When locals the Dum Dum Girls first announced that a new album would be revealed in 2011, it wasn’t teased so much as forebodingly promised. “It would be pretty impossible to not write songs about death and darkness and sadness,” lead Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee said in an interview in February.
Four months earlier her mother had succumbed to brain cancer, the diagnosis of which had put a shroud over the Dum Dum Girls’ first year as a touring unit for Seattle indie label Sub Pop. Yet “Only in Dreams,” the so-called “dark” record promised by Dee Dee and released Tuesday (Sept. 27), is far more a statement of confidence than it is one of rock ’n’ roll wallowing.
Even “Coming Down,” a six-and-a-half-minute ballad about a search for clarity, is a showcase for the group’s growth. Compared with the cloudy, reverb-soaked sound of last year’s “I Will Be,” every guitar strike, lyrical strut and hand-clap-bolstered harmony is heard loud and pristine. No longer are Dee Dee’s icy vocals hesitant, detached and buried in a fuzzy mix of scrappy guitar riffs. She’s front and center throughout “Only in Dreams,” and never more so than on “Coming Down,” which sees the no-nonsense rocker graduating into an emotionally nuanced vocalist.
“I’m ready to be a singer,” said Dee Dee, whose band headlines the Troubadour on Monday. “I’m not as self-conscious as I was before. I don’t want to be a pop star by any means, but I do want to put out records where the vocals and lyrics are more discernible than they have been in the past. That’s what I spend all my energy on.”
The Dum Dum Girls last year were often mentioned hand in hand with Best Coast as one of L.A.’s most-promising acts, as both had a foot firmly planted in rock traditions. The Dum Dum Girls toughened up girl group classicism and had a look ripped from Marlon Brando’s “Wild One,” but family tragedy slowed the band’s touring ambitions and momentum.