The time between the breakup of all-girl punk outfit Mika Miko and the subsequent first single from two of its members, sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin, was about two years. And now, another two years later, their debut full-length has arrived.
But there’s a difference between those lulls. The first two-year break can be chalked up to Jennifer’s stint in Cold Cave while the band toured extensively, plus she’d moved to New York after joining, and Jessie still lived in LA. Touring behind three EPs as Bleached before delivering an LP, however, has actual implications in terms of intention. These girls may have purposely lingered around the back burner, waiting around until it got piping hot.
What can postponing until you’ve reached long-awaited status get you? Spreads in glossy magazines, Internet premieres on fashion websites and a heck-of-a-lotta hype, that’s what. In many cases, that kind of anticipation ultimately ends in disappointment. The prize you so were anxiously expecting turns out to be made of thin, cheap plastic. You prick your finger on the sharp juts of careless mass-production and throw it away, pissed and jaded.
On Bleached’s highly anticipated first full-length, Ride Your Heart, there are more than a few spiky folds. It’s obvious the approach the Clavins are taking: A polished edition of the fuzzier sound of their earlier singles, altogether a package the girls could win over Best Coast fans with. They certainly didn’t miss the mark in that respect. Production is crisp, the distortion tamed from tinny to tasteful. Garage-pop minus the garage but billed just the same. Some aspects of the press effort seem like a campaign for teen fandom: Deluxe pre-orders of the record come with Polaroids of the girls they took themselves! Check out the sassy sisters riding a scooter together! And wow, would you look at those super-cool sunglasses? (Deluxe pre-orders also include custom shades, though it’s not clear if custom means once worn by the girls, styles they hand-picked or just a flimsy pair of fake Wayfarers brandishing the band’s name on the arms.)
While they’ve clearly climbed up the ladder of accessibility, there’s some contradictions in the calculated-money-makin’ theory. “Looking for a Fight” is one, and it’s the album opener. The vocals are dirtier here than on any other track. The bass booms along like a train. The warning, “‘Cause you know I’m not right,” is the perfect trimming for the doomy, threatening number, and it’s incredibly catchy.
Things get girly from there, though. That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s all very punchy, the melodies sticky and the lines easy to memorize. “Next Stop” embodies all of that to the extremes. “Outta My Mind” is a ballad directed at, no surprise here, a guy. Can’t stop thinking about him, can’t get him out of your mind – we’ve heard it before. Sure, it’s a tried-and-true motif in decades and decades of pop and rock. But the line between longing and obsession is as thin as a razor, and in this case, for safety’s sake that object should probably be forcibly taken from its pursuer.
And then there’s “Dead in the Head.” The track nods to New Wave, and features an airy chorus interspersed by staccato chords. But there’s something freakish, something a little insane about the song’s proposed question: “When you lie alone at night/ Do you start to dream about all the things, all the things dead in your head?” It’s not a stretch from the feel of its predecessor, and toward the tail-end, when the tambourines kick in and the vocals get grouped and repeated, I am inescapably reminded of Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.” Still, there’s something genuinely weird, almost creepy despite the near-grandiose finale, and it’s because of that blatantly odd line. It subdues the cheese significantly.
That’s when I remembered: It’s rare these days, but good pop does exist. And it has a place. An important place. Maybe that’s what’s happening here. A few pure pop romps done well are good for the soul, right?
Sprinkled between the bubblegum and occasional heartfelt slow burners are a few songs wrapped snugly in worn leather jackets, like the aforementioned, as well as “Ride Your Heart” and “Dead Boy.” Maybe the girls have a couple stars in their eyes and designer duds in their future, but they haven’t lost their grit. They’re just having a little more lighthearted fun than before.
Ride Your Heart