BLEACH LAB explore the depths of emotion with their strikingly rich and evocative debut album.
Words: Neive McCarthy.
One line of poetry can have a thousand meanings. For Bleach Lab, stumbling across the line “lost in a rush of emptiness” in a book of Leonard Cohen’s words, they all found themselves reaching for different interpretations. The phrase took on a myriad of different entities for the band, transcending its original context for each member until it became the title of their debut album.
“We’ve always wanted our lyrics and names of things to be personal to each person,” Jenna Kyle, the band’s vocalist, explains. “You can take whatever you want from it. For me, ‘Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness’ is that horrible gut feeling you get when you hear some awful news. That feeling of spinning out of control. I don’t know if it’s a universal feeling, but you feel your stomach sinking.”
Bassist Josh Longman adds: “I always thought of it like loneliness in a crowded room, which I think is another way of interpreting the same thing.” The remaining band members, drummer Kieran Weston and guitarist Frank Wates likely have wildly different thoughts on the topic – it’s a shifting, evocative image that, whatever the distinct emotion it conjures up, seems to eventually manifest with an ache in your chest.
From start to finish, ‘Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness’ is an odyssey – into the darkest hours and the glimmering of light. It’s always challenging, always transforming and always revelling in a constant shift of moods. As soon as the crackle at the beginning of ‘All Night’ sounds out, there’s a sense of stepping into Bleach Lab’s palette of blues and dark greens – the mystical, haze-filled world they have created on this album is yours to explore.
“We said that we want this album to be red wine and dark chocolate,” Josh explains. “That’s the vibe we want when people put it on; that’s what should be on the table.”
“We want this album to be red wine and dark chocolate”Josh Longman
A body of work that is both sweet and bitter, it’s a late-night venture into the experiences of this band; it’s almost always impossible to predict. Having established their sound across three incredibly impressive EPs, going into the studio, the band were well aware of what they wanted to make. They were surer of themselves than ever, and it’s that quiet confidence that lingers in the silent moments.
“A piece of all three of those EPs can be found within this record,” says Josh. “We found things we liked and didn’t like in each of the EPs we did, each of the styles and the experimentation we did along the way. I think after those EPs, we felt ready to do an album – we’ve tried other routes and ways and figured out what works best for us and what we think our sound should be.”
Though constantly in flux, there are elements that stick through each track – the capacity for a near-smothering atmosphere, delicate vocals and guitars that effortlessly match the weight of those emotions are all mainstay features. It’s those sliced-open feelings that often take centre stage.
“From the get-go of thinking about the album, we all really wanted that element of rawness that we had in our first EP,” continues Jenna. “Although we were quite new to the whole thing, it felt authentically us. We wanted to bring elements of that back in.”
Seeking a fervent, undisguised display of this journey meant an added vulnerability in terms of lyricism as well as a need to be okay with imperfection across the record. It’s an accurate portrayal of the band – no smoke and mirrors, just Bleach Lab.
“The tiny mistakes we leave in…” Josh reflects. “Imperfections make things perfect sometimes. We got to be more free-flowing and creative when we’re all together because it’s just off the cuff, seeing what works and trying this and doing that.”
Whilst the EPs were all recorded separately, with vocals laid on top and different parts recorded at different times, the making of the album marked the first time the band were all in one space to create the album. That proximity allowed the songs to come together much more rapidly and naturally, and there was more fun to be had for the band as a result of that. All in one room, they were able to fine-tune the album until it was, inextricably, completely them.
“Our main goal was the way that they sound and complement each other musically rather than lyrically,” Jenna explains. Josh continues: “With the album, it was very crucial that it felt like a piece of work for vinyl. The whole track-listing was about how it would sound on vinyl – how does Side B connect and lead on from Side A? How does it finish, how does it start?”
From the warped guitars and the way they entangle with Jenna’s ethereal vocals, ‘All Night’ sets the precedent for the album – born from Jenna’s love of true crime and a new approach writing-wise, it’s dark with ambition and undiluted emotion in a way that the album never quite shakes.
“Josh and I are equally as involved with lyric writing as each other,” Jenna says. “But we always saw we use our lyric writing as a cathartic process to explore and find out more about ourselves in a creative way. A lot of the things I write about are very personal and are things that I or someone close to me has been through directly. ‘All Night’ was one of the more interesting ones to write because I took from another perspective that wasn’t my own, and it was more of a creative writing exercise than a self-discovery.”
For Josh, it can be slightly different. “Sometimes, it’s very personal experiences. But I read a lot of literature. A lot of that seeps into my lyrics as well. The interpretations of those, I’ll apply it to my own situation. Jenna has true crime; I’ll have something weird like ‘Dune’ or something. I read all sorts of rubbish – slowly, words or phrases will ring out to me, and I’ll write them down.”
The album allows the freedom for the two to explore different styles of writing – there’s ‘Saving Your Kindness’, which Jenna assures is her “full-on, unapologetic Phoebe Bridgers moment”, whilst ‘Life Gets Better’ is one gigantic eye roll. Some, however, were more difficult than others. ‘Smile For Me’ is a highlight of the album, but its takedown of the impact harassment has daily on women proved a demanding experience, understandably.
“[‘Smile For Me’] was quite easily emotionally one of the most challenging songs to write on the album, lyrically,” Jenna recalls. “I wanted it to be an empowering experience to write, and I was envisioning playing it live. It is with the intention of taking some element of control. We’ve never been a political band; we’ve never chosen to get into those sorts of things. This is my attempt at calling out that sort of behaviour. I think it’s just that anger that I carry around and that so many women carry around, of just being constantly afraid to walk around on your own or constantly afraid to be alone at night – just walking to the shops, you can be harassed for no reason.”
“It’s things that I would be too afraid to say at the moment because of fear of repercussions and reaction. It was a challenging thing to write, especially the bridge. We played ‘Smile For Me’ live for the first time at Latitude, and it was quite hard to get through for me. It’s such a personal thing, but I know it rings true for a lot of other people. I was choking up a little bit – it’s emotional, but in a way that I have a need to say it.”
‘Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness’ continued to allow the band the space to explore those unsaid things and find some relief in voicing them, no matter how hard it was at times. In the end, there was some kind of exorcism-like freedom to be found.
“I think that’s the whole catharsis behind it,” Jenna muses. “Being able to have a platform and having somewhere to put all of these personal, challenging, difficult emotions and feelings and thoughts and experiences – being able to put that into something that sounds really pretty and nice to listen to can take away a lot of the difficulty of processing it. I feel quite lucky to be able to have that platform to be able to talk about things like that.”
“We all really wanted that element of rawness that we had in our first EP”Jenna Kyle
It’s something the band have mastered at this point. The sonic world they inhabit is often breezy, swirling and light – at times inviting guitar riffs that practically glisten, others leaning for percussion that seems to strive for a kind of release. It’s not a linear listen – the emotions ebb and flow in real-time, and there’s an underlying tension that is almost unbearably tightly coiled. It’s a delicate balance that they have commandeered beautifully throughout. ‘Leave The Light On’ is breathless and hopeful, a final plea that gets wrapped up in the complexity of those feelings but soundtracked by a glimmering guitar line.
A particularly special moment on the album comes in the form of ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ – a hesitant tale of a relationship’s beginning that practically buzzes with that frenetic energy of nerves and panic. It’s sonically a perfect indie-pop moment – alive with that current and sonically bouncing alongside its nerve-ridden lyrics, it’s electric.
“One of my favourite lyrics of the album is in this song,” Jenna notes. “There’s this place in the ocean where two bodies of water meet but don’t cross into each other. One is very dark blue, and the other is very light blue. I write very visually, envisioning things in my mind. That was a vivid visualisation in my mind – two bodies of water that meet but don’t mix. It’s the idea of colliding with someone else and not seeing eye to eye. You’re both strong forces, but you don’t quite work together. That’s one of my favourite lyrics on the album – ‘when oceans collide / there’s a different blue on each side’. Two strong forces that meet but don’t understand each other and can’t blend. It was tapping into thoughts that I’d had in my brain for five, six, seven years prior. I’ve been saving things up.”
That image of the two blue seas is a striking one and incredibly resonant for the album. Those different blues spill across it, each blue hue swirling in tendrils – ‘Smile For Me’ the darkest twilight, ‘Life Gets Better’ seemingly sky blue at first but melting into darker tones. ‘Everything At Once’ and ‘Never Coming Back’ are more clouded. Throughout ‘Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness’, these different shades curl against each other but never lose their own saturation. Instead, they create one layered portrait with every aspect of Bleach Lab on display. It’s a treacherous act at times, but by the time the final notes of the album roll around, Bleach Lab have crafted a miraculous work of art – a debut to be proud of, for sure. ■
Taken from the October 2023 edition of Dork. Beach Lab’s album ‘Lost In A Rush Of Emptiness’ is out 22nd September.
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