Wireless Bollinger – Originally Published : Oct/2011
Hailing from California, Dum Dum Girls are one of the better known all-female quartets happily lost in the mildly hazy nostalgia for the 60s. Along with contemporaries (Vivian Girls, Frankie Rose and the Outs and Best Coast) Indie-Pop has become a Summer-y institution full of black clad girls with guitars that have fun rockin’ out. In contrast to the Dum Dum’s earlier work though, Only In Dreams is quite challenging for all the wrong reasons. Influences are worn boldly on sleeves, and front-chick Kristen ‘Dee Dee’ Gundred pines with (occasionally excessive) sincerity atop a chugging rhythm section – but the album is driven by roughly 5 drum beats. Sure, there’s clearly discernable difference in the albums relative highlights, but for over 75% of the album, the Dum Dums are content with polished harmonies over the same “Oh Mickey” beat, four chords, repeated choruses, forgettable melodies and trite lyrics.
‘Always Looking’ is a punchy album opener riding on a hand clapping, 60’s surf riff slice of pop-homage that immediately announces the newfound introduction of the recording studio to the Dum Dums. It’s shortly after the opening verse that the first problem arises – wasn’t one of the most endearing qualities of the debut album I Will Be (2008) the organically thick crackle and fuzz of the bedroom? Removal of such an intrinsic quality – particularly to music so evidently imbued by a past era – has to severely change the aspirations for Only In Dreams. Love and loss (particularly of Dee Dee’s mother) are still the central themes, but the lyrics never seem to look past the painfully obvious – coming across as broad and maybe even a little childish.
The closing verse of ‘In My Head’ is as follows -“Come home and kiss me / Tell me you miss me / Tell me it right / Tell me it right / Don’t bother asking how my day was / Everyday drags the same just because / Without you I can’t get out of my bed / I’d rather visit you in my head / In my head / In my head / In my head / In my head.
Similarly sentimental rhymes about beds and ‘you’ litter the whole album, yet fail to make Only In Dreams strikingly personal. Rather, the most exciting moments come in the dreamy (sincerely Mazzy Star indebted) slow jam ‘Coming Down’. A reverb laden guitar, swooning vocals and a stomping beat adorned with minor key melodies provide respite from the dull rhythms, and strike somewhere more poignant. While it’s the longest track at six and a half minutes, it’s also the most gripping – and it’s understandably the Dum Dum’s choice for lead single. To follow up the funeral march though, the up-tempo “woah” filled tune ‘Wasted Away’ – again using the drum beat of choice attempts to pummel the listener into submission. By this point though, the territory being explored is already very clear to the listener, and the songs (if they weren’t already) become nothing more than a well-produced background fuzz to tap toes to.
By limiting their scope and accentuating jangly guitars, the Dum Dum Girls were able to carve out their niche among contemporaries – hell, their earlier work is still well worth checking out. By making the leap to legitimate recording studio, over-emphasising vocals and releasing an album with a striking lack of creativity, there’s little positive to say about the sophomore effort. Aside from occasionally interesting flourishes, what seems to be left of Only In Dreams are aimless guitar solos and an ultimately formulaic, over-produced, bland and repetitive bunch of songs.