The Dum Dum Girls have just released their sophomore LP, it's clear from a single listen that they as a group have developed musically, giving the world a much crisper, more polished, and no doubt more mature compilation of Dum Dum songs. Their musical maturity may come, sadly, from the personal hardships the girls, and especially lead singer and songwriter Dee Dee, has faced in the past year. Her mother passed away from what came known to be a fatal illness, and this sorrow permeates some of the songs on the album.
Yet, despite such personal tragedy, the entire album packs an emotional punch without being trite or saccharine. They retain that punchy girl-gang eyeliner punk sound from their 2010 debut album I Will Be, yet it's clearer, more streamlined, more accessible in general, and not just because of its higher production value. While I Will Be was true-to-its-style recorded in one of the girl's homes and doctored up later, this album saw the recording mastery of Josh Homme's Pink Duck studios. The higher recording value treats the Dum Dum Girls very well, but it's not too crisp - that crackly basement grunge sound still lurks in the corners of their songs, and the drums/guitar rhythm section has a wonderfully fuzzy haze that resonates with every bang of the drumsticks and plucking of guitar strings.
Dee Dee's singing style is markedly different from I Will Be, much more similar to their most recent EP, He Gets Me High (2011). Departing from the high school themes of rebellion present in the first album, she transforms her voice from a higher-pitched, pony-tailed style to a rich, womanly croon that cannot hide the growing up she's done. These songs are excellently written, and are informed by what seems like a tangible sense of powerfully true feeling.
Only in Dreams opens with the heart-thumping pair of head-knocking bass and pounding drums, nicely offset and slightly lightened by the deep, vixen-like vocals of Dee Dee. There's a nice surf rock guitar riff in this song, plus enough fuzz to satisfy those garage cravings and just enough tambourine to get those earrings jangling.
The following track, "Bedroom Eyes," features an uplifting guitar that evokes the scene of a Dum Dum Girl looking longingly out her window just as a little bluebird alights into the wind. With possibly the catchiest chorus of them all, this little gem is heartfelt and aching, but with enough dance in its steps to be like a lovelorn, punk-driven waltz. The lyrics are poignant and well-written, describing the pain of distance and prolonged separation between two lovers, alluding to Dee Dee's separate touring schedules from her husband. Also, interestingly, it was written during a night of intense insomnia - and, post-sleeping pills, a bout of hallucination.
"Just A Creep" has a prominent surf-y guitar line played by the also-matured Jules, a bit of background clapping, and a theme that most girls can nod their head to. Though it may be referring to the death just around the corner for her mother, "Just A Creep" describes "just a little creep" who "come[s] creepin'/Actin' like a fiend," sung in an almost equally as creepy, slippery manner, and the girls in the crowd can relate, probably even warding off creeps as we speak. Yeah, Dum Dums! Girl power, get those creeps away. The line: "Poor thing, it must be hard to be yourself each day" makes this the most offensively fun song on the album.
The series of songs revolving around the death of Dee Dee's mother still retain the upbeat, "riot grrl" attitude of the instruments, though the lyrics are poignant tearjerkers. "Heartbeat" features a nice group harmony behind the lyrics "I don't want to say goodbye." "Caught in One" sets up the scenario with the opening lines, "Death is on the telephone/I lie and say she isn't home." The writing is smart and from the heart.
"Coming Down" may be the epic ballad of the set, and "Teardrops on My Pillow" takes a nice little turn into an excellently theatrical, 80s-esque breakdown. Finally, the record ends with the most achingly sorrowful song called "Hold Your Hand," with a slow dance on the drums and soft, emotive vocals that erupt into "And you would do anything to bring her back." Dee Dee sings, as if with tears in her eyes, "Death is so bright...There's nothing I can do/Except hold your hand...until the very end:" an overall powerful closer to an artistically true, musically sound, lyrically poignant sophomore album. Only in Dreams, a fitting title for this album, is surely a mature development for the Dum Dum Girls. Judging by the difference between the first album and the second, these Girls change and hone their style according to their personal and musical growth, unafraid to enter new territory with each new batch of songs. Hopefully, this projection will continue and the album just reviewed will end up the second in a long line of musical endeavors.
Favorite Tracks: "Bedroom Eyes" "Just A Creep" "Caught in One"
Reviewer Bio - Nancy Woo, managing editor at OnlineRock, studied Sociology, Literature and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. A self-described "bohemian of sorts" she spends most of her time listening to music, reading, writing, freelancing in the world of journalism, tutoring writing, running, practicing yoga, attending live music and theater shows.