“Introspective, Revealing, & Sombre”: Bleach Lab Reckon Through Grief & Trauma on Debut EP ‘A Calm Sense of Surrounding’

Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend
Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend

Mitch's Take

10 Music Quality
10 Production
10 Content Originality
10 Lyricism
10 Memorability
10 Sonic Diversity
10 Arranging
10
South London’s Bleach Lab channel grief and trauma into beautiful music on debut EP ‘A Calm Sense of Surrounding,’ a visceral and breathtaking introduction.
for fans of The 1975, Mazzy Star, Soda Blonde, Daughter, The Smiths
Stream: “Old Ways” – Bleach Lab




It’s a very intimate and raw peek into our innermost quiet selves and that is slightly daunting… It’s about eventually owning your truth and setting things out clearly to be able to process them.

Everyone processes trauma differently. For some, talking helps; for others, it’s physical exertion. For Bleach Lab’s band members, writing music became a special form of therapy. The Buckinghamshire-born, South London-based band channeled their grief and trauma into beautiful music, the result of which is their poignant and visceral debut EP. A stirring soundtrack to inner reckoning and upheaval, A Calm Sense of Surrounding proves a breathtaking introduction to Bleach Lab’s ethereal, alternative dream pop sound.

a calm sense of surrounding - Bleach Lab
A Calm Sense of Surrounding – Bleach Lab
I’m looking back on us
at how we used to be
and i realise
that this was right for me
with all your old ways
and your old words, i realise
that it was two different worlds
before you say it, i think i already know
i never said it, you made it up on your own
you told a lie,
you will regret it
before you say it, i never said it
i never said it, you made it up on your own
– “Old Ways,” Bleach Lab

Independently released March 19, 2021, A Calm Sense of Surrounding proves an immersive and unforgettable first look at South London’s Bleach Lab. Consisting of vocalist Jenna Kyle, drummer Shawn Courtney, bassist Josh Longman, and guitarist Frank Wates, the group formed in late 2018 and have been slowly charting their own course in the world – emerging over the past year as one of the most exciting and intriguing acts currently in the UK. Subtle nuance marries impassioned alternative sounds and pop songwriting across Bleach Lab’s releases, each of which deserves our undivided time and attention. The band’s bittersweet debut single “Heartache of the Season” set the pace in November 2019, introducing them as something of a blend of Daughter and The xx, CHVRCHES, Alvvays, and The 1975. Between songs like “Burnt Orange” and the haunting, intimate reverie “Sleep” (previously described as “a raw, hypnotic, and visceral dream brought to life”), Bleach Lab married intense emotion with fragility – the musical equivalent of a beautiful flower that is here today, and gone tomorrow.

Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend
Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend

“We struggled for a while to define it in a few words,” Bleach Lab’s Jenna Kyle says of the band’s sound, “but based on some of the features we’ve had recently… we’re now going with ‘Sadcore’. Our stuff is heavily guitar lead with a lot of glittery, dreamscape type riffs with mega reverb and ethereal vocals.”

Heralded by the stunning initial singles “Never Be” and “Old Ways,” A Calm Sense of Surrounding is a special concept record of sorts. Described by the band as “melding together two traumatic experiences of grief,” the EP finds Bleach Lab coping with the death of bassist Josh Longman’s father and the breakdown of singer Jenna Kyle’s long-term relationship. The EP’s songs employ the five stages of grief as literal, figurative, and metaphorical vessels through which all of us may attain some sense of hard-won catharsis, and perhaps learn a bit more about ourselves and our values in the process.

“Josh and I were both working on lyrics separately and they seemed to both be surrounding similar concepts,” Kyle says of the EP’s backstory. “Incidentally, we realised that there was a theme forming and decided to allow the stages of grief to form as the concept for the EP. The EP surrounds the stages of processing a break up, moving forward and also touches on the process that Josh went through experiencing the loss of his dad and how he processed that.”

“There is a sense of irony in the title, which is also enhanced by the artwork: An image of a figure wearing a dress and taking a blind fold from the sea and covering her eyes with it. Which reflects owning your surrounding and narrative. A Calm Sense of Surrounding is essentially where at once you’ve processed all the emotions you’ve been through.”

Diving deeper into the artwork itself, Kyle explains that the music’s visual, made by Anna Kehrer, is an extension of the music. “It plays on the somewhat ironic title of the EP, showing a blindfolded figure turned away from the viewer; but through the sequence of the single covers it shows that the figure immerses herself into her surrounding, taking control of her own narrative, rather than focusing on the emptiness around her. We wanted the artwork on the EP to represent the different stages and themes we explore throughout the EP. The first single we released from EP ‘Never Be’, the artwork reflects being submerged in a sea of emotion and feelings. The blindfold in the Old Ways artwork represents the process of trying to wear these emotions, coming to terms with them. The final EP artwork once the figure is wearing the blindfold is when she finally reaches peace and is ready to move forward – ‘A Calm Sense of Surrounding‘.”

Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend
Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend

Turmoil and turbulence may have inspired A Calm Sense of Surrounding, but the record’s music itself is a calming blend of darkness and light.

“I think being a kind of concept EP, A Calm Sense of Surrounding has allowed all of us to process some hard truths about ourselves,” Kyle reflects. “Going through the processes of creating the EP was challenging, we learnt a lot and we feel that we’ve created a great platform for how we mean to progress and move forward with our sound.”

“Based on the general themes of how Josh and I both write lyrics, we knew pretty early on that the EP was always going to be a bit of an emotional ride. When we were writing the songs I think we had an idea of how it would turn out. But these ideas changed drastically during recording. We started to see folk and rock influences surfacing in the songs and we decided to lean into it and incorporate things like acoustic guitars, cellos. It feels like doing so has really enhanced the lyrical themes of the record.”

Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend
Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend

A Calm Sense of Surrounding opens with “Old Ways,” a wash of grungy guitars and nostalgic reflection. It’s a representation of the first stage of grief: Anger – and it shows. Kyle’s intimate vocals glow with a deep pain as she waxes poetic through haunts from the past. The following twenty minutes constitute a space of healing and emotional revival as the band capture denial (“Never Be”), bargaining (“Lighthouse”), depression (“Flood”), and ultimately acceptance (“Scars”).

I wanna be with you by the sea
wanna go in swimming
can’t feel my face anymore
my feet can’t touch the floor
i’m usually not the kinda girl to
wanna tell you something
cause it could be nothing
or it could be everything
I don’t want to, but i forget everything
i will look for you in everyone
i meet but i won’t find you

so i could never be, complete
– “Never Be,” Bleach Lab

“As a band, ‘Scars’ was probably the highlight of the recording/writing process,” Kyle shares. “It explored a new and different style from what we are used to. It also went into the studio as a half finished song and was completed during the process, so it was a lot of fun to hear the final product.”

Longman’s favorite lyric on the EP – the chorus’ line, “time is a healer although it leaves scars” – resonates as a vivid beacon of inner truth, shining bright with the effervescent radiance of a soul on the mend. The brightest tune on the record, “Scars” employs those same effected guitars of “Never Be” and “Flood,” and uses them to weave a brighter and more buoyant tapestry as the grieving process comes to an end. “Led Zeppelin III was a big influence,” Jenna Kyle says with a smile.

You don’t know what it’s like
You haven’t been there before
Matches strike once they don’t feel like the same anymore
I tried so hard
I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe
I tried so hard to be
I don’t wanna hurt anymore
I don’t wanna hurt anymore
Time is a healer although it leaves scars
I can’t hide it anymore
Time is a healer although it leaves scars
I can’t
– “Scars,” Bleach Lab

“Scars” may be the bright light of hope in an otherwise pain-stricken space, but it is far from the EP’s only highlight. Bleach Lab captivate throughout their debut; the lyrics in “Flood” (“you left me hurt, dug deep down in the dirt, I know now what I’m worth“) find emotion spilling out of a tender heart, the raw “Never Be” aches with gut-wrenching pain, and the mesmerizing “Lighthouse” soars with glistening guitar riffs and an utterly hypnotic serenade. Those desiring an emotional and sonic overhaul need look no further than A Calm Sense of Surrounding, whose twenty minute run provides an inspiring sense of catharsis and hard-won revitalization.

Your words flood in
I’m drowning in my skin
You broke me from within
You never felt a thing
You left me hurt dug deep down in the dirt
I know now what I’m worth
– “Flood,” Bleach Lab

“We see A Calm Sense of Surrounding as a relatable story that we hope most people can take something of value away from,” Kyle tells Atwood Magazine. “As a band, the writing helped us to process a lot of our own baggage and was a huge outlet and coping mechanism. It’s a very intimate and raw peek into our innermost quiet selves and that is slightly daunting, but I suppose in keeping with the concept of the EP, it’s about eventually owning your truth and setting things out clearly to be able to process them.”

Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend
Bleach Lab © Isy Townsend

The five stages of grief may have been the blueprint for Bleach Lab’s music, but what they made far surpasses what any psychological model could tell you about how we process trauma and experience emotion.

A Calm Sense of Surrounding is a true reckoning through and through: An emotional journey through the darkness, and out into the light. Listen to the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Bleach Lab’s A Calm Sense of Surrounding EP with Atwood Magazine as the band take us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their debut EP!

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:: stream/purchase Bleach Lab here ::
‘A Calm Sense of Surrounding’ – Bleach Lab



:: Inside A Calm Sense of Surrounding ::

a calm sense of surrounding - Bleach Lab

— —

Old Ways

Stage of Grief: Anger
“The first track on the EP ‘Old Ways’ explores the initial aftermath of a relationship. It came together as a mix between both mine and Josh’s experiences during the aftermath of our previous relationships. The track explores various grievance processes. Arguably the phase where you might be feeling a little self-righteous and want to go out and drink your bodyweight in tequila or as others may call it- anger”.
chorus:
before you say it
i think i already know
i never said it, you made it up on your own you told a lie
you will regret it
before you say it, i never said it
The chorus outlines the conversation being had as you break up with someone. It displays some anger and bitter emotions towards the relationship ending and could be seen as an argument being had.

Never Be

Stage of Grief: Denial
Trying to come to terms with the breakup. Lots of conflicting emotions going on whilst trying to accept that it’s over. It’s about reflecting on the relationship. Denying how you truly felt during the relationship and therefore, wanting them back even though you know it wouldn’t be right.
chorus:
I don’t want to, but i forget everything
i will look for you in everyone
i meet but i won’t find you
so i could never be, complete
The first line of the chorus is about letting that guard down. You allow yourself to forget the way that you have been treated by the person and give into your feelings of wanting them back.

Lighthouse

Stage of Grief: Bargaining
The bargaining stage of grief is often caused by a sense of guilt or responsibility, and you are looking for ways to prevent more emotional pain or future losses.
Lighthouse is about the ‘warning of love’. It is a metaphor for ships coming into shore and preparing you for what is to come. It’s a message to protect both yourself and any future partner from the things that can go wrong if the basic elements of a healthy relationship are ignored. – “you’re the lighthouse on my shore teach me things i once ignored”
chorus:
you wanna be, with me in my dreams you wanna be
it’s not how it seems, with me in my dreams
it’s not how it seems
It also touches on the idea that perhaps they weren’t the only one to blame and perhaps your own inner demons played a part in the breakup, taking on responsibility.

Flood

Stage of Grief: Depression.
Flood is entirely about being completely overwhelmed and overcome by something or someone. When Jenna wrote the lyrics, she envisioned walking ominously down toward the sea and continuing on until the waves were above her head. It personifies the water as a cruel person who has complete control over you and you are at mercy to them.
chorus:
Your words flood in I’m drowning in my skin
You broke me from within
You never felt a thing
Notes: The chorus explains how much pain and hurt has been caused by the other person and how they were not affected in any way. It reflects the image of physically drowning in your own emotions – like waves crashing over you.

Scars

Stage of Grief: Acceptance
The final stage. Scars gives the final message that you are done with allowing yourself to feel the way you have been. You’re done with the pain and you’re ready to move forward. It’s also a more noticeably uplifting song compared to the other tracks, and it could be seen metaphorically as the sun lifting through the clouds after a turbulent storm out at sea. You are no longer able to blame yourself for something that was out of your control.
chorus:
I don’t wanna hurt anymore
I don’t wanna hurt anymore
Time is a healer although it leaves scars
I can’t hide it anymore
Time is a healer although it leaves scars
I can’t

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:: stream/purchase Bleach Lab here ::

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a calm sense of surrounding - Bleach Lab

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📸 © Isy Townsend

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