Album Review: Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze EP

[Sub Pop; 2012]

That beat is gone. That catch-all annoyingly prevalent surf pop drum beat that permeated all the previous Dum Dum Girls releases—except maybe the He Gets Me High EP—is finally gone. Granted, in small doses, it was catchy, even memorable in certain instances, but when most of the songs on an album are based around the same beat, they lose most of their replay value very quickly. And I think that’s the main reason why Dum Dum Girls’ new release, the 5-song End of Daze EP, sets itself so far apart from their previous records. It’s not even in the sound itself so much, though that does play a role, as it is the sense of progression and ragged emotion that the band manages to pull out of a tired and worn-down sound. Ever since bands like Best Coast, Vivian Girls, and Tennis hit the scene with their brand of breezy summer pop a few years ago, this trendy landscape soon filled up with lazy imitators, and the line between progenitor and hangers-on became somewhat indistinguishable. But on End Of Daze, with help from producer Richard Gottehrer, known for his work with Richard Hell and Blondie (as well as for penning the girl pop classic “My Boyfriend’s Back”), Dum Dum Girls are able to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

The songs that spread out across End of Daze feel relevant and substantial in a way that the band’s previous releases only hinted at. The songs here feel compact, though never overtly dense, and each has a sense of adventure, though this never leads to them sounding scattered. Singer Dee Dee Penny’s voice still sounds as commanding and vulnerable in equal measure and the band provides just the right amount of punch and release that brings out the fear and anxiety in these songs. The vividness of their debut and the subsequent introspection of Only In Dreams has given way to a hesitant desperation on End of Daze—a realization that this eternal summer may end, and with its passing, those things held at bay by the light may spill forth and consume everything. Much in the same way that Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys broke down their own musical façade, exposing the dark cultural underbelly of pop, End of Daze never shies away from the band’s own primal instincts, and the songs simmer with a tense restlessness.

The sense of dread that saturates these tracks seems unrelenting and never fails to feel emotionally invasive. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Penny seems intent on exorcising some internal struggle. With opening lines like “Satan on my lips/paralyzed by his wicked kiss/taking baby sips/ to keep an eye/on what I might miss” on “Mine Tonight,” it’s difficult to imagine these songs coming from any place with access to light. The guitars sound dense and buried, slowly clawing their way from the ground. Her voice seems almost inviting though as she sings, “Tonight I’ll sing my eulogy/won’t you sing it with me” as the drums build and dissolve around her, leaving the listener uncertain as to any sense of finality.

The album shifts to slightly more familiar territory on “I Got Nothing,” which utilizes some small measure of that old surf beat, though twisted by a slight dissonance, to step briefly into the pop atmosphere from their previous records. But even here, with the drums and vocals playing deftly with the jangling guitars, there is an unmistakably regretful tone. Penny sings “Unto the day/I give up my voice/and into the night/I go without choice” with a resignation that seems to run counter to the superficial pop glimmer of the song. “Trees and Flowers,” despite its somewhat innocuous title, cautiously slides up against very subtle layers of distortion and droning instrumentation that would make fans of My Bloody Valentine very nostalgic. It’s catharsis and repression bound together in a shivering little package with Penny’s voice carrying for miles across the barren landscape.

Even the guarded romanticism of “Lord Knows” is tempered with a forlorn admission that “I can’t hurt you anymore/Lord knows how I hurt my love.” Though in the end, this song may be Penny’s turning point as she admits that she’s “gonna hang on till the calm/the day we wake up feeling clear.” The echo placed on the drums creates a strange sense that you’re hearing this song underwater, though that voice could pierce straight through the earth. And despite everything we’ve heard, there appears to be some light, some “thing,” to look forward to—a small reward for all the hardship. Closing song “Season In Hell” may sound like the dark crown that sits astride the record, but the elastic beat, throbbing bass, and proliferative jangle pop markers ease the listener into what becomes the last bit of darkness before the sun rises. The song ends with the confident recognition that “it’s the end of daze” and that everything may be alright after all.

End of Daze is a colossal slab of indie rock. Among all the cursory criticisms and in depth descriptions of what these songs mean, it’s sometimes easy to forget that albums can appeal to both our need for deconstruction and that primal musical instinct to throw yourself around in a group of sweaty strangers. Dum Dum Girls manage to do both here and in only five songs no less. They may be lumped in with the recent girl group pop fad, but End of Daze proves that there is nothing common or ordinary about this band. Give them three minutes. That’s all they need.