Album Review: Dum Dum Girls – ‘I Will Be’ (Sub Pop)

More than just another garage rock pastiche, these girls have real heart

For those dissenters who accused LA’s Dum Dum Girls of riding on the coat-tails of similarly suffixed gal-pals Vivian Girls, it’s time to eat your words. It may have been a long time coming, but the debut album from this West Coast four-piece proves that despite sharing an obsession with fuzz, the Mary Chain and Shangri-Las melodies with their contemporaries, Dum Dum Girls are very much their own women. With ‘I Will Be’, they unfurl a sound far more intricate and subtle than their Brooklyn rivals. ‘Blank Girl’ (featuring Crocodiles’ Brandon Welch) and ‘Jail La La’ each usurp the Vivian Girls’ dream-pop girl-group harmonies by dint of Dee Dee Penny’s effortlessly cool, sugary croons. Make no mistake: as a self-confessed “choir nerd”, Dee Dee (real name Kristin Gundred) has the vocal chops to see off all competitors.

It was she who initiated the band as a bedroom project before roping in the likes of drummer Frankie Rose (ex of both Crystal Stilts and – yes – Vivian Girls). Both sticking to the garage rock template of outsider gang-dom and upsetting the genre’s canonical history as a tiresomely male-dominated field (the band’s name is a pointed play on a song from international man of mayhem Iggy Pop’s solo debut ‘The Idiot’), this rollicking debut album is a balance-redressing, cliché-bucking tonic.

‘It Only Takes One Night’ possesses both the frenzy and the cool of The Cramps’ signature sound, but in place of that band’s raw weirdness there’s the lulling breeze of Dee Dee’s vocal, evocative of a sedated Eartha Kitt. The record strays far beyond the basics of rockabilly and garage rock: ‘Yours Alone’ may feature [a]Yeah Yeah Yeahs[/a]’ Nick Zinner on reverberating, fuzzy guitar, but the tenderness of Dee Dee’s vocal transcends genre boundaries: “Met him at the school yard, five years old/Told him I would love him ’til I’m cold/We held hands, we took walks/My first kiss was at the docks… All my love is yours alone”. Rather than a mere stylistic nod to the girl group sound, Dum Dum Girls offer a subtle-toned exploration of the politics of the personal of which Ellie Greenwich would be proud, typified by latest single ‘Jail La La’, which is equally lustful and sentimental.

‘Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout’ recalls the dulcet tones of [a]The Breeders[/a] circa ‘Divine Hammer’, while ‘Oh Mein Me’ takes its cue from Kim and Kelley Deal’s very own ‘German Studies’ textbook. Yet the song is not just an exhilarating journey into the foreign languages, but an analysis of the rollercoaster ride of love at first sight.

Admittedly, ‘I Will Be’ at times lacks the raw kinetic energy and fury that surged through early single ‘Catholicked’. The decision to exclude that song from the album is an unfathomable act to say the least. Still, there’s more than enough here to compensate for such minor misgivings: ultimately, ‘I Will Be’ is a convincing retort from an unfairly maligned band. Over to you, Vivian Girls.

Ash Dosanjh

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Click here to get your copy of Dum Dum Girls’ ‘I Will Be’ from the Rough Trade shop