Review Summary: Kristen Gundred goes marching on.
For a band that cites long-time dodderers The Ramones as one of their biggest musical influences, the Dum Dum Girls have been fairly successful at conjuring up images of youthful abandon. In fact, their brand of music is the type that sounds like it was designed to be played at your high school prom: dissonant, cheaply amplified, and with the kind of familiarity by proxy that is only created when a friend of a friend of yours is playing in the band. But to dismiss Dum Dum Girls offhand as another juvenile, half-obscure group who only existed to make the night you graduated from high school poignant would be a big mistake.
For one, the band’s 2010 debut, the enigmatically-titled I Will Be
, was a gritty and stoic record with just the right amount of tempering airiness to make it seem like the entire affair had been concocted out of a pair of pipettes. The He Gets Me High
EP, which soon followed, then caught the four-piece at a time when they were further developing the shimmery excitement of their trademark girl-group melodies, while always staying true to the basic kernels of their sound. With their sophomore record, Only in Dreams
, the band may have chosen to remain as sonically raw and unbridled as ever, but this time everything about them – from the look-at-me leaping of lead singer Dee Dee Penny to the nerve and sinew pounding of drummer Sandy – has the sheen of being smartly deliberate.
Album opener “Always Looking”, for instance, explodes forth with the kind of barreling tempo that seems almost reckless, but the song is comfortably rescued before long by a climax swamped in distortion and Penny’s disaffected vocal performance: “Before I met you, I had a few/Who hung around, and made me blue
,” she explains, before raising her voice and diving headlong into a few frenzied moments in where she recites the song’s title again and again as if to drive the point of her loneliness home ad nauseam
. Second track “Bedroom Eyes” is the kind of anthem to get drunk to, displaying the kind of carefree-yet-lovestruck vibe that works best on the dance floors of your host city’s most diverse and engaging lounge bars. Elsewhere, “Heartbeat (Take It Away)” and “Caught In One” both serve up welcome remissions of the band’s earlier work, but it is the air of utter remorse on the six-and-a-half-minute “Coming Down” that ends up lingering the longest. The track begins with a slow bluesy bluster, before rolling out a main guitar riff that is whitewashed with reverb and then concluding with repeated incarnations of a huge chorus that just yearns and yearns like only the best of ballads can. Again, Penny wears her heart unabashedly on her sleeve to by-the-letter perfection, and it is only through her sense of wistful numbness that we are able to trace the arc of her lyrical narrative.
However, the downside to this well-structured aesthetic of the Dum Dum Girls is that Only in Dreams
sometimes feels like a solo effort of Penny’s. On repeated occasions, the vocalist ends up cruising at the forefront of the record, to the detriment of her three bandmates. As a result, what threads the album together isn’t a sense of collective musicianship or the four-piece’s well-honed melodies, but Dee-Dee Penny’s voice. Although Only in Dreams
is definitely lent a sense of shrewdness and character by the vocalist repeatedly placing herself in the spotlight, the Dum Dum Girls – like any other band – usually function best when its bandmates are allowed to bounce and feed off each other. To that end, it’s almost as if Penny simply doesn’t want to share any more and that she wants to make this record her own, and no one else’s. How juvenile of her.