Bleached are no fun on Welcome the Worms

Welcome the Worms"We don't want perfection because it's boring," Jennifer Clavin explained in the lead-up to Welcome the Worms, the second outing from her Los Angeles garage pop band Bleached. "We want to make music that's as real as life." It's a bold statement, like announcing that you've arrived to kick ass and chew gum, and that you're all out of gum, and that if anyone has any gum that would really be appreciated. It's also fundamentally meaningless, presumably drawing on the vague notion that lo-fi recordings are more authentic - especially odd when you consider that they roped in Joe Chicarelli (Elton John, Morrissey) to produce this one. Unfortunately, it's the kind of air-punching vacuity that permeates the entire record, like a car bumper plastered in driving slogans. You might as well say "keep on keepin' on" and be done with it.

First single "Keep On Keepin' On" (no, really) and the interchangeable "Trying To Lose Myself Again" set the pace, the latter managing to strip The Donnas' sleaze anthem "Take It Off" ("Cause I get what I want, and I like what I see") to a thin, blanched layer of rock'n'roll cliche ("I know what I want, and I know what I like"). It's a shame, not least because the Clavin sisters were the beating heart of Mika Miko, the gloriously anachronistic surf punk upstarts who tore California's live music scene to shreds in the late 00s. Much of that energy seems to have been redirected into sanding the abrasive edges off their music, and what's left is the sound of a band operating as their best impression of a rock band. Perhaps it's appropriate that "Wednesday Night Melody" sounds like a late-era Weezer single, punching out "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" power chords in the hope that they'll pad out the space where a catchy song should be.

When the band go all out for pop thrills, the results are surprisingly effective. "Sour Candy" is an unrepentant highlight, coming off more Avril Lavigne than The Shangri-Las, and working from a template where the band's consistently bland lyrics are happily absorbed by the sugar-rush chorus. It's such a fun song, in fact, that you realise that's precisely what's been missing from the rest of the record's 40-minute fake smile: fun. I'm all for an album's worth of dumb pleasures - hell, I'd drown a litter of kittens for a third Fang Island record - but when the pleasure part is mostly absent, you're left to contemplate what remains.

Release: 1st April 2016, Dead Oceans


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