On the cover of Dum Dum Girls’ third album, singer-guitarist Dee Dee Penny stalks the bluelit night looking like a vampire Pat Benatar. That’s the music’s vibe, too: sleek, tough, pouty indie pop streaked with black-eyeliner distortion and glossy melodies. Songs like “Rimbaud Eyes” and “Evil Blooms” more than live up to their fashion-goth titles. But Penny is best opening up her sound on big, searching ballads like “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” where sad Madonna hangs with the Jesus and Mary Chain, or the Chrissie Hynde-worthy weeper “Are You Okay?” where Penny wanders in a “lavender haze” (“I’m reckless at night/I’m sorry for days”), wearing boozy misery like a black-leather security blanket.
With each successive release, Dum Dum Girls’ leader, Dee Dee, drifts further and further away from the tinny, garage-driven roots set down by her 2010 debut, “I Will Be.” Since that album, she has found a strong ally in Richard Gottehrer, a music industry legend who helped co-found Sire records and co-wrote classic hits like “I Want Candy” and “Hang On Sloopy.”
Dee Dee and Wagner play all the instruments on the record, which is surprising considering that in the live set-up Dee Dee fronts a full band. Why the full band doesn’t play on the record is a mystery considering the fact that they put on an excellent live show.
The overall sound of this record furthers Dee Dee’s unlikely progression to clean-sounding alt-pop. This is an airy, almost gothy sounding record. It is low on the kind of fuzz that punctuated earlier releases. Sure, there might be a guitar outburst from time to time, but walls of static are replaced with an echo-drenched, pristine backdrop. This album owes a lot more to bands like Love and Rockets, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure than it does to previous influence, The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Each album or EP Dee Dee has released under the Dum Dum Girls’ moniker over the last four years has been remarkably different from the last, while still sounding like a product from the same band. This is the fifth Sub Pop release the band has issued in four years. As one of the label’s strongest acts, they continue to show great promise.
“Trouble Is My Name” The album’s closer is the successor to “Lord Knows,” the infectious single from their last release, “End Of Daze.” Like that song, it is a bright, simple, catchy classic. Dee Dee is obviously from the school of songwriting that her producer helped create. Straight-forward hooks lead to indelible melodies and as this slowly drifting song embraces you, she repeats the words “Trouble is my name. Is it your name, too?” Her voice is welcoming and clear and yet, you fully believe her assertion. It’s the longest song on the disc at 4:02 and yet as it fades out, there’s a feeling that the track deserves to play for another two and half minutes.
“In The Wake Of You” A key rock track on the record, this opener of the album’s second half sounds somehow cheerily ominous. The cleaned-up production over the years has meant that Dee Dee’s strong and uniquely toned voice has become more of the center focus. Here, the guitars swell and she sings at a conversational volume, but her honey-soaked singing never gets lost in the mix.
“Too True To Be Good” This song helped the album get its title and it is an infectious builder anchored by a persistent “funky-drummer” style beat. This is a slice of danceable dream-pop.
“Lost Boys & Girls Club” This is the album’s actual first single and it sounds ’80s pop rock with some psychedelic touches. Think of a slower, woozier companion to the Bangles’ “In Your Room” and you are getting close to this song’s blueprint.
“Evil Blooms” Melodically speaking, this song sounds a lot like the Strokes’ “Soma” during its verse section. But Dee Dee allows it to blossom into its own electro-surf-rock confection. It becomes an ethereal wash of vocal harmonies at the chorus and possesses a bridge that takes it into a new and surprisingly fresh direction.