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. After years of touring and some tumultuous life experiences, they’ve returned to make their follow-up, Welcome the Worms, an all-around improvement in which they come much closer to living up to their initial potential.
To record the album, Bleached temporarily left Los Angeles to find some peace and solitude in different locales in the desert, including Joshua Tree. An effort to escape distractions, the move contributed to the album’s refined approach. Even on their aggressive early singles like “Electric Chair”, the four-piece has never sounded as driven as they do here. Every member has kicked it up a notch, with Micayla Grace’s propelling bass lines, Marc Jordan’s pounding drums, and the Clavin sisters’ frenzied dueling guitars all impressing. Jennifer Clavin takes full advantage of the chance to show off her powerful voice, and moments like her belting out the chorus in “Sleepwalking” validate those choices.
Though Bleached often got lumped in as another carefree L.A. surf punk group, they always had more depth and ambition than that implied. Pivoting away from that categorization is one of many shrewd decisions they make here, as they were always stronger in a small club than a sunny early-afternoon set at a festival. Still, their most intense earlier moments don’t come close to matching the intensity here, like the verses of “Trying to Lose Myself Again” or the big hooks of “Chemical Air”. With crisp production that offers a cleaner, direct sound, Bleached display considerable growth from their debut.
One aspect that colors Welcome the Worms is an embrace of the pop side of “pop punk,” more early Weezer than Green Day. The album is full of crunchy power chords, sweeping hooks, and a heightened sense of urgency. “Wednesday Night Melody”, the album’s best song, nails this formula, focusing on the rush of feeling alive with plenty of Cuomo-ready ba ba bas. Musically, songs like “Wasted On You” could fit perfectly on Enema Of The State — only they sing about maturity and self-reliance instead of adolescent insecurity. “Choked on a daydream, why am I not surprised,” Clavin angrily howls in between fiery guitar solos on “Desolate Town”, a far cry from when she was singing laments like “Dreaming Without You”. The adrenaline rush is so integral to the album that it becomes noticeable when it lulls on tracks like “I’m All Over the Place (Mystic Mama)”.
The invigorating drive that guides the album applies as much thematically as stylistically. Whereas Jennifer Clavin used to write about reflection (as on “Searching Through The Past”), this album focuses on moments of resilience (“Keep On Keepin On”) and determination (“Wasted On You”). Leaving an unhealthy relationship influenced the record, and it distances from that darkness in an encouraging, self-affirming way. Welcome the Worms is less a breakup record, and more one that fixates on moving forward.
The renewed sense of confidence gives Welcome the Worms a dynamic edge. In an interview with Spin, Jennifer Clavin explained that she felt intimidated on the first Bleached record, unsure if she was putting her best foot forward. “With this record, I don’t feel that way at all,” she explained. Whether it’s broad moments like the handclaps on closer “Hollywood, We Did It All Wrong” or the sharper focus on darker moments like “Sleepwalking”, Bleached sound alert and assured throughout. Though the album loses some momentum as it winds down, it never feels aimless. Whether it was their exodus from the city, pent-up frustrations, or a combination, they have come back renewed, with a sense of energy that suits them well as they step in a forceful direction.
Essential Tracks: “Wednesday Night Melody”, “Desolate Town”, and “Sleepwalking”