Album review: Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams (Sub Pop)

One might be better off not knowing the backstory to this album.

Yet pop-culture secrets aren’t well kept in 2011, so let’s get it out of the way: Only in Dreams is a record about death, much of it written while the lead singer’s mother was falling prey to terminal brain cancer. Now try and forget that.

While lead Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee (real name: Kristen Gundred) isn’t shy about the tragedy that inspired Only in Dreams, it would be unfair to forever brand this LP as one obsessed with sadness and mortality. For it’s first and foremost, a rock ‘n’ roll record, and one on which singer and band try to maintain a too-cool-to-cry toughness throughout. Additionally, the girl-group harmonies, morale-boosting hand-claps, and reverb-laced guitars—which hit the pavement running on album opener “Always Looking” as if they’re maxing out the odometer on a vintage Porsche 550—aren’t built for wallowing.

Even the album’s six-and-a-half-minute centerpiece of a ballad, “Coming Down,” traces a sudden moment of clarity. Should anyone attempt to stand in Dee Dee’s way, “you had better make it strong,” she sings. This is a long way removed from the demo-like feel of the act’s low-fi debut, last year’s “I Will Be,” as every echoing quiver of a guitar string is heard loud and pristine. As for Dee Dee, she’s calm as she scolds, and she’s stern when she seduces, like a film noir femme fatale as filtered via Chrissie Hynde.

The formula here is one that’s well-traversed, and it’s no coincidence that the band works closely with industry vet Richard Gottehrer, perhaps still known best for co-writing “My Boyfriend’s Back.” The Dum Dum Girls, however, do retro without it feeling worn. “Bedroom Eyes” conquers wistfulness with a steadily building momentum, peaking with a glistening, reach-for-the-stars bridge, while “Creep” is a kiss-off disguised as a dance party.

Still, the real pull is the emotional depth these largely three-minute songs reach with simplicity and directness. Take, for instance, “Caught in One,” a jangly number that does country by way of California garage rock. “This year’s been a drag,” Dee Dee sings, eventually revealing that she simply wanted to have fun. Even in the darkest of times, the Dum Dum Girls show how it can be done.  —Todd Martens


Visit artists website here.

Add a comment

We welcome debate within Society of Sound, but please keep it friendly, respectful and relevant. We have a few house rules which we ask you to abide by to keep the debate intelligent. Read more.
Product enquiry or support issue? Please click here.

Related Posts

Album review: Marvin Pontiac – Greatest Hits (Northern Spy)

A sonic gem now available on vinyl The story goes that ‘The legendary Marvin Pontiac’ was born in 1932 to a Malian father and a …

Album review: Milk Carton Kids – All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do (Anti-)

Beautiful harmonies and subversive lyrics In America they put pictures of missing children on milk cartons but Joey Ryan and …

Album review: Leon Vynehall – Nothing Is Still (Ninja Tune)

Sonic storyteller Behind every notable work of art there is a story to tell and in Leon Vynehall’s case it’s the story of his …