Guppy is a special release, proving that all you need is 30 minutes of hooks and riffs sung by a voice familiar the first time you hear it.
There’s are two moments on Lana Del Rey’s new collaboration with the Weeknd, “Lust for Life”, in which both, individually, paraphrase the closing line of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”: “We’re the captains of our own souls.” They take “souls” and stretch the word, taking a rollercoaster-esque approach to singing, slowly reaching higher notes before a precipitous drop on the last syllable. Few artists can tap into such adrenaline-inducing melodies with meaningful lyrics to match, and over a full-length album, it’s even rarer. New York power pop band Charly Bliss have had their debut full-length Guppy in the works for years now, but now that it’s out, the aforementioned qualities are plastered all over the ten songs, inscribing hooks into your brain while inspiring jubilant dancing. In short, it’s the most fun album released thus far in 2017, ultimately legitimizing the multiple exclamations marks some lines in the lyrics booklet got and then some.
This year has been positively bountiful for bouncy pop-rock with motion -- just see Diet Cig’s debut and White Reaper’s latest as two examples -- and Guppy doesn’t let up on the trend. However, while the similarities with these bands and noted touchstones like Weezer are apparent in their frenetic honesty and undeniable riffs, the band that I keep returning to, listen upon listen (and there have been many such listens already) is the Strokes. Specifically, the Strokes circa-Is This It?, when they were a small discography band with intense hype that managed to make good on it and then some, crafting the defining rock album for a generation of New Yorkers. It’s too early to proclaim Guppy as that distinctive of a release, but for the younger half of millennials, there has yet to be an album that so perfectly captures our experience like the Strokes did their demographic nearly two decades ago.
Case in point, a Census report was released on April 19 that noted the difficulties in millennials’ transitioning into stable adulthood. An NBC News article about the report interviewed a 21-year-old“‘stuck’ working as a manager at a fast-food restaurant”. On Guppy, a punishment doled out to frontwoman Eva Hendricks for some love-induced cruelty is “end[ing] up working at Dairy Queen”. The prospect itself as a long-term job is itself not appealing, but the way that Hendricks delivers that final line of the hook, you can hear her resigned sigh. Her early interest in musical theatre can be found in these voice inflections all over the album, molding her sonic grin into the emotional rainbow.
And yet for as good as it sounds -- and it sounds as perfectly imperfect as the best indie-adjacent releases are supposed to, thanks to the steady hand of drummer Sam Hendricks (Eva’s older brother), the addictive riffs of guitarist Spencer Fox, and the tying-the-room-together undercurrent of bass from Dan Shure, not to mention the engineering and mixing work done by Kyle Johnson -- the lyrics are just as much of a draw. Eva Hendricks has that rare quality of knowing what her voice is in both the written and spoken forms, and this marriage usually only is forged through decades of experience. Just look at how she opens the album: “C’mon baby, get me high / There’s always something new to buy / I cry all the time / I think that it’s cool / I’m in touch with my feelings / I have always loved the door / But I will always love you more / I love metaphors / Swimming in your pool, I am pregnant with meaning." The arrogant malaise of Julian Casablancas is transformed into just-the-right-amount-of-earnestness, and the effect is just as flooring.
Each of the ten songs contains extensive quotables like the one above, made even better by the churning instruments under Hendricks. “Am I the best? / Or just the first person to say ‘Yes’?” is a gut-punch of a couplet in and of itself, but given the recent Tinder data suggesting a trend towards looking for love, it’s the type of sentiment young people entering the milestone phase of their life know all too well. “Julia” closes the album with an ambiguity similar to the way Sufjan Stevens opened The Age of Adz, and “Sad-sack, smell of weed / Now I only see you when I need to fall asleep” creates a middle that needs no explanation.
Guppy is a special release. It has powers: the power to transport you back to some of your most formative experiences, but also the power to let you know that you’re nowhere near done having them yet. That the best happened, and the best is yet to come. That being alive is confusing and irritating, and sometimes it’s better to be alone except for when it’s all-too-clear that being together is as beautiful as life gets; that there is a meaning of life and you’re going to find it. That all you need is thirty minutes of hooks and riffs sung by a voice familiar the first time you hear it. That exactly what you need is 30 minutes of hooks and riffs sung by a voice familiar the first time you hear it.