Review: Bleached, 'Welcome The Worms'
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.
Jessie and Jennifer Clavin started working on new music while the former was getting evicted and the latter was abandoning an unhealthy relationship. With bassist Micayla Grace, the reeling sisters decamped to a tiny house in Joshua Tree to write. Conditions were ripe for regret, nostalgia and melancholy, yet the three women — who perform as the punk-pop band Bleached — emerged with a collection of songs that are resoundingly, stalwartly positive.
Maybe the self-reliance and survival instinct inherent to Welcome The Worms is a byproduct of its geographical beginnings. Joshua Tree does not offer help to climbers attempting to scale the Little San Bernadinos, warmth to campers when the desert temperature plummets at night, or dry land to any soul in the way when flash floods rip through the desert valleys in less time than it takes to dismantle an easy-pack tent. What it does offer, after every long night, is the reward of an incomparable, five-alarm West Coast sunrise as it blooms over Eagle Mountain.
And so it is with the excellent Welcome The Worms, which makes good on the promise of Bleached's debut, 2013's Ride Your Heart -- and fills the vacuum left by the dissolution of the Clavins' previous band, the beloved L.A. garage-rock group Mika Miko. There is not a moment of self-pity here and, more remarkably, not a moment of judgment. Bleached isn't ashamed to be young and searching. It may only be a single line in the perfect "Wednesday Night Melody," but this record's mantra really could be, "It's good to feel just a little alive."
That sentiment is rare for a genre that so often points out ills — whether one's own or those of society. When Jennifer Clavin sings, "I can't keep wasting my emotions on you" ("Wasted On You"), it's not an indictment of the ex she fell too hard for, or of herself; it's a straightforward message to a reflection, presented over gravelly guitars and a pop melody that renders the song distinctly hopeful. And when, in "I'm All Over The Place," she sings the titular line, it's neither an apology nor a red flag. It's just how it is.
Welcome The Worms is upbeat, but it's not happy-go-lucky. There's crunch and steeliness to these songs, particularly when it comes to Jennifer Clavin's vocals. In fact, the line with which the album closes is darkly reflective: "Memories, you got your hold on me / So tell me what do I do with these pictures of you?" Yet listening to Welcome The Worms straight through provides a particular type of endorphin rush: the kind that comes from the realization that, no matter how terrible things may seem at any given moment, they will bloom on the other side — and that you are the one who will make it so.