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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.

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Charly Bliss - Young Enough Music Album Reviews

The Brooklyn band’s second record is bigger and darker, amplifying their ’80s new-wave sparkle into ecstatic triumph.

Darkness is always bubbling beneath Charly Bliss. On their 2017 debut Guppy, the Brooklyn band—singer and guitarist Eva Hendricks, her brother and drummer Sam, guitarist Spencer Fox, and bassist Dan Shure—offered a bundle of off-kilter confessionals that were at once sneering and vulnerable. Over blasts of power pop, Hendricks celebrated the death of a lover’s beloved pet, gazed at a boyfriend’s new partner like “softcore porn,” and gleefully admitted that her conscience was “fucked.” The effect was buoyant and campy, an unapologetically complex portrait of femininity.


While it retains its predecessor’s spirit and attitude, Charly Bliss’ second record, Young Enough, takes a bit of a chill pill. Guppy buried traces of electro-pop beneath grunge fuzz, and Young Enough amplifies that ’80s new-wave sparkle into ecstatic triumph. It’s nothing new for young bands to trade their scrappy rock origins for a glossy sheen—just look to Hendricks family favorites Blondie. It’s also not uncommon for bands to lose their lyrical sincerity within a newfound over-produced sound. On Young Enough, Charly Bliss walk this thin line gracefully.

Opener “Blown to Bits” builds off a sharp buzz of synth as Hendricks’ voice grows increasingly Auto-Tuned, dropping references to Cole Porter musicals, Rilo Kiley, and reality television. “Capacity” bursts with eclectic flourishes, from cavernous drum fissures to the metallic sheen of a guitar synth pedal, a maximalist approach that Hendricks phrases explicitly: “I’m at capacity, I’m spilling out of me!” The band allows all these textures to steep, and when the bridge finally arrives—“I was raised an East Coast witch like/Doing nothing’s sacrilegious/Triple overtime ambitious/Sentimental, anxious kid”—it feels like an epiphany rather than an outburst.

Charly Bliss’ embrace of synth glitz does little to disguise Young Enough’s heaviness. Hendricks scrutinizes her present through the lens of her past, reclaiming pain and prioritizing her own happiness. “I’m fucking joy and I hemorrhage light,” Hendricks shouts on “Bleach,” her voice tart like she’s sucking on a WarHead. “He can destroy everything that I like!”

The transformation of trauma to catharsis reaches its apex near the album’s end with “Chatroom.” Underneath its bubblegum euphoria, the lyrics tell of an abusive ex, violence, and betrayal. “Wasted my summer slapping my face, well/I wanna see you stripped down, naked,” Hendricks taunts, her steady voice barely masking a trace of vengeful relish. But “Chatroom” fuses pop and pain into joyful release. Its spiritual companion, “Hard to Believe,” takes a similar approach, elevating Hendricks’ emotional conflict with high-velocity riffs. “Hurt Me,” on the other hand, is the band’s most somber song yet, a synth-driven number that pushes Hendricks to the emotional brink as she pleads, “You don’t want to hurt me, baby.” Charly Bliss have never sounded so simultaneously restrained and desperate. Hendricks’ voice hardly wavers as her bandmates underline the confrontation with surges of electricity.

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On intense moments like these, the razor-sharp wit Hendricks flashed on Guppy is polished into something more meditative. Though her writing is still deliriously idiosyncratic (“I’ll occupy your nation, fool!” she declares on “Under You”), she seems more comfortable letting vulnerable revelations stand on their own, rather than downplaying them with a manic laugh. As such, her storytelling has become more abstract. “Eyes like a funeral, mouth like a bruise/Veins like a hallway, voice like a wound,” she belts on “Hurt Me,” painting a figure that bleeds like watercolors past the edges.

These stirring lines are made all the more immediate by the euphoric melodies carrying them. The band recorded the breakneck Guppy twice, but on this album, which was made in considerably less time, they sound patient even when they’re chasing a gigantic chorus. Building off a simple guitar note, the record’s slow-burning title track is perhaps the band’s greatest accomplishment yet. The band converges around Fox’s guitar line, slowly assembling something that is—to steal their phrase—“astronomically huge” and joyful. As Hendricks recalls vignettes of warmly lit homes, bloody feet on icy sidewalks, and crushed cigarettes, she acknowledges the masochistic naivete of teenage romance: “We’re young enough/To believe it should hurt this much.” It’s an elemental concept that Charly Bliss set aflame.


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