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

Beyoncé-Homecoming: Album Review

It’s easy to make a case for Homecoming as the peak musical moment of the decade. Like other decade highlights such as A Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or To Pimp a Butterfly, and of course Beyoncé’s own Lemonade; Homecoming is a visual-oriented experience with that leans towards high concepts and narratives. But perhaps a bit more than these others, it avoids leaning on its concept too heavily and feeling very tied to this decade.

It presents Beyoncé as the heady auter that the 2010’s pop star was intended to be, but it also presents her as the classic pop system virtuoso of dance and performance, where little is needed outside feeling awestruck by the pure spectacle.  It is the best Coachella performance ever, in a time when the festival is more regulated than ever. This pyramid-stage remixing of her whole discography is perhaps the most flawless run of Beyoncé songs in a row that you can take home and listen to, with a vocal performance so transcendent that it sounds super human.

Aside from the constant stream of sheerly impressive performance, the impeccable planning makes the energy feel like one big climb.  The horn entry of “Crazy in Love” should make anyone making music today green with envy, but you can kind of hear how Beyoncé paces herself a bit.  She doesn’t coast through by any means, but she remains a bit constrained in the verses and the chorus is cushioned by her backup singers.  There’s also a dance break and a half-speed break down following the first chorus.  This way when she sings the absolute piss out of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” or closer “Love on Top;” or starts the quick, undeniable run through “Hold Up,” “Countdown,” and “Check On It” before diving into “Deja Vu,” it subtly hits a bit harder.

The arrangements are also intricate and mostly pretty damn huge, but they don’t become supremely over-the-top or over produced, so it can feel like a balm listening at home, which is kind of what’s compelling about the combination of this album release and the Netflix film to accompany.  Aside from actually being there, the peak experience is watching it all happen with your living room TV turned way up.  But somehow, the album offers something a bit different.  In headphones, you can bear witness to the ways her horns punch into “Drunk in Love” to prop up the chorus without overpowering Beyoncé; the intricacy with which stepping and clapping pulls us into that glassy “Diva” sample; and the way “Single Ladies” effortlessly interpolates a phat New Orleans parade break down without missing a beat. This is capped off by a bonus track, Beyoncé’s rendition of classic “Before I Let Go,” which expertly meshes her modern sensibilities with that undeniable classic horn line.

It might be a bit harder to pin an exact instant to it, as her most dedicated fans already streamed it live in full and now, though freshly mixed and mastered, it doesn’t have the surprise, sudden impact that her two big secret album drops of the 2010’s had. However, Beyoncé has built an astounding live track record and with the addition of documentary footage to illuminate the insane preparation between her giving birth and return to performing, this document illuminates the ferocity with which Beyoncé created this victory lap.

Beyoncé also tends to have a bit of a wall between her and her audience. Sure, she’s penned lyrics referencing their theories, but she doesn’t do interviews anymore, and pretty obsessively controls the narrative around her, but here that is shed to an extent.  She quite literally thanks her Beyhive on stage, and with the accompaniment film seemingly involves us in her personal life.  Of course, the whole experience is directed at the black community and black women in particular, but it also feels like a personal note to anyone who wants to listen.  Perhaps that what the 2010’s were all about.  It was a time period where specific identities (queer, black, queer and black) that may not have been previously accepted in mainstream culture were directly addressed by the people who experience them and more than any of them, Beyoncé transcended this and felt vital to all.

-Donovan Burtan

10/10

Tierra Whack “Only Child” Track Review

My take is ultimately: “I don’t think that Tierra Whack’s 15 songs, 1 minute each concept was merely a marketing tool, nor do I think it totally worked artistically.” And maybe I’m biased. Though I like the work of say Minor Threat, and pick up one of those four song demos on cassette from a punk band that really delivered at their show, at the end of the day, I tend to value the part of careers where people who come from those origins flesh out their sound at bit more.

Yes, many felt like Solange’s latest was under-cooked and maybe my love of Some Rap Songs is a bit of a double standard, but I just feel like they do different jobs. Solange gives her simple phrases plenty of room to breathe with seemingly boundless repetition, whereas Earl simply distilled his music to what he does best—verses. For me, Whack World felt more like a sketch than anything else.

All that to say, I’m glad that Tierra Whack is make full bodied songs now and “Only Child” can run with the best of them. Built on a wobbly DIY-adjacent foundation, Whack’s soft vocals speak to a selfish person who comes across as formerly spoiled by the ‘rents. The track is packed with the personality that found its way onto her previous work, between the flippant vocals at the hook and the humorous digs in the quick verse—“use to arch my back for you/and now you’re my arch nemesis.” Whack World was certainly vividly accomplished and I’d expect nothing else as this artist continues to grow.

-Donovan Burtan

Weyes Blood-Titanic Rising: Album Review

Natalie Merling has previously built a world out of beautiful pillows as Weyes Blood, but her latest effort is more plush than ever. Evoking the cosmos in more than just lyrics, Titanic Rising is a monolith of galactic electronic tones, flourishing Philip Glass strings, and occasionally bellowing vocals. Though Merling’s voice can still be a little bit one note, her emotional senses are more eclectic than ever giving the listener doses of hope, and heart wrench; humor and irony in equal doses. It’s not so much packed with singable hooks and melodies, but these slow burning lamentations encapsulate the puzzles of life and love, and finding yourself in there somewhere.

To a degree, Merling plays the role of the hopeless romantic. Single “Everyday” strikes this rather directly with lines like “true love is making a comeback” and a chorus reading “I need love everyday,” but she’s also hopelessly devoted to giant cultural items–“Movies” frames her as a sucker who can’t resist a good blockbuster–and enamored with the world–“Wild Time” offers a somber answer to “Oh, What a World.”

She’ll add in a dose of existentialism for “Andromeda,” which sings to an empty galaxy, full of nothing to peak her romantic interest. Then on “Mirror Forever,” the concept of empathy creeps in through the lens of a break-up. Noting that no one can ever fully grasp your emotional experience, Merling still accepts that her experience has led to a place where she needs to move on and leave someone behind in the process.

If “Will I ever be satisfied by a partner?” is the connective thread, “what does that mean about connection?” is next on the docket, and “maybe not knowing is ok” is the final conclusion. Or A final conclusion as Merling also sends us off with “Picture Me Better,” which yearns for a world where she isn’t so stunted by these questions and able to just breathe.

The grappling nature of the album is achieved rather effortlessly, however, which makes it digestible and even fun. These may be brooding ideas but they aren’t brooding tunes as the listener is enveloped delicately and openly. Titanic Rising puts Merling in league with the likes of Fiona Apple and Mitski who find the depths of life’s meaning through nuanced exploration of interpersonal relations.  And like those two auters, she comes across as the conversationalist–a philosopher your can see yourself in.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Weyes Blood “Everday” Track Review

“Everyday” is a pretty collasal statement from Weyes Blood. Though she doesn’t abandon the cosmic folk that made her, the song is her most anthemtic as she seemingly takes a step back and belts out “I need love everyday!” with clashing backing vocals, chugging guitars and soaring piano and string lines.

Lyrically, the song twists out of control a bit. First speaking about her need for more from her partner, verse three is the most interesting, opening her scope to a much bigger statement: “true love is making a comeback, for only half of us the rest just feel bad.” It’s an ode to the communities of those hopeless romantics who seemingly always end up with those less enthused.

The sonic quirks are matched by the words, which value humor and absurdity—that quote when read aloud feels like it should be notated as such: “True love is making a comeback!!! for only half of us? 😦 the rest just feel…bad *shrug.*” Admittedly I didn’t feel drawn to Weyes Blood initially, but this is a great gateway in.

-Donovan Burtan

Looking Ahead: 3/29

Show Me The Body-Dog Whistle

This one promises to be huge, check out my thoughts on the quite literally orchestral single.

Buy it on the band’s website

Billie Eilish-When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

I try not to review too much material that I have little hope of enjoying and admittedly Billie Eilish kind of fits that mold.  I feel like she has the potential to be interesting or maybe even earth shattering, so I want to take an honest look at her debut album, but it kind of obviously splits the difference between Lana Del Ray, early Lorde, and maybe even Juice WRLD, with blunt teenage lyricism and thin pop production that sounds dark, but doesn’t hit as hard as it should.

Check it out

Nilüfer Yanya-Miss Universe: Album Review

Admittedly Nilüfer Yanya isn’t offering a completely new perspective on musical texture or what a song can do, but Miss Universe does more than simply pass the test for “singer-songwriter given a bit of a budget for their real debut.” With Yanya herself offering a bunch of goofy interludes to narrate her speak of self worth and its intersection with validation from others, the album offers a unique glance at its auter. Unpredictable, wirey melodies, build and caressing alongside synths, guitars, and horns that draw on everyone from Aaliyah to Blink-182. It’s sure to be relatable to anyone familiar with those musical references as well as those plunging into the depth of the teenage years today.

“In Your Head” certainly acts as a bit of a thesis. In it Yanya tells a potential love interest that she cannot act until she hears an exact description of how they feel.  Though she doesn’t play this manic type of character throughout, the songs paint a vivid inner dialogue about the growing pains inherent to that time where you have to figure yourself out as much as those who interest you.

“Safety Net” might just be the heart of the record where Yanya seems to find the upper hand in a battle of whether or not she deserves more out of a partner: “I’m not trying to be someone/I’m not/So stop trying to be someone.”. It’s undercut by her self doubt “I’ll find nothing instead/because I’m not good looking,” but that tug and pull between doubt and worth represents the tension between the moment you realize you have to leave and the moment you actually do it.

Closer “Heavyweight Champion of the World” also explores the tension as Yanya pleads for herself to realize that the one she’s chasing will never truly commit. Then there’s tunes like “Heat Rises,” which more metaphorically address anxiety or “Melt” which more devilshly wish for another’s pain.

These songs are well accomplished sonically, though I can’t help but feeling like there’s a little bit to be desired in terms of singularity. Not quite, but if you ignore some of the musical flourishes, sax solos, there’s an inclining of “this product was manufactured to please indie rock and R&B markets,” whereas something SZA’s Ctrl more endearingly combined the two. But overall, Miss Universe is a worthy debut from someone with potential to speak to a generation.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10