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. It’s gimmicky but appropriate that there’s an accompanying colouring book, because so often the album is sunny music to colour drab situations and underwhelming watersheds. For all the bounce of the riffs and singalongs, it’s a weary record that can even approach sluggishness – the wall of poppish noise drips alternately with damning sarcasm and wishful escapism, exposing sweet melodies as paving stones on the road to scuzzy oblivion. Welcoming the worms could mean saying hello to the band’s knack for earworms, but it also means welcoming the rot beneath this fresh lick of pop paint.
Take single Sour Candy – which you could say soars were its wings not so dirty – where “sugar-drenched” conversations are washed down with cheap whiskey and the aforementioned sour candy. Everything points towards hiding behind anything that might dull sensations or give a cheap buzz, and this idea of “giving in to giving up” crops up again and again. Most of the songs here pack a saccharine punch but they’re spiked with vocalist Jennifer Clavin’s lyrics and she rarely treads lightly. The sweetly sick schtick brings to mind a particularly disillusioned Go-Go’s or the sort of Riverdale band who would let Archie and pals in on some uncomfortable truths.
Chief among those truths? The bad times might keep rolling. Opener Keep On Keepin’ On sees Clavin promising not to mention the litany of past mistakes nixing her romantic chances, but if the rest of the album’s lyrics are anything to go by, this is a sarcastic vow hurriedly broken by a pained nostalgia. Hurt by the past and anxious about the future, this is someone ready to start the car and head towards the horizon, but tempted by the bong in the backseat and the reassuring rock cassettes in the glovebox.
This uncertain view of where you’ve come from and where you’re going also forms the crux of I’m All Over The Place, but that admission is really a half-truth. We’re once again met with someone haunted by rose-coloured glasses and spooked by a future they nevertheless want to disappear into. Yet the band consistently rally around Clavin’s temporal instability to pull everything into place – that every song is a sun setting over another wasted day could see the album slump into unrelenting murk, but this is offset by Bleached’s ear for an irrepressible hook. That lustrous pop-punk sensibility makes the album’s underlying greyness more palatable, as on standout Wednesday Night Melody, a potential summer anthem with a killer guitar solo and a middle eight that hits like a sobering sea breeze at dusk.
In the end, the repeated invocation of booze, drugs and sugar betrays a semi-permanence, with Welcome The Worms feeling like more of a quick fix despite some effective catharsis, and it’s disappointing that a band held in high esteem for their live energy have yet to fully realise that on record. That doesn’t dull the album’s instant charm, however, and if this is the kind of music in the tape deck as Bleached hit the road again, any dread they might have about the future is thankfully misplaced.