When Dum Dum Girls debuted with 2010’s I Will Be, much of what it presented felt like affectation: a highly stylized look and retro-minded music, an amalgam of rock sounds from the ’60s and ’70s, from girl groups to The Velvet Underground and proto-punk. “Affectation” isn’t a slight; singer-songwriter Dee Dee Penny (a.k.a. Kristin Gundred) succeeded in crafting a singular vision for her music, even if the parameters started to feel a little rigid (and repetitive) with successive Dum Dum Girls releases. As enjoyable as those releases were, Dum Dum Girls’ style—lots of reverb, gauzy atmospherics, Dee Dee’s yearning vocals—seemed destined to wear itself out quickly, even after the real-life drama of the sudden death of Gundred’s mother gave 2011’s Only In Dreams a more pronounced emotional heft.
The new Too True not only sounds more self-assured and cohesive, but it also channels the more recent past. The album had more time to come together than previous Dum Dum Girls releases, after Dee Dee’s voice gave out while recording. The forced time off allowed her to reconsider what she had, and she determined the songs weren’t nearly finished. It’s a process she takes deadly seriously, if Too True’s press materials are accurate. As she began the writing process for the album, she sat in her apartment with a “clear view of the New York City sky through the iron bars like a promise,” she writes. “Like all compulsive minds, I was waiting with bated breath (‘and whispering humbleness’) to let the muse loose.”
What she eventually ended up with channels the British early-alternative era—Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Cure, The Stone Roses, and Suede, as Dee Dee notes, but The Jesus And Mary Chain certainly qualifies too—more than the classical rock sounds of Dum Dum Girls’ previous releases. Propelled by a martial, Joy Division-esque beat, album standout “Little Minx” is Too True’s most aggressive track, climaxing with 30 seconds of punk-rock guitars that suck the air out of Dum Dum Girls’ frequently chilly atmosphere. The band’s percussion has always been rather rudimentary, but Too True finds Dee Dee enlisting a drum machine to give songs like “Little Minx” and “Evil Blooms” a much more rigid backbone than the band’s songs have had in the past. (In album closer “Trouble Is My Name,” the beat wouldn’t sound out of place in a Portishead song.)
The shift suits Dum Dum Girls well, favoring the band’s dark-pop tendencies, but not deviating too far from the sound Dee Dee’s built over a few albums and EPs. Just as she was most in danger of falling prey to repetition, Kristin Gundred has found more life as Dee Dee.