The transformation undertaken between Bleached’s 2013 debut Ride Your Heart and 2016’s Welcome The Worms is a familiar one. Where Bleached’s debut is a gritty, raw piece of garage rock, the group’s latest effort is more polished, with tightly finessed melodies and a glistening bit of production from big-time producer Joe Chiccarelli, who’s brought that same polish to work from The Killers, U2, and Morrissey.

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It actually makes sense that Welcome To The Worms feels like a new start for Bleached, as so many of the album’s songs revolve around people examining their lives, finding that they’re unhappy, and looking for ways to escape. Welcome The Worms is like a lot of slacker/pop-punk records in that there’s a recklessness at the heart of the album. Yet, unlike so many records, there’s a depth of personality here that keeps Welcome The Worms from feeling like just another collection of three-chord stompers. For instance, when “Sleepwalking” really takes off after building up from a simple fuzzed-out guitar line, creating chaos out of guitar solos while Jennifer Clavin talks about being trapped in her life, surrounded by bad love and bad vibes, it goes right for the gut. The driving bass line punishes, but the scattered, short guitar solos are the catharsis, giving “Sleepwalking” a real sense of freedom and independence.

That theme of independence and self-discovery permeates much of the record. “Trying To Lose Myself Again” goes all in on the slacker-rock tropes, musing on how being wasted all the time is just a cover for angst, an illusion of feeling good, but comes out the other end with a clearer sense of self. “I know what I want / I know what I like” sings Clavin during a moment of revelation. “Wasted On You” laments spending so much time falling for and catering to a shitty person, but manages to steer away from self-pity, which is the key to Welcome The Worms. Despite all the bong rips, broken hearts, and various emotional traumas, Welcome The Worms is resoundingly upbeat. It’s not a loathing of one’s past so much as it’s a middle finger, thrust out the window of the passenger side door while driving into the sunset, directed at those hardships.

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While the emotional depth on display helps to distinguish Welcome The Worms from the plethora of similar albums out there, that doesn’t mean there aren’t larger issues with the record. Where Ride Your Heart was a collection of short, punchy tracks, Welcome The Worms boasts longer cuts, and it’s occasionally wearisome. Opening track “Keep On Keepin’ On” is a blistering introduction, but overstays its welcome at nearly four minutes. The same can be said of “I’m All Over The Place (Mystic Mama),” which, despite its interesting, echoing guitar lines, falls flat after awhile. For the most part, Bleached’s style of rock and roll is best suited to short, vicious tracks that get in, chug a beer, high-five the host, then get out. Welcome The Worms loses some its punch strictly because of its runtime. It’s not long for an album, but it’s long for this kind of album.

Still, Welcome The Worms has a lot to offer in terms of low-key anthems of self-discovery. Whether it’s the darker explorations of “Chemical Air” or the existential worrying of “Sour Candy,” there’s a personal depth to the record that’s at once disarming and relatable. Welcome The Worms isn’t a standout record by any means. Too often the super clean productions dulls some of the edges that made Ride Your Heart such a thrilling listen, and a few of the songs would likely work better in a truncated version. But there’s an admirable, assured sense of self at the heart of this record that reveals itself more and more with each listen. Welcome The Worms has depth; it’s just a shame it’s often dulled.

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