Dum Dum Girls perform at The Social with Tennis, La Sera, Dirty Beaches, Saturday, March 12th
Touring last year behind Dum Dum Girls’ full-length debut, I Will Be, Kristin “Dee Dee” Gundred stood stock-still in front of the microphone, clad in black dresses and stark red lipstick. She strummed stoically, rarely speaking between songs or addressing the audience directly. The shows were short, sweet, and intense, even if the frontwoman came across as slightly detached. It was, she said, a stance born of her stage fright, and it worked only because her songs were so catchy and excitably noisy. Claiming the stage for herself, she conveyed a sense of calm and content, which suited her tales about the thrills of monogamy and devotion.
The title of that album implied a theme of transformation and realization, and in 2010, Dee Dee took her first steps toward becoming a more dynamic performer, harnessing her stage fright into a viable stage presence. That development continues on her new EP, He Gets Me High, a collection of four tracks that reveal the extent of her talent and range. The band’s musical palette is larger and more sophisticated than that on I Will Be, and they make more dramatic and idiosyncratic use of the influences they wear on their sleeves. Just shy of 14 minutes, this EP further distinguishes Dum Dum Girls from the other bands drawing from this same well of fuzz-pop influences.
Produced by Dee Dee with the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner and music mogul/songwriter Richard Gottehrer (co-founder of Sire Records and co-writer of 60s girl-group staples “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy” fame), He Gets Me High runs a pretty wide range of moods and emotions considering its brief runtime. The energetic “Wrong Feels Right” finds guitars and drums racing exuberantly toward a finish line like dragsters down a deserted highway. Waves of staticky distortion open the title track, which initially echoes “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” before veering off in other directions. And “Take Care of My Baby” is an exquisitely mopey farewell to a lover that could be a tour diary.
With I Will Be, the talking point was the Dum Dum Girls’ raw sound, a combination of girl-group melodies and fuzzed-out Jesus and Mary Chain guitars, but Dee Dee is a careful, intuitive songwriter, evoking complex emotions with an economy of words. He Gets Me High traces the arc of an intense affair, starting with the shimmery excitement of a first night together and ending with the painful separation, with a lusty ode to a lover’s narcotic effect in between.
And then there’s the sped-up cover of the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”, which Dee Dee sings as an epilogue to the previous tracks. It’s a testament to the EP’s sequencing and the band’s rush of guitars that she can perform a done-to-death cover and still make it sound fresh and interesting, with a barreling tempo, grandiose guitars, and Dee Dee delivering those super-wry lyrics. You couldn’t pick a more obvious choice from Morrissey’s catalog (either from his Smiths years or his solo years), and while it might have been more interesting to her take on a song like “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” or “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side”, it’s likely she chose this particular song to fit the EP’s narrative.
Perhaps the most noteworthy development on He Gets Me High is how Dee Dee is using her voice. Shedding the rough filter of the band’s earlier material, she sounds much more expressive and engaged. Whether investing a love=drug metaphor with new urgency on the title track or practically breaking down on “Take Care of My Baby”– she wrings so much evocative pain out of the word “take”– Dee Dee recalls the brassy authority of Chrissie Hynde and the sharp emotionalism of Kate Bush. She’s a commanding presence on these songs, showing more poise and nuance than she has in the past. Rare is the EP that sounds so crucial to an artist’s catalog and narrative, but it won’t be surprising to look back on this release in a few years and see it as pivotal in Dum Dum Girls’ career.
— Stephen M. Deusner, March 1, 2011