Charly Bliss at the Sinclair 6/9/2019

There’s certain aspects of the Charly Bliss experience that become clearer in the live setting.  This band is theatrical and campy on their new record Young Enough, for sure, but their sugar-based approach to the grunge-adjacent sound that marked their first record made more sense of where their new sonic leanings came from.  

Having toured with PUP in the past, it’s clear that the band is of the same school wherein darkness and emo-influenced lyrical ideas are approached in a fun, musical way.  More in the vein of The 1975, however, the band fluidly moves between different genres and eras, perhaps making the pop in pop-punk more literal. Whether it be pulling from the peak of 90’s alt-rock radio, or splashing in the big, cotton candy sounds out of the Sigrid and Lorde playbook, the band dons a variety of costumes to make their live show vivid and dynamic.

Eva Hendricks is a real highlight of the indie circuit at the moment.  Bounding all around the stage with the most extravagant facial expressions possible, she delivers each line like it’s the last one she’s ever going to sing, and the rest of the band seem to thrive off her kinetic energy.  Bassist Dan Shure and guitarist Spencer Fox, in particular, offered plenty of bass-face and high kicks to complement Hendricks’ highly theatrical energy, making their hour-long set fly by at 100 miles per hour. Luckily, they somehow saved enough room for an impassioned cover of 00’s classic “Mr. Brightside” during their encore–an unabashedly gleaming highlight of my year.

The show was very fun-forward, but there were some moments that served as a testament to Hendricks’ ability to explain relatable emotional ideas in a nuanced way.  Most obvious was the drone based, “Hurt Me,” where her cresting vocal climax made lyrics about the disbelief that comes when a lover goes south hit home. “Young Enough,” on the other hand, proved itself to be one of the most enduring break-up songs in recent memory–perhaps part of the emotionally healthy “Thank You, Next”  school of “I wish you the best and I cherish our memories” break-up tunes.

Self awareness is an important part of any artistic outing and though Bliss address important topics in their own unique way, they also luckily know that they are not too cool for The Killers.  In the future, I’m sure they will continue to hone their lyrical and theatrical knife and offer catharsis without ever losing this fun-loving edge.

-Donovan Burtan

 

Charly Bliss-Young Enough: Album Review

Charly Bliss have me thinking back to this quote from Todd on Bojack Horseman: “Sometimes I feel like my whole life is just a series of loosely-related wacky misadventures.”  To which Diane explains: “I think that’s just what being in your 20’s is.” You would think that a song that opens with the line “Someone used my card to buy a camera in California” would ponder that person on the other end, think about what drove them to this point, and maybe see the narrator projecting their own ideas and anxieties onto them, but Eva Hendricks instead quite literally sings “Everything is coming, not sure what I should be learning from it.”  She feels some vague melancholy, and mentioning that $566 is all they could’ve gotten maybe some lack of self worth, but at the end of the song, this opening and closing motif feels like a loosely related side plot.

Young Enough as a whole is zany and dynamic, letting apt descriptions of youth and wacky misadventures seep into the mix in equal measure.  “Karate lessons, reality shows” offer shorthand to suburbs nostalgia, whereas “we’re young enough to believe it should hurt this much” describes underdeveloped emotional intelligence that could fall anywhere on the pre-24 age spectrum.  It’s not necessarily the Frank Ocean approach to memory through cars and specific scenes, but the memory bank is similarly fluid, the band at times seemingly unable to parse what’s important and what is.

The sonic approach matches some of the teenage leanings.  With buoyant synths and driving guitars in tow, Bliss sounds somewhere between “Celebrity Skin is the most important album in rock history” and “Hounds of Love is the most important album in rock history.”  Their campy album cover could fit on the teenage bedroom walls that inspire their grab-bag sugar rush sounds.

The album is not entirely weightless, though.  Beneath the scheen lies occasionally harrowing material.  The lyric “I’m fucking joy and I hemorrhage light” perhaps makes sense of the fact that Hendricks is featured on PUP’s “Free At Last,” and then the album focuses in on one particularly damaging relationship.  If the opening batch of tunes operates as a suite about youthful attraction, inexperience, and the need to be liked by all, the final few tunes are almost like a breakup EP.  Single “Chatroom” rather pointedly takes down an abuser who others see as some sort of god, “I was fazed in the spotlight, his word against mine/Everybody knows you’re the second comin,” and the surrounding tunes log the fallout of this particularly jarring heartbreak.

Though the 20’s tend to feel like a series of fun, unrelated misadventure, they can also be a dangerous time, when youthful inexperience can meet drugs or relationships with more at stake than those of the teen years.  Charly Bliss is modeled on this, a fun band that captures darkness and maybe proves that these ‘unrelated’ happenings may indeed have more at stake than at first glance.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

 

Weyes Blood at the Sinclair 5/28

The key moment in Weyes Blood’s current live show is the cover. Though her path from weird experimentalist to near romantic appreciation for classic rock-adjacency is by no means unheard of, you can hear the nuances of her edits to those sounds in the eerie aura that creeps into the “ancient” “God Only Knows.”  Titanic Rising, her latest album, includes a lot of classic dabblings—the phrases “it’s a wild time to be alive” and “give me something to believe” are both said verbatim—but the fresh, galactic sound helps these eternal, existential questions sound as heavy as they truly are.

In the live setting, a few things were clear. Though ending materials like “Generation Why” were wielded into anthemic long jams with Mering’s voice leading the way with extended syllables and “oohs,” the thick beauty of her new material thrives alongside her more structured sounds. Choruses of tunes like “Andromeda” and “Something to Believe,” though still at her usual tempo and energy level, spoke more effortlessly and cleanly than her more rambling older material.

Her sound is also growing more versatile. Self described “jaunty tune” “Everyday,” sounded world conquering with Mering’s velvet bellow belting over her piano stride and, on the other side of things, “Picture Me Better” stuck out almost like a country ballad with the absence of drums. Mering commented on this in a way that’s admittedly hard to describe via text, but she slyly mentioned that all her songs are about here (motioning somewhere below her waist), but for THIS one were going to lower it to here (only moving her hand down slightly).

This self awareness is probably mostly useful for her stage banter (she also jokingly referred to one of her songs as “Vape Cod”), but it creeps into some of her songs, helping to avoid excessive self-seriousness. “Movies” in particular is a bit ridiculous as Mering quasi-earnestly laments her love for these massive commercial cultural objects. Here, she dramatically struck ballerina-like poses, took off her suit jacket, and poshly threw it to the ground, which meshed well with the “fuck it, I love movies” attitude of the song.

It’s not really revolutionary for an indie rock artist to cover a Beach Boys song in 2019, nor is it rebellious to profess love for a summer blockbuster, but Weyes Blood validates these feelings in her work.  Titanic Rising speaks a lot about climate change, and a world falling apart at the seems, sure, but the way we deal with it is oftentimes cathartic and maybe even regressive or contradictory.  Nostalgia and humor won’t save us from rising sea levels, but maybe Star Wars and the Beach Boys will make us realize that its always been a wild time to be alive.

-Donovan Burtan

Tyler, the Creator-IGOR: Album Review

Since his time as the ringleader of Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator has had an impact, but reviewers had a tough time supporting him wholeheartedly until his most consistent and introspective work, Scum Fuck Flower Boy.  Between his antics, rougher lyrical patches, and mixed bag musical ones, Tyler always presented some sort of elephant in the room.

Still, Tyler’s progression has been almost precisely logical throughout his career.  Punky jabs were his start, and gradually his production chops have gotten jazzier and sleeker–yes, Cherry Bomb was a bit of a mess, but Flower Boy would undeniably have been impossible without the likes of “Find Your Wings” and “Smuckers.”  Neither Igor nor Flower Boy, his best two albums, signify the arrival moment were he got it right, rather they both prove that Tyler is in fact here for the long haul.  He will continue to evolve and hopefully listeners will be within the same hemisphere for more albums down the road, but for now we are presented with a consistent pop cultural figure with a remarkable versatility that no one could’ve seen coming.

IGOR is Tyler’s least rap-forward project.  Some have deemed it a R&B project, and I’d have to say I consider it more of a producer work–almost in league with the work of Kaytranada.  The songs find propulsion from warm beats moving in vague directions.  Vocals are repetitious and in a lot of ways secondary to the emotional content of the sound here.  Rather than the straightforward pop texture of “See You Again,” with its catchy chorus and rapped verses, songs here are much more loose.  This probably saves him a bit on songs like “Earfquake,” where Tyler’s almost squeaky voice sings lovelorn words to a former lover.

‘Loverlorn’ kind of takes me to the next key part of the album.  Yeah, its pretty much a breakup album, but its atypical in a lot of ways.  The beginning of the album operates as a blown up version of Lorde’s “Supercut,” capturing the initial explosion where you run back all the good moments in your head and can’t really imagine where or why it went south.  “For real this time…I cannot fall short;” “I think I’m falling in love/this time I think its for real;” “running out of time/to make you love me;” these phrases verge on numbing which is kind of the point.  When your life falls apart there’s a lot of pieces and little analysis of them.

Then, there’s the jealousy of the “New Magic Wand:” “It has nothin’ to do with that broad/But if it did, guarantee she’d be gone;” the “stay the fuck away from me” of “A Boy is a Gun;” and the “I can’t maneuver without you next to me” of “Puppet.”  The production has a meditative, almost calming nature to it, but for sure close listens reveal a bit of Tyler’s internal chaos.  “What’s Good” is the obligatory nod to Tylers former self with firebrand rapping, incidentally the moment that leads to the self acceptance of “Gone, Gone:” “I hope you know she cant compete with me.”  Like Ariana Grande’s thank you, next, Tyler takes advantage of the occasionally crazed break up experience to make a dynamic, wrestling work that never settles into one sound.

I will say that you kind of have to be on board for Tyler already to appreciate this one.  Some of the ‘rap’ verses sound a bit awkward if you remove yourself from the place of ‘fan who finds Tyler’s faults endearing,’ but again the evolution is in some ways the biggest appeal.  If Flower Boy proved that Tyler could make us pay attention for a full 45 minutes, IGOR proves that staying on board is a must.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

American Football-Paradise Rock Club 5/22

American Football didn’t necessarily sound perfect in Boston last night, but the band sounded like one that’s still wrestling with themselves to carve out new paths. Opening with “Silhouettes,” a new tune of theirs that features concert bells, the band came out swinging, which made the mix a bit glassy.  Something about the clang of chimes and Mike Kinsella’s go-to guitar effect clashed, but as things settled down the band achieved their trademark warmth and seemingly melded the lessons learned in the making of LP3 with the material that put them on the map.

“Honestly?” in particular felt more poised and confident than the original recording, with buoyant, bursting guitar work. This of course could be a product of the live setting, but we can imagine what those few original shows might’ve been like back in the day.  Of course “Never Meant” was a perfect sing along moment, and the extended trumpet interlude before “The Summer Ends” felt otherworldly.  Again, hard to say what exactly is new for the band, but between the contrast of Steve Holmes’ jangly sounds and Kinsella’s prickly guitars, and the solidly confident drumming from Steve Lamos, their instrumental chops were a constant show.

The encore was perhaps the cleanest, most full-circle moment of the night as the LP3 numbers felt fully fleshed out alongside the classic “Stay Home.” “I Can’t Feel You,” with its gloomy ‘oohs,’ assisted by Sarah from openers Pure Bathing Culture (who also did a perfect rendition of “Uncomfortably Numb” earlier in the night) achieved that glacial thickness that makes their third LP so beguiling. Then, the rest of Bathing Culture showed up for a wholesome redux of the “Heir Apparent” children’s choir, before cathartic repetition of the lyric “That’s life it’s so, so short” released us into the night.

On the whole, what really made the night was the fact that it flattened their hiatus. After adjusting to the stage and warming up a bit, each song very much stood on equal ground.  They sound like any band working to truly challenge themselves on their third album, not like one that’s capitalizing on cult status with a bunch of retreads of their former work—a remarkable feat for a band that once felt lost to cult status.

-Donovan Burtan

Big Thief-UFOF: Album Review

Big Thief makes music that feels close from the jump. Adrianne Lenker’s singing conjures images of the microphone fitting somewhere nicely between her teeth and guitars occasionally sound plucked from your own membrane—matching lyrics that should be relatable to anyone who’s ever remotely been involved with some version of ‘the woods.’

Yet, there’s still an evasiveness. Whether the pronunciations falter a bit in Lenker’s haunting croon, or the imagery remains focused on one particular detail that feels detached from a more substantial story-line—“Jennis in my room?” well, what are they doing there—making meaning sometimes falls on the listener’s shoulder.  Their latest album is called UFOF after all, which quite literally pairs something unidentified with something familiar; serving as the perfect metaphor for music that pairs the kinship of playing hide and seek amongst nature and the incomprehensible nature of death.

Having gradually built cred on Saddle Creek records, Big Thief are clearly ready for more world building with their bump up to 4AD. Whereas older tunes like “Sharksmile” and “Mary” felt cut from the ‘best of indie’ cloth, UFOF serves as a more whole experience. It is a thick swamp of sounds, some terrifying, others crushing, and still others purely openhearted material to wrap oneself up in.

Opener “Contact” tweaks nervously. Though Lenker begs for intimacy, the general feeling is slanted towards dread: “wrap me in silk, I want to drink your milk.” After more disturbing calls for “sinking,” and the body horror like: “she gives me gills/helps me forgive the pills,” the whole song ruptures into terror with a distant scream and impossibly raw guitar line. The title-track that follows pivots to warmth, however, with Lenker imagining a friend taking her off on some sort of emotional journey. This type of flow is par for the course here. At any moment, there’s a complex array of emotional tones and maybe you hold onto one specific affectation.

“Cattails” pairs nostalgia with swaths of a specific place, an “open window,” those plants at the side of the road, whereas “Open Desert” looks at disruptions of the home: “The white light of the living room/Leaking through the crack in the door.” And again, these songs are paired with lots of ambiguity.  The lyric: “After all my teeth are gone/after all the blood is drawn” is spoken with such delicacy that you start to feel like death is some old friend.  Not to mention the sonic details which lift this music up. Towers of piano reach here, and crunches of life bring you down into the earth there. Lenker’s nebulous, androgynous vocal approach bends into all these spaces making a their singular sound rife with life.

“Orange” is a maybe a candidate for the heart of the work. Only accompanied by guitar, it stands out, and Lenker for once doesn’t name her counterpart in the song and simply speaks to ‘her.’ Lenker explores body and flesh as well as the details of their memories: “she kneels down and holds the frozen dove/the moon drips like water from her shoulder.”  This again is what UFOF is all about–the way someone can be full to the brim with so much familiarity and yet still unknown.  Lenker thinks about this unnamed character, and though they’ve been close enough to tangle limbs, one day they will die and Lenker can never know what that will mean.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Rico Nasty-Anger Management: Album Review

Rico Nasty’s voice is a weapon.  Sometimes grainy and raw like a hardcore singer, elsewhere easily overpowering her instrumentals with auto-tune croons, if nothing else her discography is a testament to her ability to draw all the attention in the room in a versatile way.  If her debut album took a wide lens at this strength, Anger Management is more a focused study in rage.

The songs are short and snappy, beats apocalyptic, and rhymes almost never delivered without blood curdling intensity.  Opener “Cold” is scruffy firebrand rapping, with a mission statement chorus: “none of these bitches cold as me.” “Cheat Code” features horror movie strings and cascading rhymes, “Hatin” thrives on electric ornamentation to a more old-school sample, and “Big Titties” clinks and clanks along with buoyant features from Baauer and EarthGang.  Fully produced by Kenny Beats, who specializes in this deathly electro blend, the pair’s chemistry is impeccable.

Of course, the project isn’t entirely one note: “Sell Out” is more warmly introspective like the singing that dominated Tales of Tacobella.  Still, the hallmark of this mixtape is the carefree intensity that burns on for the first string of hits.  At 19 minutes, the mixtape tends to feel like a start of something rather than an artistic peak or the peak of an artistic era, but Rico Nasty continues to grow and hopefully this knotty music energy will continue with each new release.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10