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Again, for the First Time

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Aug
Again, for the First Time
Sounds like … melodic garage rock sprinkled with a lot of punk and a little bit of emo – kind of like Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, and The Strokes.At a Glance … Bleach may not have reinvented the wheel with this power-pop recording, but they've reinvented themselves and have never sounded better.

With no offense intended towards the band and their fans, I have to admit I've never been an enthusiast of Bleach's music. Despite their following and their hit "Super Good Feeling," I haven't been able to get past their sound, which seemed more like a lesser-quality independent release. In hindsight, I realize some of that garage-rock sound was probably intentional, and it's interesting to note that founding members Dave Baysinger (vocals) and Sam Barnhart (guitars) more or less admit as much. Bleach was overhauled when the other members amicably departed the band shortly after the release of the 1999 self-titled project. For the tour, Dave and Sam recruited brothers Jared and Milam Byers. Jared is an acclaimed drummer who started with Relient K, and Milam used to play lead guitar with alternative rock artist, Miss Angie. After adding bass player Jerry Morrison to the mix, the band clicked together in a new way, recording new tracks independently after parting ways with Forefront Records. Bleach's fresh and inspired new sound attracted the attention of Tooth & Nail Records, which enlisted producer Oran Thornton (Johnny Q. Public, Flick) to help finish Bleach's fourth album, resulting with Again, for the First Time, their first project in three years.

Bleach has come a long way since 1996's "Epidermis Girl," and their timing couldn't be better. What goes around comes around, and post-punk pop/rock is big right now, evidenced by the popularity of bands such as Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, The Strokes, and White Stripes. According to Dave, this sound is "probably a better reflection of what we've always wanted to be. It's weird, because it's kinda what the vision of the band has always been, and it's finally come to fruition." Whatever it is – improved songwriting, a more cohesive band, the right producer – Bleach seems to have hit their stride with Again, for the First Time. The melodic garage rock is fun without sounding frivolous (like other post-punk acts), raw without sounding amateur, and rocking without bombarding the listener.

The change is immediately apparent with the pure punk of the opening track, "Baseline" – and the songs get even better as the album progresses. One of the highlights is the youth anthem "We Are Tomorrow," which Sam began writing in 1999 for the previous album, but it never gelled with the band at that time. Interestingly enough, it became the first song for the new album. Another fun one is "Celebrate," which has an infectious chorus that speaks of the joy of new life in Christ. This song is but one example of how important a talented drummer like Jared is to a strong rock sound. You can imagine the concert audiences chanting along on "Celebrate," as well as on "Almost Too Late."

Bleach seems to have grown a little more ambiguous with their lyrical content, asking a lot of questions and offering only a few answers. That's intended more as an observation than a critique – songs aren't likely to solve all of a teenager's problems. It also par for the course with bands on Tooth & Nail's roster, but there's still enough spiritual substance here to understand where Bleach is coming from. "Fell Out" reflects the mindset of one desperately searching for God's forgiveness, and "Weak at the Knees" is a search for hope and something to cling to, concluding with Dave's vocals, "It's alright … you found me." Both "Broke in the Head" and "Said a Lot" express the frustration of someone trying to share the love of Christ with a skeptical, non-believing friend. One of the more powerful songs on the album, "Knocked Out," has a lot to say about surrendering your life to Christ: "And all that I've done, I hope that it counts / I'd rather be knocked down than to be knocked out." Hopefully Bleach will plant enough seeds to get teens to the same place articulated in the joyful "Found You Out": "I'd wait a million years to feel the way that I feel right now / I can't say that it's figured out, but everything will work out somehow / 'Cause I think I found You out."

This is easily Bleach's best CD yet, but just make sure you know what you're in for if you consider picking up a copy. With 12 songs that don't quite add up to 35 minutes of music, it's clearly a pseudo-punk album. Short songs are all too common in this genre, and "Andy's Doin' Time" is comparatively an epic track at three-and-a-half minutes. Is it worth your money? Personally, I have a hard time paying $15 for so little music, but unlike most punk rock albums, this one doesn't sound like it was recorded on a shoestring budget in a teenager's basement. Again, for the First Time is a flat-out fun garage rock album, and though Bleach doesn't reinvent the wheel musically, they manage to reinvent themselves and have never sounded better