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

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

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

Lizzo “Tempo (feat. Missy Elliot)” Track Review

Lizzo is uber talented, but I can’t say I completely get behind all of the results.  She can undeniably dance, rap, sing, command-a-stage, but I promise you, you don’t actually want a flute solo on Ellen and “Juice” plainly has Bruno Mars syndrome, sounding like a Target-curated version of the 80’s.  “Tempo,” on the other hand, clicks perfectly. If you asked me yesterday how a song with the two of them should go I’d probably basically describe what happens.  They both rap with utmost emboldened energy over stripped-back but electric production.  They don’t try to out-rap each other but they sound utterly perfect alongside one another, meeting each other halfway on the quest to sexual empowerment.  There’s no over-stated hook, no overwrought break-down, it’s perfect.  I prematurely find the album to be too much, but certain things can’t make anybody mad–this track should be one of them.

-Donovan Burtan

Concert Log: Lucy Dacus at Columbus Theater RI 3/19

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Few artists are better suited to working with a fire-power-heavy backing band than Lucy Dacus.  She can certainly capture on her own–the show was book-ended by two unreleased tunes played without a band–but her tunes tend to twist and wind to their conclusions leaving plenty of space for rambunctious climaxes sporting massive cymbal crashes and noisy guitar flourishes to highlight her relatively grounded vocal style.

A band also allows certain influences and sounds to come through a bit too.  Mentioning that she was from Richmond, Virginia, I wouldn’t say that she quite lives in the south or fully has any sense of twang, but there’s a bit of alt-country or blues swagger sitting in the background of tunes like “Timefighter” or “Yours & Mine.”  Of course there’s more straightforward chugging rockers–her cover of “La Vie en Rose” particularly got the crowd moving– but for an artist who sometimes sounds a bit too broad-strokes stylistically, the live show alleviates this with more pronounced details to the tunes.

In terms of thematic material, Historian was largely a break-up album, but it also took time to ponder the question of what it means to write a narrative and look at the grand scheme of things.  There’s kiss-offs to those that wronged you, but also tunes that look at individual action and try to see the viewpoint of another.  The quiet and droney title-track, which ended the show literally asked “If past you were to meet future me/Would you be holding me here and now?”

Sometimes these questions can lead to apathy or aimless anger and Dacus can channel that into something productive, or at least recognize that avoidance is part of life too.  The final, unrecorded tune of the night was a perfect send-off that found empowerment in allowing its character to get angry at a deadbeat father.  The Lucy Dacus project is remarkably mature and as its writer continues forward, it feels like she’s only honing that weapon.

-Donovan Burtan

Kehlani-While We Wait: Album Review

I mentioned in my Ariana Grande review that Thank You, Next, which was made in two weeks, avoids some of the blockbuster pop album trappings in its off-the-cuff tone and ease. There’s a bit of precedence for this in the mixtape work of Charli XCX who, despite creating some of the most adventurous pop music today, works casually, frequently releasing one-offs for the sake of collaboration. This also holds true for Kehlani’s latest mixtape which sounds lighter on its feet than Kehlani’s debut album, leaving none of the 30 minutes dull and plenty of features to give each moment life.

Kehlani doesn’t quite embody the subtlety of SZA’s CTRL here, but the tape is more stripped back in production than tunes like “Distraction” from her debut album, which saw big time vocal layering and pummeling bass.  From the jump, there’s a lightly strummed guitar and hummed backing vocals before her low range shines alongside a feature from Musiq Soulchild.  The tape picks up from track to track as “Too Deep” gets a bit deeper into a groove and “Morning Glory” hits a bit of a classic sound with its choir of backing vocals.  Still, overall the work feels conversational and light.

The conversational tone also seeps into the lyrical ideas, many of which address Kehlani’s and her partner’s indecision.  As previously discussed, “Nights Like This” is about a partner not showing up, but “Too Deep” sees Kehlani wondering if she wants to let a relationship flourish much further than it already has and “Footsteps” is about Kehlani leaving even though she wasn’t sure if that was the call: “when I walked away, I left Footsteps in the mud so you could follow me.”  This song also exemplifies Kehlani’s humor with the line “it’s habitual to be the bitch I am.”  It’s a conversational and vulnerable work, but it’s still relatively low-key, not feeling excessively heavy.

And it really holds up deep into the tracklist; closer “Love Language” features plucky production to call back to the beginning of the work as Kehlani sings “I wanna be fluent in your Love Language,” perhaps signaling a relationship where everyone’s finally on the same page.

The casual nature of the work does have some limitations.  In this case, it leaves a little to be desired.  Whereas say Vince Staples’s FM! felt as fleshed out as that specific concept wanted to be, While We Wait feels like three or four more tunes could’ve made it Kehlani’s full blown coronation.  Still, she’s headed down the right path and hopefully this pallet cleanser will lead to a real moment in the sun for the rising star.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

 

 

Little Simz “Boss” Track Review

Though me and some other critics enjoyed Simz’s last album “Stillness in Wonderland,” others were skeptical and I don’t know if it has a whole lot of teeth with rap fans.  Admittedly, I think I was a bit quick to the jump as her vision could’ve still used some honing and a bit more life–today “Wonderland” holds up to a degree, but it’s a bit overly dreary.

Still, the singles for her album GREY Area that drops tomorrow maintain much of the versatility that Wonderland hinted at, with its array of features, with a bit more songwriting focus and maturity.  Highlight “Boss” is a singular moment in her catalog, sporting her sharpest and most poignant production to date. Her distorted voice crafts a punchy chorus and signature quick-witted rhymes effortlessly fly over the fuzzy bass sound.  The gender play is interesting too.  Aside from the lyric “I’m a boss in a fucking dress” the distorted and non-distorted vocals contrast each other, Simz bouncing between masc and fem vocal presentation.  Certainly her most accomplished tune to date.

-Donovan Burtan

Nilufer Yana “In Your Head” Track Review

Having been something of a bedroom soul singer for her initial releases, “In Your Head” sees Nilufer Yana tightening the screws and delivering a burst of energy.  Lyrics about needing validation from a potential lover spill out seemingly in one fell swoop over the sunburst guitars and pounding drums.  Its a little “indie movie montage” in feel and may hint at a slightly safe debut album, but Yana’s spirally and spiky vocal chops give the performance some serious gusto as pillows of synths drive it all home.

-Donovan Burtan