Charlene Charlene

[Shark Attack; 2002]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: psychedelic, indie pop, noise-pop, shoe-gazer
Others: Ride, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Jesus & Mary Chain, Love & Rockets

Sometimes the most appropriate way to listen to an album objectively is to approach it without knowing anything at all about the band or the music.  I was given a copy of this album to listen to during a nineteen-hour trip across the country; I had no idea what type of music Charlene played, only that it was highly recommended.

Charlene are essentially a psychedelic-influenced noise-pop band.  Their music is primarily guitar-based and features extremely melodic vocals and vocal harmonies.  Like many other similar bands, Charlene’s songs are filled with medium-tempo, lulling beats and bass lines, arpeggiated guitar chords, and unusual effects and treatments which remain buried in the background of the music, lending the music a backdrop of “psychedelia,” ambient noise, and walls of distortion and guitar feedback.

The album’s opener, “Ripoff,” is a power-pop piece which is somewhat misleading, as it is the only track on the album in that vein.  It’s also the most straightforward, radio-friendly track on the album””the track most likely to have been released as a single.  The organ riff featured throughout the song gives it a quirky, Sixties psych-pop touch.  The second track, “Still,” is, paradoxically, the album’s slowest-tempo song.  An uplifting cut, “Still” begins with a simple, two-note clean electric guitar riff, and then interweaves layers of guitar between each other, building up, somewhat anticlimactically, in a crescendo toward a climax that never really occurs.  The track builds up dramatically, and then fades back out, somewhat deceivingly, before ever reaching its seemingly intended pinnacle.

“Untitled” is a digression from the previous tracks on the album, an instrumental which duels Morricone-esque guitar plucking against a hyper-melodic, picked shoegazer guitar melody.  Meanwhile, waves of extremely overdriven guitar feedback and amplifier noise fade in and out of the music, like waves of sound. You can almost smell the beginnings of an electrical fire emanating from the amp.  “Ender” shows Charlene moving in a different direction as well, with its acoustic guitar strumming, “live”-sounding drums, and untreated vocals without accompanying vocal harmonies. 

Charlene’s longest track, “Stunner,” is perhaps the most demonstrative of the band’s psychedelic influence.  Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song begins with the band’s trademark distortion, until a repetitive and melodic marimba riff enters the mix.  The track slowly builds up to an inevitable, and to the band’s credit, considerably dramatic climax, during which crashing drums and hyper-overdriven power chords carry the song toward the third and final section, where they suddenly disappear, leaving the song to fade out in a haze of crackling distortion and squealing feedback once again.

A few of the tracks, including “Sugarblocker” and “Shot Down,” feature Eighties-style drum machine beats, which, in the context of the album, are effective, as it is already reminiscent of late-Eighties shoegazer noise-pop like The Jesus and Mary Chain and MBV.  Charlene quite clearly wear their influences on their sleeves, and are extremely evocative of the genre.

The closing track, “A.M. Cheer,” is perhaps the most interesting track on the record.  The beat is accompanied by an electronic pulsing sound which persists throughout the song; and heavily overdriven guitar noise and feedback remain present, until they are almost completely overtaken by layer upon layer of different instruments (guitars, piano, vibes, and more), creating a My Bloody Valentine-like wall of sound.

As noise-pop albums go, Charlene is a beautifully produced, consistent record, in addition to its being a generally great listen.  As a criticism, however, it is somewhat derivative, and not entirely original.  The vocals range between sounding like Love and Rockets’ Daniel Ash and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Reid brothers.  Charlene are highly melodic, and at times, completely beautiful.  After listening to the album several times, however, it seems to lose its impact, and the originality of the record begins to wear thin.  For fans of the genre, Charlene is likely to be indispensable.  For listeners who were listening to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Love and Rockets back in the early- to mid-Eighties, the record, although well-made, may become redundant. 

1. Ripoff
2. Still
3. Shoot Yr. Life
4. Cathode
5. Untitled
6. Ender
7. Stunner
8. Shot Down
9. Sugarblocker
10. A.M. Cheer