"I FEEL like LA can be like a vampire, if you let it," says Jen Clavin, lead singer of Los Angeles' Bleached. "I needed to leave to be able to focus. When I was in the desert I would have these moments of clarity, where I'd realize that my problems weren't as big as I felt like they were."
Before heading to Joshua Tree, California, to write the newest Bleached record, Welcome the Worms, with her sister Jessie and their bassist Micayla Grace, Jen had been struggling with depression and an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite the high desert's often inhospitable climate, Joshua Tree served as a safe haven from the sensory overload of the big city. "It's definitely really peaceful and quiet out there, and I really feel like you can just hear everything," Jessie says.
Welcome the Worms navigates Los Angeles like Tom Petty in his song "Free Fallin'," where he sings, "All the vampires walkin' through the valley/Move west down Ventura Boulevard." Throughout the album Jen sings about driving around the city, turning onto Sunset Boulevard, going up Mulholland Drive to "stare at the dirty letters in the sky" of Hollywood's famous sign. During our conversation she likens her home to a "best friend," but rails against "this ugly town" on "Trying to Lose Myself Again."
Bleached ditches the Sun-In and their lo-fi fuzz on the new record, opting for clearer soundscapes and rawer, more personal lyrics. With the help of esteemed producer and engineer Joe Chiccarelli, the group repurposes the anthemic, heavy rock of the '70s via macabre, electrifyingly catchy power pop. At times the cascading "oohs" and "ahs" can feel like a fake tan on an album that's undeniably preoccupied with death, an unnecessary distraction for an album with an unshakeable core. But whenever Welcome the Worms gets oversaturated with sunshine, Bleached throws in an eerie Theremin or Jen's ghostly screamed vocals to highlight its shadows.
One of Jen's friends aptly describes Bleached as "the evil Go-Go's," and they're right—Welcome the Worms sounds like nightfall over that legendary group's sunshiny bubblegum-punk, like a darker, grittier incarnation. Here Bleached become characters in LA's alluring mythology, indulging in the city's fabled, sugary temptations to the point of overdose. It plays like the morbidly existential hangover that follows a near-death experience.
"I feel like I was disrespecting myself so hard, not realizing it subconsciously, not taking care of myself and my health, and allowing myself to be sucked in by all the vices of LA, I guess," says Jen. "I feel like it was a near-death experience."
Welcome the Worms tries to balance the sentiments that "It's good to feel just a little alive" (from "Wednesday Night Melody") and "It's really too bad to feel like walking death/But now my eyes are open wide" (from "Sleepwalking"). Even in a city of surgically prolonged youth and endless summers, life can be dark—but nonetheless, "The sun will shine and the shadows don't mind."