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 band perform music as a form of catharsis. They want to get away from how love lives are bleak and how financial situations can be grim. In the process, the sophomore LP Welcome the Worms lacks an awareness as to how lethargic it can be. Its lack of energy can demonstrate how tiring life is, but it can bring discomfort to an audience that might want to rock to a devil-may-care attitude.
“It’s really too bad to feel like walking death / But now my eyes are open wide,” Jennifer Clavin sings on “Sleepwalking”, demonstrating the key idea that holds Welcome the Worms together. It becomes an album of finally realizing where one is in the universe. No longer can the band feel like an entity driven by wanderlust, driving from old problems and to new ones. Bleached still admire the mood produced by ’60s rhythms and doo-wop vocalizing. It is in these moments where an audience can dash their sycophant nature and say “screw it” to the world. These are the sections that dazzle and what make Bleached a creative band. Several times they falter and bore, but other times, they raise their fists with a Ronnette-style soundtrack playing in their heads.
The main problem, however, faced by Welcome the Worms is its lifelessness. The general feel of pop-punk exuded within the power chords of “Wednesday Night Melody” leaves a bad taste in the mouth. “Drag the needle on the groove today / And waste away” has the element of snark a self-aware individual has, but the chords that play along it have a strong simplicity that lacks the rebellion American Idiot-era Green Day had. “Desolate Town” contains a strange clash between murky bass rhythms and a near-poppy chorus. When it tries to haunt with production, it initially builds the picture of a bad relationship about to happen. Its failure to maintain its murky tone defeats the crooked life it builds.
But no other song creates an itch as bad as “Hollywood, We Did It Wrong”, a track wanting to smash the clichés of pop bands looking through old memories. Its desire to want to be in the ’70s while singing lines like “What do I do / With these pictures of you” allows one to be critical. These are tired words that could be substituted for something much more unique, much more biting. Bleached know they want to contain a sarcasm to them. They contemplate where their idols are, probably thinking that these heroes have hit rock bottom, too. But they do so with a lyricism that has been used time and time again. The treatment of complex feelings becomes traded for catchy rhythms loved by power chord-loving pop-punk acts.
This is not to say that these chords and hard-hitting drums make an awful project, nor does it contain feelings of resent toward pop-punk. Bleached do their best when they stick themselves in the boots of doo-wop acts and ’80s pop a la Cyndi Lauper. They do their best when their frankness mirrors Joss Whedon wit from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, songs like “Trying to Lose Myself Again” drown their sorrows in intoxication. Its drum beats are uncontrollably angry and wanting to escape the non-complexities of its lyrics. But when Clavin reflects on her dark side in “Chemical Air”, the band’s joint effort can get audiences on their feet and jamming. Hints of ’50s and ’60s rhythms find their way amidst the modern production.
Where “Hollywood, We Did It Wrong” is the album at its worst, “Sour Candy” heralds the band as something loveable and genuine. It starts with a car turning on, almost like it were atop a hill after a makeout session. The track continues by running away with a truly catchy chorus that feels like a sibling to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. It might have a lifelessness in its repetition, but it has enough quirk to make it something more. It downs “whiskey and sour candy” when it wastes away. And as horrible as that thought can be, listeners want to waste away with the band, too.
Welcome the Worms might have trouble dodging several excursions of lifelessness. However, Bleached know the cure is to be more in tune with early genre inspirations while having a unique quirk to them.