On Halloween 2013, Too True, the third full-length album by LA band Dum Dum Girls, was announced. When reporting it, Pitchfork jokingly called it “Bangerz: Goth Edition” noting the similarities between poses of lead singer Dee Dee Penny and Miley Cyrus on their respective album covers. If you were to assume that the Goth sensibilities are completely opposite of the vibe of Cyrus’ album, then maybe the joke rings more true than expected. Whereas Miley’s music is energetic, sexy, and flashy, the Girls are cool, dark, and reserved; while Miley pulled from genres of the present like RnB and EDM, Dee Dee and her crew looked to popular genres of the past, like new wave and post-punk, when shaping their album. All aesthetics aside, both records share a commitment to pop songwriting and stellar presentation. At its core, Too True is all about well-crafted pop songs and surprisingly slick production.
There’s a trend emerging in the fidelity of noise pop releases where bands whose early albums were more fuzzed out and lo-fi are putting out significantly more audible records. (Crocodiles or Ty Segall are good examples.) It isn’t always a good thing, in fact, some people would say it’s never a good thing, but I’d say it definitely works in Dum Dum Girls’ favor on Too True.
Dee Dee’s voice is the biggest beneficiary of the increase in fidelity. Unlike on previous albums, her vocals are on display front and center in all of the songs. As a singer, Dee Dee is simultaneously expressive and inexpressive; her delivery is almost always cool but there are subtle differences that can be detected to distinguish when she’s being confident, or vulnerable, or melancholy, etc. Thanks to the production these subtleties are greatly illuminated. One example is the track “Too True To Be Good,” from which the album gets its name. It has probably the best hook of the album; on it Dee Dee sings the line very sweetly and punctuates with some background vocals that she also sang.
With the production making the vocals the focus, it also serves to strengthen the impact of the lyrics of the album. Too True is very Goth in its approach to lyrics. There are truly some depressing moments, and even when they’re not sad, the lyrics can get weird and eerie. Consider this verse from the album’s first single “Lost Boys And Girls Club,”
The void in my head, the hole in my heart,
I fill them with things which all fall apart,
I enlist the gods and all of the thoughts,
We are hand in gloves days have chains of love,
It’s not exactly about anything, but still bleak, and the rest of the album only gets gloomier.
The good news is it doesn’t feel all that melancholy. All the songs on Too True are generally either mid-tempo or upbeat, most with pretty catchy choruses. As far as the music’s concerned, they aren’t lo-fi on this album but that doesn’t mean Dum Dum Girls aren’t still a noise pop band. Rest assured that all the tracks are still slathered in reverb, echo, and distortion to give the album a sheen that contrasts the lyrical tone. I think my favorite music on this album is the closing track, “Trouble Is My Name.” It’s got a powerful echo-y guitar part during the chorus that just kills, especially with the line “Trouble is my name, is it your name too?” repeating over and over.
The credit for this stellar production can’t be given solely to Dee Dee. She brought in some heavy hitting help in the form of Sune Rose Wagner of the band The Raveonettes, another similar shoegaze-y band, and legendary producer and songwriter Richard Gottehrer. Gottehrer is known for writing several hit songs in the 60s like “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” plus he produced a ton of bands like Blondie and Richard Hell. Gottehrer’s influence can be felt at several points in the album including on the song “Are You Okay,” which has a definite 60s pop feel to it. Dum Dum Girls have actually worked with Gottehrer before, in fact they are regular collaborators, he has produced everything the band has released, EP or LP, since their inception.
Too True is a step in the right direction for a very promising band, and their best album to date. It’s obvious that Dum Dum Girls has great potential, they’re already pretty big in the indie world, but they can easily be one of those bands to break out into the mainstream without compromising themselves. They have a number of different assets to call upon including a major legend, but the #1 thing they have is Dee Dee Penny and her firm grasp on the workings of pop music. If she can use Too True as a blueprint upon which to build future successes, there’s no telling where this band can go.
Too True is available on CD, Vinyl LP and digital download today. From Sub Pop Records.