It’s just gravy that the founder of Dum Dum Girls goes by Dee Dee (real name: Kristin Gundred), because they sound like the Ramones if Johnny had caved and laid back on the guitar to let Joey have his bubblegum way. The vocals shine through with true girl-group harmonies, simple structures and hooks up the wazoo, all the while pumping up the BPM.
Dee Dee started out releasing songs on her own as a bedroom project. Her love of '60s pop added to punk in a slightly different way than say, Jesus and Mary Chain or, more recently, the Raveonettes. The focus here is on the sweet but dirtied-up vocals and the drums playing revved-up '60s beats, rather than in-the-red guitars. The guitars simply provide a background haze and some dirty surf licks to support the melody; they never attempt to overtake it. The sound stays close to the original inspirations, with a song like “Blank Girl” sounding like it could have been a forgotten gem of the era. That one in particular has a nice duet featuring the only male vocals on the record, by Brandon Welchez of the Crocodiles.
The punk element comes in purely in the tempos and drums, which are hit hard and played crisply with reverb pulling them into the current production trends more. Frankie Rose, the original Vivian Girls drummer (also drummed for Crystal Stilts), seems to have tightened up her playing since that band’s debut and she does a great job here, rocking in a very machine-gun, Marky Ramone style.
Single “Jail La La” is punk in its speed but is pure hook, with all three parts liable to lodge in your brain. The two short verses, while catchy themselves, get out of the way early and give way to a "la la la" part, then an addictive pre-chorus and chorus with sustained harmonies ("Someone tell my baby / Or else he won’t know I need saving"). These parts then loop, not bothering with a bridge of any kind. The harmony and call-and-response of “Everybody’s Out” would require at least three ladies to pull off live, and I hope they do it: "My baby’s better than you (Yes he is!)." The hook of “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” sounds so good it could have sung by the Angels, an actual girl group that their producer Richard Gottehrer worked with back in the day, co-writing their biggest hit “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Gottehrer also has worked with important punk/pop female-powered acts Blondie and the Go Go’s, and then there’s the frickin’ Voidoids. Perfect choice for the Girls record, I’d say. He does a great job of pumping up the rock from Dee Dee’s self-produced early tracks, highlighting the strong melodies but not cleaning things up too much.
It’s true that there is not much depth to this record. They stretch most on a cover, Sonny & Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go,” the album’s closer. While it seems like an odd choice, it works. The Girls take what was once a bouncy, harmonica-laden tune and take it to the dark side, a drum-less (and bounce-less) version that ladles on the atmospherics behind a lone acoustic guitar. “Rest of Our Lives” slows things down a bit too, but other than those two tracks the tempo range is razor-thin. The band is remarkably consistent, with the only stinker being “Oh Mein M”--which is grating not because it’s sung in German, but because the chorus vocal harmony sounds like cats being tortured.
I like the Dum Dum Girls even more because they bring the whole package: They’re actually an all-girl group who wear vintage dresses on stage and rock vintage (or vintage-looking) gear. More importantly, they bring addictive, vintage-style tunes, adding pinches of noise to them rather than the noise being the focus. They’ll need to expand their songwriting more in the future to keep my attention, but with I Will Be they've found the perfect formula and they know it.