Dum Dum Girls is a female-fronted indie rock group from California. Any preconceived notions about their sound based on these facts, however, should be promptly abrogated. These aren’t sunny, carefree melodies from the likes of contemporaries Best Coast. Rather, these tracks from Dum Dum Girls’ sophomore release are tethered in rebellion and contention, battling life and emotion with a feral grin. Like the vocals of Dee Dee Penny, these tracks contain a tough, brooding rind on the surface. But beneath that layer lies an ossature of vulnerability and yearning, making Only In Dreams an immediate yet textured album and a step in the right direction for the California quartet.
Skepticism regarding the ability of Dee Dee Penny (real name, Kristen Gundred) to be an enigmatic frontwoman are only further abated with this release. Her vocals are best suited for hard rock, as witnessed by the third song, entitled “Just a Creep.” Driven by infectious, psychedelic guitar riffs, Penny attacks the track with the wizened, snarling vocals of a confident rock star. The slow-burning stomp of “Coming Down” showcases Dee Dee Penny’s skillful wail and oozes self-empowerment, but is also fraught with emotion. It is not necessarily ethereal, but is more self-assured in its righteous indignation against one who did her wrong. In fact, this balance of rebelliousness and fragile emotion is a theme throughout much of Only In Dreams. Penny pines for affection and laments loss (“Teardrops on My Pillow”), but does so in a manner that suggests she will ultimately be more than fine without it (see “Wasted Away”).
Clearly, this is not meant to be a feel-good, innocuous record, but is laced with the cynicism that is the trademark of a successful post-punk rock release. Sure, pop songs find their way onto the album here and there (“Bedroom Eyes”), but even those still contain an underlying melancholy to their melody and lyricism. Death is a prevalent subject throughout the record. It is somewhat unclear at times whether Penny is speaking on her recent personal loss or using it as a figurative analogy for the end of a relationship, yet it is this abstract quality to her lyricism that is proof of Penny’s growth and improvement as an artist.
Some of the mid-tempo tracks towards the end of the album may slow the momentum created by the first half, yet Only In Dreams is ultimately a triumphant, self-assured release that proves the Dum Dum Girls are here to stay and will continue to evolve into full-fledged rock stars, a role they seemed destined to fill.