Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Punk-Pop
Bleached's Welcome the Worms is an album that feels like the very definition of good pop punk. It marries the best of the punk attitude with the infectiousness of pop music. It's an album full of emotional growth that you can dance right along to in your bedroom.It's easy to tell that Welcome the Worms comes from the very personal places of Jennifer and Jessie Clavin and bassist Micayla Grace.
On Bleached’s first record, 2013’s Ride Your Heart, the group capitalized on a wave of positive attention, following some early singles with an enjoyable, if lightweight debut statement. Sisters Jessica and Jennifer Clavin, emerging from the end of their seven-year tenure with L.A. DIY punk group Mika Miko, were able to put their history in the rearview and begin a new adventure that swiftly built a reputation as a great live act.
Bleached rose from the sunburnt ashes of LA’s beloved Mika Miko, a mythical live band renowned for a distinct local flavour. For their second album, they hit the road to the desert to process personal turmoil, and it’s either damning or a testimony to their strong sense of character that despite a change of scenery, all roads lead back to LA. The west coast cool is almost blinding on Welcome the Worms, and the irony and wit that underpins it paints a picture of California gurls left pallid in the shadow cast by LA’s bright lights and September gurls bored of the summer.
Over the years, the way Jessie and Jessica Clavin have expressed their Cali punk essence has evolved from their garagey days in Mika Miko to the increasingly pop sound of Bleached. They'd already taken steps toward a bigger, more polished approach with Ride Your Heart, and with Welcome the Worms' chugging L.A. punk-pop, the transformation is complete.
Over the past decade, California rock has fully embraced the stoner beach party mood, mixing the '60s girl-group sound with a fuzzy, hotboxed playfulness. L. A.
Bleached seemed to emerge fully formed on their excellent 2013 debut Ride Your Heart. A stunning combination of pop smarts, reverb, and some slight experimentation, it was one of that year's finest albums. Now, after a three-year gestation period only abetted by a 2014 single, they return. While retaining much of the melodic sensibility that is their greatest strength, the other factors that helped make their debut extraordinary are in shorter supply here.
As Welcome The Worms come thundering out of the gate under the power of the crunching 'Keep On Keepin' On,' one cannot help but feel as though Bleached as made a quantum leap since their 2013 debut, Ride Your Heart. But as the record carries listeners onward, it becomes clear that Bleached's alluring blast of youthful sunshine that made their first album such a delight has been supplanted by a desire to emulate the stilted, uninteresting type of guitar pop melodies that Rivers Cuomo and Weezer have enjoyed making in the 21st century. In an attempt to shun the city life that fueled their debut, Jennifer and Jessica Clavin took to a remote house in Joshua Tree, Calif.
"I've been fucking high every night / Trying to lose myself again," Bleached's Jennifer Calvin tells us on the L.A. trio's second album, as surfy guitar fuzz and party-crashing snare-snaps push zombified disillusion towards a weird kind of defiance. That tension between entropy and exhilaration, corrosion and confidence, makes Welcome to the Worms a complete kick; Bleached, which is led by Jennifer and her sister Jessica Clavin, sing about feeling like walking death ("Sleepwalking"), love that makes you feel numb ("Wasted On You") and, of course, the creepy irresistible pull of Los Angeles itself ("Chemical Air").
Like a cross between 80s US TV imports and Douglas Coupland’s ‘Generation X’ (or just SS16 at Forever 21 just with a ton more hairspray for younger readers), Bleached are pretty damn good at evoking a specific image of California. Like 2013 debut ‘Ride Your Heart’, ‘Welcome The Worms’ and its not-quite-punk fuzz is pure #aesthetic, the trio themselves the leather jacket-clad bad girls those show’s protagonists are warned to steer clear of. At once brassy, bold, introspective and angsty, it’s a sun-washed take on ‘77 punk that could only have been recorded post-90s pop-punk.
Finally, an album that suggests Los Angeles isn’t a perma-sunny Instagram stream of kale smoothies, Coachella outfits and crystal healing ceremonies. It, too, has disillusioned millennials who can’t make rent, date a decent other and catch a break. That’s the city that Bleached attempt to capture on their second album, though, disappointingly, their peroxide-pop garage-rock is hardly Broad City-goes-punk.
Bleached always feel like they are on the move. When the LA band play their notes, they picture the open road and the fast cars that will get them to point B. Along the way, they narrowly miss striking roadkill. Yet even if they did bump into the dead carcass, they would only make a cursory glance and resume their acapella of Green Day’s “Minority” or Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”.
The latest record from Los Angeles rockers Bleached is sonically pleasing, yet ultimately unoriginal. The ten-song sophomore LP is all-around well composed, but throughout, Welcome the Worms feels like a monotonous rehashing of a sound that's been done before. It has all the elements of a good record, but Worms is missing that special chemistry that elevates a tried and true sound somewhere new.
In a market that’s been saturated for a good long while now with sunny, care-free guitar pop from Los Angeles, there’s been a gap for two things. One is a band that understands the importance of hooks and melodies, but that still looks to make guitar music with depth. The other - a group capable of shining a light on the grittier, grubbier side of life in the city.
The transformation undertaken between Bleached’s 2013 debut Ride Your Heart and 2016’s Welcome The Worms is a familiar one. Where Bleached’s debut is a gritty, raw piece of garage rock, the group’s latest effort is more polished, with tightly finessed melodies and a glistening bit of production from big-time producer Joe Chiccarelli, who’s brought that same polish to work from The Killers, U2, and Morrissey. It actually makes sense that Welcome To The Worms feels like a new start for Bleached, as so many of the album’s songs revolve around people examining their lives, finding that they’re unhappy, and looking for ways to escape.