There are two things that I personally never thought I’d see mentioned in the same sentence, let alone in one band: pop punk and Danny Stillman. The ex-vocalist of post-hardcore band Drop Dead, Gorgeous has come back after a stint of programming duties with The Bunny the Bear with a brand new musical outfit under the name Bleach Blonde – which also features his old drummer, Danny Cooper. We were able to get a taste of what this band had in store for us with their three-song EP that they released a few months back, and now they have returned with a full-length on Rise Records (the same label to have Drop Dead, Gorgeous’ breakout record, In Vogue. How’s that for coming full circle?), titled Starving Artist.
The first track, single “Miss Messenger,” has a feel remarkably similar to that of Drop Dead Gorgeous’ track “Two Birds One Stone,” but without a screaming bridge. It is more than apparent just how much Stillman has grown as a vocalist, and the instruments around him are very complimentary to his voice. The guitars do a great job of not being technical, yet they are able to stay interesting enough to not get lost behind the vocal work and the drums. “Miss Messenger” is definitely the heaviest track on this record, and it definitely works as a hook for listening more into this record.
The next notable track, “Pillow Talk”, does a decent job of creating a dialogue type of banter in the chorus between Stillman and guitarist/vocalist David Barilla and has an awkward yet comforting soft bridge that works well as a break in the flow of the record. Following this track is “Working Title,” which gave me a very awkward feeling. It has a great ballad vibe to it, but Stillman’s voice doesn’t emote as well as it could have for the track. He feels almost soulless compared to Barilla, who takes the softer road in comparison. Stillman makes up for it with the chorus and follows it in the bridge with a charged, pleading vocal display that we’ve come to know and love from him in his earlier post-hardcore days. His blend of vocals from the past and the newer, more melodic sound he brings to the table truly gives this song a great feel, even though the beginning is underwhelming.
Another notable track was “The Headlines,” which had an intro I could put on repeat on its own, having a Relient K-meets-The Wonder Years vibe to it. Though I was left a bit bored by the chorus, the song as a whole kept me interested enough. I also liked how the bass shined in the mix during the track. After the next track, a soft guitar and vocal piece titled “Pen and Paper,” a few more tracks passed by before the final song, “Crystal Clear”, had me floored. As an acoustic piece, it’s particularly surprising just how much impact this track had compared to the rest of the album. Stillman’s vocals feel more heartfelt on this track and the lyrics feel more natural in this atmosphere. It then breaks into a full band outro, where Stillman and Barilla go back and forth, singing in a similar feel to that of Taking Back Sunday’s earlier work.
Bleach Blonde is definitely going to be making waves with this record, a pop-punk/rock release that surprised me in many good ways, and also a few disappointing ones. Though I definitely can appreciate some of the directions taken, some tracks fall flat for me, and I’m left asking for something more once Starving Artist ends. The maturity of this release – along with the few gems of tracks you’ll hear in “Miss Messenger,” “Working Title” and “Crystal Clear” – makes me definitely recommend giving this band a try. It might not make everybody’s top 10 of the year list, but Starving Artist will turn quite a few heads.