Review Summary: True romance.
And then there was one. Days after fellow fuzz-pop compatriots Vivian Girls announced their dissolution, an unlikely torchbearer of the late ‘00s lo-fi scene keeps marching on. Too True
is implausible for a number of reasons – after 2011’s Only in Dreams
, a tortuous ride alongside Dee Dee Penny’s (aka Kristin Welchez) grief and turbulence over losing her mother coupled with an aesthetic that was quickly becoming warmed over, it was hard to see where Dum Dum Girls would go from there. The blogosphere that had long moved on to Sleigh Bells and Best Coast (and spit them out) registered Vivian Girls’ departure with a quick nod and a hurried escorting to the back. If Too True
intends to get that scene talking again, it’s hard to call it a success. Instead, it’s a solid circling of the wagons, a focus not on fluid emotions and a garage aesthetic but on Dee Dee’s still sharp songwriting chops and an atmosphere pinched from post-punk ‘80s groups like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo & the Bunnymen. The goal posts aren’t moved forward, but Dee Dee’s songwriting is allowed to breathe under shimmering synths and a hazy reverb that coats everything here with a soft, delicate sheen that even Dee Dee’s frequently acrid guitars can’t break through. Even more surprising is how Dee Dee harnesses that sound and takes Too True
from a pretty pastiche to a successful transition.
It’s not so much that Dum Dum Girls had to reinvent the wheel – by fine-tuning Dee Dee’s ‘60s-inflected pop melodicism with a production job that is easily the lushest to ever grace a Dum Dum Girls record, Too True
should satisfy longtime fans while hitting that generational sweet spot of repackaging old sounds into something new. Dee Dee has never been the strongest vocalist; while her image and Too True
’s gothic romanticism calls to mind Siouxsie Sioux, Dee Dee is more subdued, a crystalline presence wafting between melancholy notes and incandescent choruses. It’s no surprise that Sune Rose Wagner of the Raveonettes is her primary helping hand here – Too True’s
nearest reference point is the Raveonettes’ eyeliner-splashed 2011 record Raven in the Grave
, both in its noir-ish appeal and Dee Dee’s similarities to Sharin Foo.
Yet where Raven in the Grave
failed to break through the murk and its own pretensions, Too True
navigates through Wagner’s luxurious textures via a bright pop beacon that is impossible to ignore. 2012’s superb End of Daze
EP was an appetizer for Dum Dum Girls’ eventual shape, and husband Brandon Welchez’s increasingly poppy work with Crocodiles is another obvious signpost, but where Too True
shines is when it bypasses existential angst and goes straight for the nerves. It helps that these nerves are seemingly more receptive, her marriage with Welchez having settled into an accepted part of Dee Dee and Dum Dum Girls as a whole. When she sings “I belong to the cult of love,” you can tell this isn’t another affectation, not a celluloid creation but something genuine and heartfelt. The rest of Too True
follows accordingly. Her dreamy, ghostly voice has never sounded better than when she is skittering on top of a bouncy single like “Rimbaud Eyes,” or twisting melancholia into a celebration on “Too True To Be Good.” There’s undeniable sadness here – it’s an inescapable part of the band’s sound and lays over everything like a barely disturbed layer of dust – but Dee Dee has a dark, sexy voice that continues to be open to interpretation. The record’s pacing helps with this, alternating John Hughes-via-Tim Burton ballads (“Lost Boys and Girls Club,” “Under These Hands”) with infectious mid-tempo numbers as stylized as they are electric (“Little Minx,” Cult of Love”). The end result is a dynamic record that gets in its punches and cleans up quickly – at 31 minutes, it’s a pleasant little burst of black energy.
The length here is important. A longer record undoubtedly would have dragged the proceedings down into a reverb soup, a problem Wagner deftly avoids via sequencing and subtle production tricks. It’s difficult to tell if Dum Dum Girls can continue along this path, as Too True
is both a welcome change of scenery for Dee Dee and still close enough to her roots to imagine a follow-up record with a new package but nothing substantial within. That would be a shame. Although Too True
is not Dum Dum Girls’ finest hour – that would still be the cathartic Only in Dreams
– it remains a commendable shift from an artist on the verge of being swallowed up by memory.