Californians Dum Dum Girls started off as yet another all-female garage group. Their debut album I Will Be was a collection of great ‘60s-inspired, frenetic, noise rock-surf pop songs, but somehow Dee Dee Penny (née Kirsten Gundred) & company didn’t manage to totally distinguish themselves from all the various Vivian Girls (QRO album review) clones. Sophomore album Only In Dreams carries on the direction the band took with the brilliant He Gets Me High EP earlier this year, and beautifully stands out.
Dum Dum Girls sound more like a proper group now, and for the first time all four members (Dee Dee on vocals and guitar, Jules on guitar and backing vocals, Bambi on bass, and Sandy on drums and backing vocals) performed together on record. Gundred’s songwriting is still exquisitely visceral but it has grown more self-confident. The album was written while her mother was passing away after a long battle with cancer and the tragedy heavily influenced the lyrics, giving the record a darker, more emotional feel. But it’s the departure from lo-fi production in favour of a polished, crisp studio sound that mainly marks the difference between DDG’s debut and the new work. I Will Be was recorded at home and then embellished by legendary Richard Gottehrer (The Strangeloves, Blondie, The Raveonettes), whereas Only In Dreams was recorded at Josh Homme’s Pink Duck Studios in LA, and once again produced by Gottehrer, but this time with also Sune Rose Wagner from the Raveonettes (QRO album review). Thanks to the studio sheen, Dee Dee’s stunningly expressive vocals (that now sounds a bit like Sons and Daughters’ Adele Bethel doing a Siouxsie Sioux impression) are more in the foreground, making each song brim with life.
The album opens with the punchy surf guitars and the T Rex-y chanting chorus of the agitated, almost reckless "Always Looking", and carries on with the swooning "Bedroom Eyes", where the powerful Dee Dee’s voice wraps up the listener in its sensual beauty. In "Just a Creep", Gundred works an apparently simple melody over a heavily reverberated sound: that’s a perfect example of how on a base of simple but effective arrangements, in almost each song there are always moments where an unexpected key change or an unpredicted vocal line shifts the melody from straightforward to sinuous.
"In My Head", "Heartbeat" and "Caught One" combine the Ramones with The Shirelles in a skillful but somehow predictable way, bringing us back to DDG’s earlier work. But things turn exquisitely interesting again with the touching, contemplative ballad "Coming Down", which softens the otherwise relentless, punk-y vibe of the album: an initial slow bluesy noise gives way to six and an half minutes of languid horny guitars and mournful, warm vocals over loud, reverberated drums and plodding bass.
With its wriggling guitars and shuffling drums, the highly charged "Wasted Away" resumes the fast rhythm that then continues with the catchy "Teardrops On My Pillow", before the album closes with "Hold Your Hand", another sorrowful ballad where Gundred shows how she can write really moving, beautiful lyrics: "Can you shut your eyes? / Shut out the light / Death is so bright."
All the influences are still there, from the clearly Dee Dee’s favorites Ramones, to the shoegaze of The Jesus & The Mary Chain, The Smiths, the C86 twee pop and among recent bands all the members of the Vivian Girls/Crystal Stilts (QRO live review) clan, but with Only In Dreams, Dum Dum Girls have proven to be able to create their own distinctive sound and are making us hope in a bright future for the band.
MP3 Stream: "Coming Down"