gleaming electronic arpeggios. Later, the blend of synths, strings and skins in “Chatroom” lands the song somewhere between indie-pop and disco. You could do the hustle to the song’s defiant coda, as Hendricks sings “left for dead but I’m not gonna take you home, I’m not gonna save you.”
There are a handful of songs here that either play down or eliminate the synths, and those should please fans of Guppy who don’t like change. “Under You” is a bouncy pop-punk tune that recalls criminally underrated L.A. punk vets The Muffs. On penultimate track “Hard to Believe,” the band buried its catchiest chorus. And the guitars on “Camera” alternately jangle and sear as Hendricks delivers a classic Charly Bliss vocal melody. You can practically hear her smiling as she sings “if you think it’s bad today just wait.”
There is unquestionably a centerpiece song on Young Enough, and that’s the title track, which clocks in at just over five minutes long — an epic by this band’s standards. It’s time well-spent: slow-burning, dynamic, emotionally resonant and representative of Charly Bliss in 2019. Here, you can hear how the synthetic sounds better contextualize Hendricks’ desperate words by drawing out their meaning and feeling rather than running roughshod over them like Guppy’s rollicking arrangements. In doing so, they also open up a promising path forward for the band. That sophomore album challenge? Charly Bliss nailed it.