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Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams

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Artist: Dum Dum Girls

Album: Only In Dreams

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Sep. 26, 2011

Dee Dee Dum Dum (not her real name) cuts the figure of a 50-foot woman with 10-foot heartstrings, a character just complex enough to make Only In Dreams feel real, if not fascinating. She’s not as tough as all that, but she’s brassy and direct, and she writes a great shimmering cascade of a chorus; for starters, see “Bedroom Eyes,” “In My Head,” and “Coming Down.” Here she takes on the standard range of attitudes — lovesick, lovelorn, hot-blooded, cold-shouldered, plus a few honest looks at mortality. (Her mother died while Dee Dee was writing the album.) And all the while, her voice quivers and snarls and purrs over sweeter harmonies than you’d expect for the chain-gang rumble beneath them, recorded in such a way as to replicate watching the band perform in a medium-sized dive bar no more than 20 percent full. If you think about it a little, it’s all very precise and relatable.

The lingering strength of Only In Dreams, though, will almost certainly lie in its imprecision, in the fuzzy space between thinking about it a little and not thinking about it at all. It’s a mostly monochromatic album, light on variation and on poetry, but it has a surprising wealth of color for you to find on your own terms: There’s depth to be found in pegging Dee Dee’s torch songs to her experiences, but the better bet is to peg them to yours, to stay shallow and call on them when you need a long-distance lament or an old-fashioned kiss-off. They’re so direct and unconvoluted that they are, paradoxically enough, self-effacing and thus all the more likely to be useful.

Sentimentally, the Dum Dum Girls’ product differs from Best Coast’s only superficially — daintier rhythm section, more manicured lyrics, more Elvis and less Cobain — because both are designed to go down smooth but to resonate more deeply at a moment’s notice. This is not dishonest; it’s just drawn broadly, efficiently, adaptably, at the intersection of popular music and the daily horoscope. You could very likely find reason to put one of these songs on a mix tape by the end of the year, if you’re the sort of person who still does that, and if you’re listening to Dum Dum Girls in the first place then odds are good that you are. Thus does Only In Dreams transcend its deficiencies as an album, coming back to life — a better life for everyone involved — as a collection of away messages, greeting cards, temporary tattoos.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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