The Healing Powers of Charly Bliss’ Invigorating Pop

We talk to Eva Hendricks about pop music, Jenny Lewis and the growth on Young Enough

Music Features Charly Bliss
The Healing Powers of Charly Bliss’ Invigorating Pop

The most rewarding pop songs are often the ones that mend. For every flirty “Call Me Maybe” there’s a heartbreaking “Dancing On My Own,” for every exultant “Shake It Off” a sob-worthy “Supercut.” They’re all choice dance songs, but when the crying and jiving blur, the opportunity for emotional repair is even more tangible.

Eva Hendricks, Charly Bliss frontwoman and unabashed pop music fan, knows this connection between tears and sweat all too well. It’s all over the New York City band’s second album, Young Enough (out now on Barsuk Records), a supercharged sampling of power-pop that sounds like a well-attended Bushwick rager but cuts deep like an especially timely “Modern Love” column.

“My two greatest emotional releases are crying and dancing, and I wanted this album to just feel like a huge relief,” Hendricks says during a recent call. “Like you’ve been through a ton of shit, but now you’re kind of like, ‘Fuck, I’m with my friends. I’ve got to let it out and blow off steam and freak out. Just get this out of my system and scream and act like a freak.’ That’s kind of how I hope people would hear it and respond to this album.”

Lead single “Capacity,” almost at once pronounced a pop “banger” by Twitter and the media alike, is this feeling personified, signaling what we’d later recognize as Charly Bliss’ very intentional embrace of a new sound characterized by surging synths and major key melodies. The band (Hendricks, her brother/drummer Sam, guitarist Spencer Fox and bassist Dan Shure) exploded in 2017 with their beloved debut Guppy, a pop record in its own ways but certainly one with more of a punk edge, twitchy and storming and blanketed in pitch-black guitars. “Capacity” showed us in all of four minutes how much Charly Bliss had changed—emotionally, sonically, linguistically. It’s right there in Hendricks’ undeniable delivery of a lyric that could very well outlast this press cycle, maybe even Charly Bliss themselves: “I’m at capacity, I’m spilling out of me.”

Charly Bliss’ journey to that brink was expedited thanks to a pretty notable career shift. In the two years since Guppy, Fox, Shure and the Hendrickses left their respective day jobs to focus on the next record. Full-time indie musicians live far, far away from a financial paradise (“There is, like, no wiggle room in our budget,” Hendricks says), but the gang found themselves with more time to spend in the studio and write songs, which turned out to be more than a fair trade for extra pocket jingle.

Hendricks swapped her gig stocking milk at a coffee shop for a stint at a round-the-clock musical science lab. She and Sam wrote lyrics for each other’s melodies. When they weren’t writing and arranging, the band listened to loads of Carly Rae Jepsen, Lorde, Taylor Swift and Superorganism. Hendricks abandoned her guitar for the first time while writing, and what started out as putzing around on GarageBand synths became “Capacity,” which only later acquired that epic ’80s guitar arc two minutes in.

“We were really determined to not make the same album twice,” Hendricks says. “And I really think the magic of Young Enough kind of happened when we were able to write beyond what would have been our first instinct and instead move into new territory and start writing songs that still felt like us, but something new, something that felt kind of mysterious at first.”

What resulted was an album that not only forges new sonic territory but also investigates darker emotional grounds, all through the lens of pop catharsis. “Camera,” a more classic indie-rock charmer, mimics the blasé guitar of Pavement’s “Gold Soundz,” but Hendricks is no Stephen Malkmus—where he might have dropped a wisecrack and then made a metaphorical run for it, Hendricks follows her wittiest one-liners with serious truths. “Everything is coming / Not sure what I should be learning from it / How can I convince you not to stay?” she sings with her high-pitched yet incontestable voice.

The booming title track, what Hendricks calls the “lyrical centerpiece of the album,” has the grandiosity of an ’80s synthpop hit—with swirling reverb and intense drums, it’s just begging for a plug in a teen movie (in the most complimentary way possible). But “Young Enough” is more realist than the respective fantasies of Twilight and The O.C., two of Hendricks’ favorites. It tracks the same relationship that fueled the fire of Guppy’s pop-punk rage, but this time approaches it with “appreciation instead of frustration.”

“So much of what those movies push on you is this idea that relationships that are really difficult are the ones that are really worth it,” Hendricks says. “I think I really kind of bought into that, especially when I was a little bit younger. And on the song ‘Young Enough,’ it’s kind of looking at that relationship and saying, ‘Relationships should not hurt that much. It shouldn’t be that hard,’ but also looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, I really loved you and you really loved me. And even though we totally could not get it together and never on any planet would have been able to give each other what we need from another person, it’s really sweet that we tried for so long.’”

Hendricks shares some sensibilities with one of her own musical heroes, Jenny Lewis, who fronted Rilo Kiley with the same unapologetic confidence and flair for dark humor. Charly Bliss even reference the band’s “A Better/Son Daughter” on Young Enough’s disarmingly apocalyptic opener, “Blown To Bits,” which has Hendricks feeling “so sure you’re waking up tomorrow / A better son or a daughter.” She later declares “I don’t know what’s coming for me after 24.”

“As I get older and listen to her music more and more, I think something I really admire about her is she was never afraid to try to move into different genres,” Hendricks says of Lewis. “When [Rilo Kiley] put out Under The Blacklight, it was when I was in high school and I remember being like, ‘What the fuck this? They sold out! What is this pop music?’ And now I love that album. I think it’s a fantastic album and it’s kind of funny to me when I see people doing that to us online.”

Young Enough acknowledges both nostalgic and frightful aspects of love, but its recount of an abusive relationship is where the album really pierces, particularly in what Hendricks calls the thematic “catalyst,” “Chatroom.” It starts out like a Carly Rae Jepsen song—bouncing keys with electrifying, bubbly synths—and carries on much the same.

But while those instrumentals are deceptively upbeat, the song is probably the darkest piece of music Charly Bliss have ever released. “Chatroom” finds acceptance, if happiness, on the other side of trauma—in Hendricks’ case, being sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend. The lyrics are all-too familiar: “I was fazed in the spotlight, his word against mine / Everybody knows you’re the second comin’.”

It was years before Hendricks even shared her story with friends and family, but when writing the lyrics, she says, “It just felt really healing and really like a good personal exercise, maybe like an extension of therapy, which I love.”

As the single’s release date drew closer, Hendricks had a decision to make: graze over the lyrical themes, or be transparent about her experience. Ultimately, she chose the latter.

“Up until the day ‘Chatroom’ came out, I was still feeling very back-and-forth about whether or not I was making the right decision,” she says. “But as soon as it came out, [I was] so glad that I was specific and talked about sexual assault outright because on a very personal level, going through that and making that decision and knowing that it was my decision and not something that anyone else led me to was an important growing up moment in my life, and also something that’s helped me accept this experience that I’ve had a little bit more as opposed to kind of avoiding it in my brain.”

And therein lies this record’s power to minister to the abused and brokenhearted, all while moving the listener to a melodic, hook-laden sanctuary. After “Chatroom” arrived in March, the band found themselves the receivers of promising feedback: messages from fans who’d endured similar situations. What started as a very difficult roll-out became for Hendricks, “one of the most beautiful experiences that music has brought me to.”

“It gave me a lot of perspective because our song can help somebody who’s been through something that I’ve been through that felt like the one of the darkest experiences of my life,” Hendricks says. “At that point you can’t ask for anything better than that. And through helping other people, I feel like it helps me too. And the times we’ve played it in front of people on tour, I’ve just felt so cathartic, partly because I can tell just by the way some people are singing along in the audience that they know exactly what I’m thinking about and that they feel it and they needed it too.”

Young Enough doesn’t hide from trauma, but it also doesn’t dwell in it. More than anything, it seems to personify emotional maturation. When I pass that observation onto Hendricks, she agrees.

“If I had to pick a word for this album, that’s how I would describe it—growth.”

Charly Bliss’ talent for hooks alone is enough to make a case for their status as one of the best rock bands working today. And with a little of Weezer’s knack for catchy pop rock, Paramore’s candy-coated edge and a pop star’s way with melody, Charly Bliss are one of the fiercest forces in indie music. Artistic evolution is not a competition, but with Young Enough, they’ve proved their potential for longevity. And I have a hunch they’re not even done growing yet.

Young Enough is out now on Barsuk Records. You can buy it here.

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