Album Review: Charli Adams – Bullseye

[Color Study; 2021]

Charli Adams has spent most of her musical career reckoning with her demons. Growing up in rural Alabama, Adams broke away from a strict Christian and conservative upbringing to move to Nashville to pursue music. Since then, she seems to have fallen in with a supporting and like-minded crowd; Adams counts Phoebe Bridgers as a friend, has had praise from Taylor Swift, and even spent an evening playing darts with Justin Vernon. Not only did she win, but Vernon also nicknamed her ‘Bullseye’, a name she’s carried forward as the title to her debut album.

Years on though, and Adams is still tackling those demons. Carrying forward the downcast melancholy of her 2020 Good At Being Young EP, on Bullseye she explores the toxic relationships across her life, from the one with her parents, to men, and even to God. One of the singles, “Cheer Captain”, tackles this pretty head on; “I’m a people pleaser,” she sings with a sullen tone before quickly adding “but I don’t want to be her.” Elsewhere on “JOKES ON YOU (I Don’t Want To)” she points the finger at men trying to exert control over her. “It’s obvious that you don’t know me,” she chirps with a lash in her tongue. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten my name” she adds, with a dagger-plunging look that wouldn’t be out of place in Carey Mulligan’s script in Promising Young Woman.

The preceding “Get High w/ My Friends” (which is kind of just Sia’s “Titanium” in the verse) has a carefree pulse that can even feel fleeting at just over two and a half minutes. However, this frivolity is welcome, as Bullseye can feel a little swamped by its downcast introspection. Adams does a fine job of turning the lens to herself and picking apart her faults, but it almost gets exhausting to listen to, even during the best instances of it. Opening track “Emo Lullaby :'(” has her apologising for oversharing, wanting to scream, reminiscing over her teenage years, and talking about getting therapy at the age of 23. Over gloomy, drenched guitar she finds a wistful, dreary warmth in the song’s chorus; “It’s just a cycle / Go back to sleep.” On “Bother With Me”, she reaches a sunken peak of sadness. What begins as an acoustic ballad has her asking “what about me makes everybody leave?” It doesn’t get more woeful than that.

As said, these are the better examples, and Adams spends the album swimming about in these waters, all wrapped up in a wash of nostalgic bombastic 80s drums and crystalline guitars. The outfit and style suit her well enough (even though it does clear away some of the tangible authenticity of her songs), but it becomes weary by the album’s final third. Even though it’s only 11 tracks (culled down from over 50 songs Adams had written before going into the studio), Bullseye still feels about two or three tracks too long. Come the final stretch, a fatigue sets in, and in many regards Adams has said all she needs to say. Final track “Bullseye”, complete with a welcome grungy blast of guitars, might have been a poignant and fitting send off, but, coming after so many songs of similar ilk, the effect is lesser than it could have been.

Even a few guests on the album sink away into forgettable territory. Nightly and Novo Amor’s contributions are lost in the mix, while Ruston Kelly’s verse on “Headspace” feels almost painfully generic and blank, like an AI was made to sing it. Even without guests, Adams often emulates the sound of her surrounding peers. Many moments sound like they could have been plucked from Phoebe Bridgers’ notepads, and the self-deprecating lyrics rustle up parallels to girl in red and 2019 Clairo.

Bullseye is Adams’ reckoning with the world, though. She’s definitely got the chops to write a passingly pleasing song (she also has writing credits for the likes of Chloe Moriondo and Peach Pit), and her tracks will fit in nicely on a post-breakup playlist amid artists of a similar downtrodden nostalgia pop type. But, taken in as its full 38 minutes, the album it becomes almost sickly. There’s a past she’s still unpacking here, and while Bullseye is a solid contemplative dive into this melancholia and pain, Adams sounds like she will only start seeing the sunlight when she begins to work beyond the demons from her past life.