This is no piece of a faded past. Bleached, as it turns out, is just coming into focus.
Maybe you know that Jennifer and Jessica Clavin used to be in punk band Mika Miko. Maybe you've noticed the faded album cover here or the hazy promo shots of the band. Maybe you've made note of that name, Bleached, and all the sun exposure and ravages of time it implies. Maybe you hear "Looking For a Fight", the first song on Ride Your Heart (itself a seemingly quaint album title), and think you know all you need to know about this band.
What you'll think it that this is another punk band. Another group of women in love with late '70s rock groups intent on reliving the past, on bedding down in nostalgia for a brand of rock and roll long gone. Well, nevermind that this kind of rock never went away, it just went out of the public eye, Bleached spends the rest of Ride Your Heart smashing the preconceptions it lured you in with on the first couple of tracks.
It's a brilliant move, an album that immediately presents us with a women's role we've grown comfortable with, even tired of. We're okay with the group of girls (interesting we equate them with that term, as in they were influenced "girl groups", and so on) churning out basic rock songs. It's a way to include them in the male-centric world of rock music. Good for them, breaking down walls. Good for us, allowing walls to be broken. Up front, it's clear Bleached loves a good rock song, but they're also not content to hang out in the three-chord corner, cranking out the same catchy two minutes over and over again. No wonder the first two songs find them combative ("Looking for a Fight") and with their eyes on the horizon, on something new ("Next Stop").
From there, the parameters of their pop landscape expand. The jangle-pop of "Outta My Mind" is more toned down than the first few songs, and it explores the trope of the heartbroken woman. Bleached is sure they "don't think [they] can let go" of the boy they "think about…all the time", but there's no lovelorn weakness to the tune. The vocal harmonies are strong, and the swaying guitars eventually open up into a hard-edged breakdown that solidifies the strength and patience of the song. "Dreaming Without You" adds a deadpan flatness to the still-sweet harmonies as the song stomps along insistently on ringing chords and razor-wire leads. Here, there may still be that loss implied in the title, but there's also a propulsion, an inertia. "Don't stop me on the street," the song insists, brushing off any hint of stagnation. Meanwhile, "Searching Through the Past" does feel slowed down by regret, but the charging guitars and distant clanging piano are pulling at those reigns at every moment.
The band also occasionally plays with genres like surf rock ("Dead Boy") and twanging, front-porch folk ("Guy Like You") we reserve almost exclusively for the independent male. Here, they turn that on its head and once again make it their own. In all of these cases, Ride Your Heart is an album that unabashedly about heartbreak, about missing about loss. But it's also never about alighting that vulnerability with weakness. For all the longing of "Searching Through the Past", there's the off-the-moment fury of "Waiting for the Phone". As the album goes on, and we hear about another boy (and it's always boy, curiously) who hasn't shown up or called, we realize that the women who are the focus of these songs aren't waiting, they aren't defined by what's not there. They're pissed about it and, maybe, not all that surprised.
Much of the nuance of these songs comes from the compositions and instrumentations. The band takes that punk-rock starting point and flings out in all directions. The lyrics here are basic, sometimes effectively playing on tropes ("Waiting for the Phone") sometimes bogging down in cliché ("When I Was Yours"). But it's the performances here that make Ride Your Heart stand out. These songs are catchy in a way that might not surprise you, but the different twists they take, and the different ways they poke at rock tradition, and our expectations of women within that tradition, are fascinating. This is no piece of a faded past. Bleached, as it turns out, is just coming into focus.