Death Becomes She
On Dum Dum Girls impressive debut album, 2010's I Will Be, Kristin Gundred's mom was the cover star; an old polaroid of a defiant-looking woman found in the back-of-the-wardrobe shoebox used as visual representation for the swagger of the music. Here, however, she's its theme; the songwriter's suddenly-departed mother alive, now, Only in Dreams.
Given that I Will Be was an album of brash, bugglegum buzz buried under copious amounts of fuzz, it may seem strange to reconcile that introduction-to-the-band with the fact that Only in Dreams' entire Side B plays as singular, sustained elegy for a dead mother; a five-song suite filled with sadness and grief.
And, in such, it makes sense that the mood on this second LP is varied; a familiar second-album trick given added credence via biographical tragedy. So, it's no surprise that the lo-fi fug is pulled back; the record rolling with less distortion, less echo, less blistering tempo. That Gundred's voice, aching with emotion, is given more chance to shine clear. It makes sense, once you're privy to its back-story, that the statement-making single, issued months in advance of the LP, was "Coming Down," a six-and-a-half-minute power-ballad whose chiming, cinematic, reverbed-to-infinity guitars worship at the altar of Mazzy Star.
A Threnody in Fuzz
Yet, the great musical revelation of Only in Dreams is the way Gundred is unafraid of wedding the most utterly profound, emotionally sacred lyrics to songs that, to unobservant listeners, might play as breezy. This was the great trick of The Smiths, one of Gundred's most obvious inspirations, and, indeed, the modus operandi for pretty much the whole twee genre: matching sad lyrics to happy music. Here, Dum Dum Girls apply it on a handful of tracks, with impressive results.
"This year's been a drag/who knew it'd be so bad?" Gundred carols, over and over, on "Caught in One," which begins with death on the telephone, sleeping in her mother's bed; a comically-present, Family Guy-esque figure for the final days. "I found a necklace/that you used to wear/I found your sweater/could still smell you there," she sings, over the fast-and-nasty chug of "Wasted Away." "I'm angry, I recall your face/now there's nothing in its place," Gundred spits, mid-"Teardrops on My Pillow."
The tempo slows for closer "Hold Your Hand," which trails away to the record's own dying moments. Where so many artistic studies in grieving feel the need to take us through it, leaving off on a hopeful note of life-going-on, the final sign-off on Only in Dreams leaves the grief lingering, and the listener reeling. "I wish it wasn't true," Gundred sings, "but there's nothing I can do/except hold your hand/'til the very end."
Record Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: September 27, 2011