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Album Review
Only In Dreams

Only In Dreams
by Dum Dum Girls

Sub Pop

Review Date
25th October 2011
Reviewed by
Martyn Pepperell

Only In Dreams, the second album from Kristen Gundred's Dum Dum Girls, is a textbook exercise in sonic consistency and stylistic maturation. Centralised around Gundred's massive, expressive vocal chords and a conversational lyric style, these two key factors are supported by conventional, yet polished garage rock (or even surf rock) rhythm sections, multi-part backing harmonies and richly toned guitar lines Link Wray would be proud of. The result is an accessible, orthodox take on the current wall-of-sound indie pop aesthetic, also associated with the Vivian Girls, Best Coast and Frankie Rose and the Outs.

During the first wave of movement made by this loosely connected circle of bands, the crumbling ruins of 1960s pop girl group aesthetics and sounds were re-contextualised through a crunchy, DIY, garage rock lens. In the process they explored a form of revisionism indie music has long been fascinated with, an alternative reality in which pop aesthetics buried in warm noisy fuzz, somehow ride their way to the top of the charts. On their first album I Will Be, Dum Dum Girls presented this synthesis in a snarling, teenage manner, a brat band who were going were going to have their party; and goddamn well cry if they wanted to.

The big question however, as with many of these associated acts was, how would Dum Dum Girls progress from this standpoint? Thankfully, Only In Dreams sees these issues tackled head on. Shadowed by the death of her mother, and the obvious anxiety she felt while both her, and her husband Brandon Welchez (of Crocodiles) were off touring with their separate bands, Only In Dreams explores the internal monologues associated with human interaction. Areas covered include romantic interactions, the connection between family and friends, and the flickering awkward interactions of denizens of both the late night (and the after-party). In line with the shadowing, missing Welchez while on tour, and coming to terms with her mother's death are the central themes at work here. They're intimate topics to explore, yet Gundred someone, while letting the listener in deeply, deftly avoids cringe. Between flickering guitar parts, drum and bass rhythms which can proceed at sedately slow, or dance craze fast, and Gundred's elastic, touching voice, these situations are rendered in vibrant, cinematic form.

Regarding sound exploration, there is nothing particularly experimental going on during Only In Dreams running time, and admittedly, the sense of continuity between song features will be read by some as excessively repetitious. On the other side of the coin though, Gundred and her band members command of specific tone and mood makes for an experience one can really sink into. In terms of stylistic shifts, the biggest game changer on Only In Dreams is 'Coming Down', a slowly smouldering ballad decorated with ethereal "five am in the morning" style atmospherics and a deft contrast between minimal and maximal. At crux, while improving on I Will Be, Only in Dreams feels like a bridge, one leading towards a splendid new era for the Dum Dum Girls.


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