One might think that an album whose title references songs by alt-rockers Weezer and rock-‘n'- roll troubadour Roy Orbison might play like a confused mish-mash of ironic lyrics, hipster-disposition delivery, and metronomic performances. Thankfully, that is not the case. While doling out healthy portions of psychedelic reverb, warbly guitars, and biting vocal takes on Only In Dreams, The Dum Dum Girls (mostly) transcend their seeming influences to concoct a hypnotizing brew of raucous ravers and the odd gauzy gazer. Most of the songs necessarily deal with the nature of relationships: love, lust, and hurt. And while it might be easy to dismiss her take on said topics as rote reproductions of more adept performers and writers, the snarly, husky conviction (see example "Bedroom Eyes") with which singer Kristin Welchez (stage name, "Dee-Dee") delivers them seals the deal as the genuine article.
In fact, what is so exciting about this album is the quality of the melodies and the obvious attention paid to their writing. The Buddy Holly-esque "Heartbeat (Take It Away)" is a prime example of this. In fact, this singular focus to melody made, in large part, the rock-‘n'- roll of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s so great and still so beloved. At once simple and moving, subtle and propellant, the tune does its best to create an ambience of cool while showing deep down inside that it's only trying to be cool because 'it just can't stand to get hurt one more time.' One can almost picture a wistful Weezer-frontman Rivers Cuomo leaning against a wall in a high-school gym watching Welchez perform the song simultaneously wishing that he'd written the song and could ask its singer out on a date.
But let's be plain: The down-tempo epic "Coming Down" (the album's first real step away from its rave-up persona) is a handful of key signatures away from being a note-for-note cover of Mazzy Star's hit "Fade Into You," down to its languid, whirling waltz. And yet it plays more like a familiar dream you’ve just woken up from instead of an out and out rip-off. Unlike Mazzy’s vocalist Hope Sandoval, Welchez’s diaphragm-strong vocal punch balances deftly against her more hushed moments and adds a bombast that Mazzy never quite attempted. “Wasted Away” follows and, while thematically similar to its predecessor, returns to the album’s original concise, groovy feel. Additionally, fans of Best Coast’s recently released California Nights will find much in common with much of what happens on Only In Dreams and be glad for it.
Admittedly, I'm a little late to the Dum Dum Girls party. And up until recently I was only familiar with their brilliant (and HIGHLY recommended) cover of The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out." After watching season 2 of Orange Is The New Black and hearing a track from this album ("Coming Down") at a particularly emotionally-charged moment, I was reminded of a long-forgotten promise to find out more about this snarly, garage-y band. Only In Dreams gladly fulfills that promise and acts as the perfect soundtrack for long, summer drives and remembering the good old days, no matter how long ago or painful they might have been.
Choice Cuts: "Coming Down", "Heartbeat (Take It Away)”, "Wasted Away"
Listen-alikes: Mazzy Star, The Smiths, Best Coast