Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams (Sub Pop Records)

Well, here we are. Reverberations is fond of the Dum Dum Girls. We’ve covered every release of their short, sweet career except for their initial seven-inch on Hozac. Let’s see, that includes their debut full-length I Will Be, the follow up extended play He Gets Me High, and now the feature length release number two Only in Dreams.
Kristen Gundred (aka Dee Dee) is still Dum Dum Girl number one. But she’ s no longer the whole show that she was on I Will Be. She’s taken her road band, a trio of accompanists who give credence to the band’s plural name, into the studio for Only in Dreams. There were no credits given for He Gets Me High, but the sonic similarities between that EP and the new album suggest that her band mates either joined her on those sessions or have modeled their performance on Gundred’s work from those sessions

Where I Will Be had a gauzy, aural cubist mix, He Gets Me High cut the distortion in half, focusing more on Gundred’s increasingly expressive singing. These new sessions accelerate that shift. Touring has made Gundred (Dee Dee) a more muscular singer. In my review of He Gets Me High I referenced a vocal similarity to Chrissie Hynde, which the new album only accentuates. 

Famed producer Richard Gottehrer – the man who wrote “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and produced Blondie, the Go-Gos and Richard Hell, is back for a third set of sessions with Dee Dee and company. Sune Rose Wagner of the Ravenonettes, who share much of the same sonic vocabulary and thematic obsessions, returns as co-producer from He Gets Me High. This time out they’ve focused on capturing the essentially live character of what’s become an honest to God band, not just a nome de rock for Gundred. Sure, she sings and writes the songs. But all the ladies contribute backing vocals (their contributions give added variety and depth to the harmonies and back ups)  and their playing is critical to the near verite quality of this recording.

Guitarists Gundred and ‘Jules” play sweetly distorted chords and lines that sound like the Searchers or Hollies filtered through the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Primitives. Never really soloing, they spin off framing line and riffs, most of them soaked in Dick Dale surf-tones, sometimes with a touch of Poison Ivy sting. Bassist Bambi and Sandy (okay, they only use first names) on drums play with authority on Only in Dreams. Sandy’s Ringo-isms and Spector-beat thump especially deliver a real rock performance vibe.

Gundred’s songs betray the anxiety and loneliness of life on the road. Love and its lack have always been her central theme, but Only in Dreams is all about romance. The opening cut “Always Looking,” which echoes in subject and language Patti Smith’s “Looking for You,” is about romantic pursuit and destiny. Romantic longing and separation dog “Bedroom Eyes,’ a song with a reverb heavy take on Sixties rock. Romantic rejection as putdown prevails on “Just a Creep,” with its groovy handclaps and surf guitar licks. Romantic depression haunts “In My Head,” a song with the melodic arc and sweep of classic Carole King or Jackie DeShannon. “Wasted Away” evokes the Ramones with its punk version of two-step and some sweet harmonies that could almost be confused for First Aid Kit.

For “Heartbeat (Take it Away)” DDG show that they have some Bobby Fuller Four in their collection - Gundred sings like a gal Joey Ramone with a Sandi Shaw fixation. “Caught in One” and “Teardrops on my Pillow” have an Eighties, post-punk vibe – the former, featuring a green monster lyric and shades of Echo and the Bunnymen, while “Teardrops” is Goth-folk narrative that sounds a little like the Go-Gos gone dark.

All of these songs are compelling distorto-pop gems, clocking in between two and four minutes. The lone exception (at 6:29) “Coming Down” is appealing, but the breakdown to drums and voice at 4:50 is the lone relief from the droning quality of what is frankly not one of Gundred’s best tunes.

The Cliff’s Notes version: Kristin Gundred works her familiar romantic obsessions with increased skill as a songwriter. Her singing has grown by leaps and bounds, comparisons to Chrissie Hynde are flattering, but apt. The musicians she’s taken out on the road as the Dum Dum Girls now contribute to the DDG’s recordings in powerful and supportive fashion. Gundred’s blend of girl group, Sixties rock, punk and shoegaze (less emphasized here) is ever engrossing. The looming question for Gundred is what next? Will contemporary listeners, enthralled by the noise quotient of I Will Be, be receptive to the slightly more mainstream sound of Only in Dreams?

My dime a dozen suggestion? I think Gundred has the talent, and the production team to let each and every song suggest a different production approach. Too many albums in 2011 reflect the same sonic agenda from opening note to closing chord. Maybe she’s got a “Forever Changes” or “Pet Sounds” in her future. Who knows?

Reverberating: 8.4

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