Dum Dum Girls - Too True

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Music Review Too True, DUM DUM GIRLS (Sub Pop)

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Singer-songwriter Kristen Gundred is no slouch. She’s better known as her nomme de plume Dee Dee Penny, essentially the core member of the “band” Dum Dum Girls. In four years, from her 2010 Sub Pop debut full-length, I Will Be, she has released two EP’s and two full-length records, including her excellent new album, Too True. What’s impressive about Penny is not only her output, but the arc of her songwriting craft, and her growing confidence in her vocal style, a cocktail blend highlighted by the influences of Ronnie Spector, Siouxsie Sioux, Deborah Harry and most notably, The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde.

For her third full-length release, Penny teams up again with the production team, veteran Richard Gottehrer and Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner, that helped shape the Dum Dum Girls’ sound. When Penny returned to the studio in winter 2012 to lay down the basic tracks for a new release, she was dismayed to find that extensive touring had taken a toll on her voice. Months of recuperation allowed Penny to re-write lyrics and melodies to fit the basic instrumentation that was laid down by Penny (all the vocals, bass and guitar parts) and co-producer Wagner (who also provided the remaining instrumental parts).

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From the brisk opening cut, “Cult of Love,” the tone is immediately more minimal, while maintaining a large overall sound. It marks a certain high watermark in the Dum Dum Girls’ canon – refined melodies, a driving rhythm, garage rock textures and a catchy Duane Eddy, “twang” guitar line.

However, it’s not until the fourth track, “Are You OK?,” where Penny’s vocals are allowed space to be the song’s central focus. Its arrangement is akin to ‘80s UK rock-pop, namely The Smiths; it’s no coincidence that Penny turned in a reverential cover of The Smiths’ “There’s A Light That Never Goes Out” for the 2011 Dum Dum Girls EP He Gets Me High. It’s also at this juncture where the presiding atmosphere takes hold on Too True. “Lost Boys and Girls Club” delivers the most interesting surprise. Borrowing the foundation of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ’85 UK hit, “Just Like Honey,” Penny explores a vocal style that combines the deadpan, sultry nature of My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher with Patti Smith’s confident presence.

There’s also a curious aspect to the Dum Dum Girls’ new record. Aside from contributing to the “band’s” impressive resume, Too True may hint – especially in compositions such as “Are You OK?,” “Under These Hands” and the closing ballad, “Trouble Is My Name” – that the prolific songwriter has started to outgrow her Dee Dee Penny/ Dum Dum Girls oeuvre (Brill Building-influenced garage-pop), an inspiration, it seems, to a score of recent garage-pop bands, such as La Luz, Habibi and Cherry Glazerr, to name a few. Too True simultaneously achieves satisfying levels while points towards further transitions for Gundred to come – a promising fate, indeed.