Bleached, it seems, have come to claim the slice of the West Coast pop pie that’s rightfully theirs. Before anyone realized there was money to be made in couching pretty traditional power-pop structures in Black Flag gear, there was Mika Miko, a Los Angeles group who were one of the more vital acts of the 2000s before they were struck down in their prime by the same types of exhaustion, interpersonal strife, and desire to go to college that break up most bands in their early twenties. During their short lifetime, though, Mika Miko put out a few incredible records that played an enormous part in creating the sunglassed, smiley-but-aware-of-classic-punk aesthetic that the state of California has been reliably churning out since 2009 or so. Bleached is led by sisters and erstwhile Mikos Jennifer and Jessica Clavin. They deal in that type of carefree, self-aware guitar pop that is currently Los Angeles’s bread and butter, and Ride Your Heart is their first full-length.
Let’s get it out of the way: In both form and content, Ride Your Heart isn’t particularly remarkable. It’s hard to come up with ways to describe these songs aside from "pop-rock," (they’re not "reverb-soaked," but "sun-drenched" might work because I’m not sure what it means) and the songwriting rarely rises above (ha ha ha) outside of "Outta My Mind" (which had already seen the light of day on an EP) and "Dead In Your Head," a repetitive, down-tempo tune that’s less strained and more expressive than its cohorts. Much is made of Bleached’s fandom of, say, Pete Shelley, Joey Ramone and Stevie Nicks. There’s a one-note solo on Ride Your Heart opener "Looking For a Fight" that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Buzzcocks song, but for the most part the album seems tailored around lacking the blind confidence and self-possession that makes those artists who they are (and, hell, that Mika Miko had in spades). That lack of artistic fear can’t be acquired via referential osmosis, and by making name-checking such an indelible part of their image (and making their image such an indelible part of their whole deal), Bleached make Ride Your Heart’s blandness even more apparent.
As an album, Ride Your Heart seems less like a collection of songs and more like a collection of expertly selected Tumblr-ready rock ‘n’ roll signifiers. The songwriting takes a strong backseat to the imagery of unimpeachable first- and second-wave punk and hardcore, cover art via movies from the 1960s and ‘70s, and lyrics of love and loss diluted into petulant meaninglessness ("I saw him standing there and I knew I had to make him mine / and the boys these days aren’t really my kind").
I don’t doubt that Ride Your Heart does enough correctly for Bleached to get by; there’s always been a lot of space on the roster for stylish, mid-tempo American pop, and it’s hard to begrudge the Clavins for taking a victory lap around this thing they accidentally helped create. Ride Your Heart feels awfully timid for a victory lap, though, and the Clavins’ Ray-Ban vibes seem awfully calculated for a project that’s meant to read as easygoing. That cognitive dissonance really weighs the album down for me, but I get the sense its target audience is able to sidestep cognitive dissonance in pop music much more easily than I am. If that’s the case, more power to Bleached. But Mika Miko still rules, OK?