The birth of punk “proper” in New York City in the mid-70s and slightly later in London saw women well represented. From Patti Smith to Blondie, from the Slits to X-Ray Spex to the Raincoats, women, especially on vocals, quite literally had a voice. Then hardcore happened. Then '90s skatepunk. Women's voices disappeared almost completely from the world of punk save for a couple acts who were turned into novelties by the male-dominated listener base. With the new century, women's voices started making a resurgence, though it was more in the indie rock realm than punk rock. Dum Dum Girls began as a lo-fi, all-female punk band that loved the retro aesthetics trending in indie rock, and were the perfect combination to make a splash in both the punk and indie worlds.
That said, Only in Dreams is decidedly less-punk than it’s predecessor, 2010’s I Will Be as was hinted at by the He Gets Me High EP from earlier this year. Frankie Rose’s cracking snare drum and insistent tempos were a big part of that debut, and since she has left to pursue her own band, a woman known only as Sandy has stepped in and dialed it back to a more truly retro style. The grit is scaled back a bit too, perhaps due in part to this album being start-to-finish studio-recorded and produced by Richard Gottehrer (girl-group songwriting and production legend) who is back on board, as well as the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagne,r who helped on the EP. The throwback feel is in full effect now, with Dee Dee going all-in on melody and not worrying as much about lo-fi dirt or punk aggression.
Single “Bedroom Eyes” has their go-to go-go beat (in fact, almost every song does) and a simple chorus of sustained harmonies singing ”Oh I need your bedroom eyes” over some jangle. The bridge kills and then they nail it with a guitar lead sportin’ some of the most kickass tremolo I’ve ever heard. Shit. No element of it is “punk” in most orgers’ definition of the word, but you won’t (or shouldn’t) care. This is '60s throwback done right and the video for the song will prove they are pretty damn serious about capturing the essence of the era. They still have some pep in their step, with songs like “Wasted Away” bumping the traditional girl-group pop tempo back up to punk speeds while keeping it catchy as hell, which was kind of the formula for I Will Be. “Just a Creep” starts off thumping then kicks in with handclaps and a springy surf rock guitar line that is fittingly creepy. They also show growth through more refined ballads like “Coming Down.”
And then there’s “Hold Your Hand,” which closes the album in a way no girl group in the '60s would have dared--with the true story of a mother’s passing. In the short time between their full-lengths, Dee Dee’s mom was diagnosed with and then passed away from an undisclosed illness. While I Will Be was all about teenage shenanigans, as a songwriter Dee Dee couldn’t help but pen a song about something so emotionally powerful in her life. ”Yes, you’d do anything to bring her back” she moans repeatedly, just as she must have after watching as her mother passed, unable to do anything but hold her hand. ”I wish it wasn’t true” is a simple yet resounding statement that will connect with anyone who has lost someone. Standout “Heartbeat (Take It Away)” succeeds in touching on the matter in a poppier disguise: ”I don’t know / Where to go / To get away from this sorrow / Take it away / Take it away” she laments over an upbeat surf-rock vibe. Later, she hits us hard with ”I do not pray but tonight I am begging.”
With production perfectly matched to her influences, more varied songwriting, and melodies that maintain Dee Dee’s record as a hook-crafting pop queen, Only in Dreams tops I Will Be handily.