I have always heard mixed reviews on the Dum Dum Girls. Reading their self-described style of blending the Beach Boys with bad attitude girl rock seems like the potential to create something really unique but also something incredibly annoying (I really hate the Beach Boys). I have also heard them compared to Best Coast, a band that is, in my opinion, given rave reviews for essentially performing the same monotone song over and over again. Critically, the Dum Dum Girls were given the same type of treatment. No matter whose opinion I was getting, the impression I was getting of the Dum Dum Girls was not good. It was casting a pretty bad forecast for Only in Dreams, their second full length release.
After listening to it, I would first like to say that all comparisons to Best Coast are entirely unfair if for no reason than the fact that the Dum Dum Girls are about ten times as enjoyable as Best Coast. I see the comparisons with the beach guitar and feminist sound, but the Dum Dum Girls created an atmospheric mental state, while Best Coast made me fall asleep and never want to visit California again. A much better comparison, the way I see it, would be to this year’s earlier release from the band Tennis. While Cape Dory was a very trimmed down and light album, it incorporated all of these feelings and sounds of beach, summer, and that sort of thing. However, while Tennis was totally stripped down, the Dum Dum Girls have taken that sound and made it darker, louder and much heavier. It’s that blend of lighter themes and styles brought together with a heavy aesthetic that really drew me to this album.
You look at a song like “Heartbeat,” which has Dee Dee Penny singing out the simple tune like a Go-Gos lullaby and the lead guitar (played by the woman simply known as “Jules”) accompanying her with a rather friendly beat as the basis. Simple enough. However, the song throws a serious curve ball by adding an amped up distorted bass and heavy drum beat on top of it. The end product is both chill and harsh all at once in a fashion seemingly independent from one another. The end result could be a clashing distraction, but it comes together in a truly symphonic way.
They fall back on that very trick in every song (which inevitably can get a little tiresome), but it always sounds so cool to me. In a song like “Caught in One,” you have more of the power chord bass and garage drum kit sound, but also more of Jules showing up with guitar riffs fit for a Dick Dale song! Some songs, such as “Wasted Away” do resort to full-fledged guitar sounding rock (save for Penny’s vocals), while others do allow the softer side to flourish (“Hold Your Hand,” a slow building ballad that kept evoking memories of The Byrds or Mamas and the Papas for me- although I’m not entirely sure why).
The lyrics do tend to leave much to be desired. They’re pretty torn down and minimal, and not really in a clever winking sort of way either. Underneath the innovative sound, Dee Dee isn’t really saying a whole lot on the tracks. At times, she even falls back into the familiar tropes of empowered female vocals. I would have togive the point to the poetic styles of the Tennis songs on that one. On “In My Head,” she thinks of about twenty different ways to say, “I am your baby,” “Kiss me,” “I want to be adored,” “Tell me you miss me,”… you get the idea.
Honestly, though, the sound was enough for me. The lyrics aren’t really distracting, they just don’t seem very artistic or even that intelligent. This is definitely a musical album. If you enjoyed Cape Dory even a little bit or (especially) if you felt like that was too trimmed down and husband-and-wife cutesy, then here is a much grungier alternative. You really owe it to yourself to hear the six and a half minute doo-woppy “Coming Down,” one of my favorite songs of the year. I do assure you, though, doo-wop never sounded this hard.