These days, far fewer eyebrows are raised when someone at the bar opts for seltzer instead of a scotch. Musicians and various celebrities proudly proclaim their sobriety and are open about their substance abuse issues, negating the long-perpetuated myth that artists can only create when struggling. From Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino to Eminem to Idles, sobriety is becoming hearteningly more commonplace in an industry that has long glorified drug and alcohol-fuelled debauchery. It is in this light that Bleached, the Los Angeles band of sisters Jessica and Jennifer Clavin, created their latest LP, entitled Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?—a question that the recently sober pair repeatedly asked themselves in the years leading up to their lifestyle change.
Bleached made their mark back in 2013 with their debut Ride Your Heart, a lo-fi rock record filled with distinctly Californian ‘60s surf-pop harmonies. Their sound grew noticeably darker on Welcome to the Worms in 2016, with a noisiness and insistence harkening back to their days in garage rock band Mika Miko. Now, though, the grit and grime has been wiped off in favor of a style that, while still giving off the same dangerous edge, often has the glittering sheen of some femme fatale’s soundtrack rather than the rough-hewn punk attitude Bleached embodied before. It’s hard not to see the change as analogous to their newfound sobriety—being “clean” and having a slightly “cleaner” sound—but their glossier style is likely due to their higher profile and thus increased access to higher quality (in purely technical terms) production.
The anthemic “Heartbeat Away” makes for a taut opening with “Hard to Kill,” showing that the group has graduated to ever-larger stages and a more stadium-ready sound (the band noted that they were inspired by tourmates like Paramore and The Damned). “Hard to Kill,” which depicts the life of an addict spiraling towards disaster but still narrowly missing it, is infectiously catchy with throbbing funk basslines and the occasional cowbell. At times, though, the song veers towards the anonymous cool of the slick tracks playing during car commercials. Part of this is probably thanks to the sisters’ collaboration with producer Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells), who guided them towards genre experimentations—a dip into country territory on “Valley to LA,” a taste of disco on “Kiss You Goodbye”—that are fun but superficial at best, serving little purpose other than as new hook delivery systems.
One major exception is “Somebody Dial 911,” a new wave-inflected track about cutting off a relationship with a fellow addict with Christmas-y “oohs” and chiming synths that nod slightly at Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” The happy-sad stylings of new wave feels made for the twin heartbreaks of leaving a romantic partner and (no matter how destructive) an entire way of life behind.
Addiction as subject matter is by no means new territory, but Bleached switch up their approach by loosely traveling backwards in time on the album. They begin with their present day sobriety on “Heartbeat Away” (a daily commitment—“It’s stay alive or suicide / But it’s only a heartbeat away”), building up to later songs “Valley to LA” and “Awkward Phase,” recalling the Clavin sisters’ upbringing in Southern California at “backyard parties where we dressed like boys.”
Despite the over-production that occasionally takes away from the Clavins’ raw talent, the album itself tells vital truths about the codependence of addicts (“This is hell and I can’t hide / But you’re keeping me alive / Saying such sweet things to me”), the rose-colored glasses worn when remembering the days before being consumed by alcoholism (“Yeah I know how this ends / And I’d watch it again / Every loss and win,”) and the importance of acknowledging sobriety as a continuous journey. The Clavin sisters use a personal approach to make a major appeal, realizing that sometimes asking a simple question—”Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”—could be life-changing.