If Dum Dum Girls were early '80s indie rock band Throwing Muses, their latest release Too True would be the soul-baring Kristin Hersh dark side rather than the hyper-honest Tanya Donelly poppy side. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Throwing Muses was highly regarded long before “alternative-rock”―which ultimately killed them off, along with every other decent band of the day, but that’s another story altogether.
Compare “Rimbaud Eyes” from Dum Dum Girls’ latest release Too True to “Bedroom Eyes” from 2011’s Only In Dreams. The latter is a lament, but at the same time, it's bright and ultra-catchy: “The hours to the sunrise creep/ But I don't care/ There is no hope for any sleep/ If you're not here.” “Rimbaud,” however, goes for deep and shadowy dreams: “Truly, I have wept too much/ And the dawns are heartbreakers/ Every moon is atrocious/ Every sun bitter/ Sharp love/ Has swollen me up.” That’s a long way from the earlier innocent heartbreak, sort of like what happens when you grow up. In Kristin Welchez’ case (aka frontwoman Dee Dee Penny) I’m not sure if it’s maturing―as all good artists must―or poking fun at Rimbaud-quoting hipsters; it’s up for grabs whether any charting musician since Patti Smith has really “gotten” Arthur Rimbaud. Either way, Dum Dum Girls’ mega-hooks are now buried a little deeper, and they're not quite as barbed as before.
If Dum Dum Girls were early '80s indie rock band Throwing Muses, their latest release Too True would be the soul-baring Kristin Hersh dark side rather than the hyper-honest Tanya Donelly poppy side.
Despite heaps of praise for the early stuff, Welchez caught a rash of shit for being lightweight, “girly” lo-fi―Just what’s wrong with that?―so it’s a safe bet we’re getting a little “serious artist” pushback. Nothing wrong with that either, although I prefer the ear-pleasing sound with all those chiming Danelectro guitars, but maybe that’s ’cause I haven’t grown up yet.
It’s notable that both releases were co-produced by a team so unlikely that it’s somehow likely after all. First there’s the multi-cred '60s Brill Building songwriter/Sire Records cofounder Richard Gottehrer (who has also produced Blondie, The Go-Go’s and Richard Hell) bringing all kinds of good, girl-group pop precedents. The other half of the production team is Sune Rose Wagner, who's also half of The Raveonettes, a band that wears its pop influences on its sleeves ... and any portion of their figurative attire you’d care to mention. Conversely The Raveonettes started in a dark-pop place (2003’s Chain Gang of Love) but have only gotten rewardingly poppier as time’s gone on. Perhaps by coincidence in 2011, Welchez (as Les Demoniaques) recorded a cover of “Teenage Lust,” a dark ode by The Jesus and Mary Chain, the band to whom The Raveonettes have been most frequently compared. Bringing this back to where I started, in 2010 “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” (from 2010’s I Will Be) featured vocals and hooks that sound like a consummate Hersh/Donelly collaboration from their Throwing Muses heyday.
Some listeners immediately focus on the meaning of a song, its lyrical and poetic power. Me, I need some convincing if it doesn’t get to my hips straightaway. I had to take a little time with Too True, but it paid off―even if it’s not polished to a blinding pop sheen like Only In Dreams.
In many ways, Too True has a much broader palette. “Trouble Is My Name” at first has an Enya quality (the horror!), but the lyrics quickly distinguish it―“Trouble is my name/ Is it your name too?”―all too indicative of many people you and I both know, people who are looking for some kind, any kind of love. The term “shoegaze” gets thrown around way too much these days. For the real thing, think Brit single-word '80s bands like Slowdive, Moose, Ride and Lush. There are faint echoes of those groups in “Under These Hands” and a bit of Lush’s last stand (1996’s Lovelife) in “Cult of Love.” Want a little epic Siouxsie Sioux? Try “Lost Boys And Girls Club” or maybe “Little Minx” for the Banshees at their most danceable. “In the Wake of You” and “Evil Blooms” are the standouts as far as that big pop sound and echo Hersh as well as Katrina (and The Waves) Leskanich. In general the crunchy edge of earlier Dum Dum Girls is buried in favor of a more glum sound. Some ill-informed critics have called it goth, but they’re just confusing the Girls’ little-black-dress look for their newly subdued sound.
Um, must we talk about looks? Yeah, I think so. Pick a video and turn off the sound, and you’d swear the Girls were Don Kirshner pre-fab models while the “real” musicians play somewhere behind a curtain. In particular the “Bedroom Eyes” video is eerily reminiscent of that creepy 1986 Robert Palmer one for “Addicted To Love,” where sultry mannequin-like models are the “band.” Coincidence or comment? It’s hard to say but I bring this up in the hope that Dum Dum Girls garner more attention for their music than their looks. Maybe that’s okay for awful crap-pop like J-Lo, but not for these talented women. As the chorus to “Little Minx” goes, "What a vivid sound/ What a vivid sound."
I for one would love to hear about both Rimbaud and bedroom eyes and am betting that, live at Sister, Dum Dum Girls will serve up a nice mix of both their bright and dusky sides. Or at least I hope so since supporting act Blouse has been deep into downbeat Brit dreampop since their brooding Galaxie 500-like beginnings. We’ll need something a bit more upbeat after Blouse’s excellent melancholy.
You’ve heard of art rock bands? Bands whose members are ruminating-artist types? Well, local openers Red Light Cameras are a theater rock band that knows how to draw and keep a crowd, all thankfully minus Andrew Lloyd Webber-isms. Their solid and upbeat performances have gotten a lot of applause around here; this, despite the fact they could totally get away with merch and t-shirts emblazoned with the motto “Your girlfriend’s favorite band.”