For Kristen Gundred (aka Dee Dee), the lead singer of Dum Dum Girls, a lot has changed since the release of her 2010 album I Will Be. A year and a half ago, bright bedroom pop was fitting for Dee Dee, and it suited her. Now, her music has accompanied her life into complexity after the death of her mother and a constant separation from her husband. Without sacrificing the pure pop sound that defines Dum Dum Girls, Only in Dreams is deeply personal, musically intricate, and decidedly dark.
A photo of Dee Dee’s mother in her early years graces the cover of I Will Be. She is young and beautiful. She looks as if she has just been surprised and you can see a slight defensiveness in her face. The album sounds just like she looks. Instrumentally, I Will Be is fun and simple; it is bedroom pop at its best, with head-bobbing drums beats and constantly reverberating sound. Thematically, it is mostly about young and innocent love that can be preserved and protected. In the instances where Dee Dee is expressing negative feelings such as on “Everybody’s Out” and “Lines Her Eyes,” those feelings are discussed as an external phenomenon and Dee Dee’s own internal feelings are left relatively untouched.
Only in Dreams is quite different. Dee Dee’s mother passed away in October 2010, and without the protective defense of her mother’s photo, Dee Dee opens up and by doing so becomes more confident. Through her recent experiences, Dee Dee has gained serious, expressive songwriting talent. On the He Gets Me High EP that was released earlier this year, songs like “Take Care of My Baby” and “Wrong Feels Right” showed Dum Dum Girls taking a turn in a new direction, one darker and heavier. This progression continues even further on Only in Dreams, where most of the songs have a depth to them that swallows the listener wholly and completely, and Dee Dee’s vocals shine like never before.
A handful of tracks, like “Hold Your Hand,” “Caught in One,” and “Wasted Away,” are about Dee Dee’s mother. On “Wasted Away” the album title’s meaning is revealed: “I found a necklace you used to wear/ Found a sweater just to smell you there/ Now only in dreams.” Another person Dee Dee can only visit in her dreams is her husband, Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles. Both of them have been busy touring over the last few years, and that can be difficult for Dee Dee. “Bedroom Eyes” and “In My Head” are both about their relationship. As harsh as Dee Dee is, she also admits on “In My Head” that “Its not only you; I am leaving too.”
Dum Dum Girls employ the first person in their lyrics much more than they used to, and the emotions contained on Only in Dreams are also helped tremendously by Dee Dee’s newly-matured vocals. With each word she sings, it seems possible to feel her emotions tangibly. When she belts “I don’t know/ Where to go/ To get away from this sorrow” on “Heartbeats,” it is utterly heart-wrenching. On “Teardrops on My Pillow” and “Coming Down” there are distinct moments where the listener comes to the realization that Dee Dee can hit and hold a powerfully high note. “Coming Down” also shows the Dum Dum Girls on a completely new playing field. At 6.5 minutes, the song is twice — even three times — as long as most of their others. Its slow beginning and sorrowful crescendo make it a ballad unfitting for the faint-hearted.
Only in Dreams is a piece of art. It recreates an experience and the feelings therein for those who choose to really delve into it. The songwriting on this album (along with the stronger vocals and devilishly delightful guitar parts) proves that the Dum Dum Girls are here to stay. In a world of bedroom-pop girl groups, the Dum Dum Girls have the ability to dive past their genre’s jangly, adolescent surface into a world of emotional complexity and sadness that we can all relate to.
Stream: Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams (full album)