From the beginning of their career, Dum Dum Girls have been running something of a risk by leaning so heavily on the past for their sound—a goth-infused, reverby noise-rock influenced by the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Stone Roses and The Cure. It’s a retro sound more at home in the 60s than in the twenty-teens. And yet, Dee Dee Penny and company have somehow owned this sound and breathed fresh life and emotion into it, growing a little with every record they release.
But with 2012’s EP End of Daze, Dee Dee turned some sort of corner. A cathartic 5-song experience processing the death of her mother, that EP went to an emotional place we had not yet heard from this band. You don’t go to a place like that and not come out changed, and the band’s latest release Too True reflects that change with a new level of depth and maturity, both in sound and in lyric.
Dee Dee Penny has given us an insightful glimpse into her process with an open letter posted to label Sub Pop’s website. It’s worth reading in full, but Dee Dee essentially credits these songs to three seasons of isolation and introspection. The first was when she holed up for a week in New York to write: “Like all compulsive minds, I was waiting with bated breath (‘and whispering humbleness’) to let the muse loose,” she says. The second was a similar session in Hollywood (“Two more songs were born from drunken loneliness in room at Chateau Marmont”). And the third was during a forced hiatus when Dee Dee’s voice gave out during recording, when she revisited the tunes and realized “These songs weren’t done at all!”
The entire process has resulted in a collection of songs that aren’t especially deep, but come across as honest, real and artful, even in their simpler moments. You find it in the bridge after an extended two-chord vamp on “Are You Okay,” when Dee Dee admits, “I’m reckless at night / I’m sorry for days / I’m looking for you / In lavender haze.” You find it in the slightly menacing buzz of “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” over which she sings, “There’s no particular place we are going / Still we are going.” And you hear it in the mournful admissions on the echoey closer “Trouble Is My Name”: “You say there’s nothing you can do / To make all your bad turn good…Trouble is my name, is it your name, too?”
All this aside—beyond the extended songwriting process that yielded these songs, beyond the introspection and reflection—the bottom line is that when you press play, the buzzy guitars, the spacey reverb and Dee Dee’s now-healed lush voice all translates to ear candy. I can pick apart and analyze the heck out of these songs, but I like Too True for other reasons. It sounds good. It sounds real. And because of the honesty I feel coming from the speakers, despite its retro influences—it sounds “now.”