Even the sunniest of pop albums can have a heavy side. The writing of California all-girl quartet Dum Dum Girls’ latest LP, Only In Dreams, was inspired by a recent set of sad events in lead singer/songwriter Dee Dee Penny’s life: the passing of her mother (known to the rest of us as the pretty lady on the cover of 2010’s I Will Be) and the emotional toll she felt while away from her husband (Crocodiles’ Brandon Welchez) while their respective bands were touring. Only In Dreams is a record about losing and longing—a restrained, mature effort that still retains the irresistible sugar-rush energy that brought the group to national attention.
The lyrical themes aren’t the only things different this time around; for the first time, all four Dum Dum Girls lend their voices to the mix, resulting in a huge, nostalgia-soaked sound recalling classic artists like the Supremes and the Beach Boys. The glistening, Indian-summer anthem “Bedroom Eyes” showcases this stylistic shift terrifically, with triumphant waves of harmony floating on top of an irresistible surf-rock beat. The heavy reverb cloaking most of the tracks helps the harmonies to pop even further, as in the bittersweet “Teardrops On My Pillow.”
The heavy dose of ’60s pop is the perfect upbeat counterpart to the controlled sadness permeating most of the tracks. Album closer “Hold Your Hand,” for example, is a moving reflection on Dee Dee’s last moments with her mother—but it’s framed as a sunny throwback number complete with soft harmonies and shimmering guitars. And “Coming Down” is the best, most surprisingly positive breakup song Bethany Cosentino wishes she had written, with more vocal runs and fewer lyrics about cats.
It would have been easy for the Dum Dum Girls to make a stereotypical and all-too-common “sad” album—plodding, lifeless, irreconcilably boring. On Only In Dreams, however, tragedy doesn’t diminish the band’s trademark charisma. Rather, it adds a level of carefully controlled introspection that sits perfectly alongside it. The result is a terrific, fun and most of all, genuine follow-up from one of the best surf pop bands of recent memory.