Dum Dum Girls’ striking debut I Will Be might fool you into thinking it’s only a fun, rollicking romp down memory lane, but the album really is the sound of a band making its own history. Sure, it’s hard not to notice how the L.A. quartet hits many of pop’s high points from the ‘60s to the present. While it’s the lollypop girl-group vocals that’ll get you at first, the band’s attitude comes straight out of ‘70s and ‘80s punk, only filtered through a ‘90s grrrl-powered aesthetic. Part of the fun of I Will Be is figuring out whether lead Dum Dum Kristin Gundred is channeling Ronnie Spector or Belinda Carlisle, and if her “Dee Dee” stage moniker is namechecking the Ramones or if she just wants to be your Joey Ramone, à la early Sleater-Kinney. As it turns out, the band name is referential in two very appropriate ways, as a retort to Iggy Pop’s “Dum Dum Boys” and a hat tip to a Vaselines album.
These reference points might already be dated, though, since Dum Dum Girls are leading lights among a current movement of women rockers breaking into the lo-fi boys club. Just check out this Los Angeles Times feature that lumps them in with like-minded Southern California acts Best Coast and Pearl Harbor. But what sets Dum Dum Girls apart from their peers is the ambition they show on I Will Be. While the band could’ve gotten by just on the pop instincts and gritty cool that garnered attention for their early recordings, Dee Dee and the Girls have gone all out in crafting a tight, wallop-packing record that holds nothing back.
Those expecting the murky vocals and fuzzy hiss of the band’s previous work won’t know what hit them once “It Only Takes One Night” roars out of the gate with its gleaming, slicing guitars and crisp rhythms. The opening song validates Gundred’s foresight in bringing aboard producer Richard Gottehrer, known for credits like “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy”, since his deft hand gives I Will Be a treatment that helps it stand out from offerings by the likes of Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts. The collaboration pays off, too, on would-be punk-pop hits like “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” and the title song, which sound bulked up and polished up at the same time. Best of all is the bubblegum single “Jail La La”, where Dee Dee plays the tough girl who can’t quite get away with it when she sings, “Someone call my baby / Or else he won’t know I need saving,” though she hardly sounds like anyone who needs rescuing.
Even when it seems like a change in pace and tone might be in order, Dum Dum Girls prove that they’re good enough at what they do that there’s never a need for a break in the action. “Yours Alone” recalls cuddlecore only with more guts and drive, making over the lovelorn ditties of forgotten twee favorites like Black Tambourine, Tallulah Gosh, and Tiger Trap. “Rest of Our Lives” whips up a whole lot of wistful, blissful feedback that sounds like it picks up where the Jesus and Mary Chain left off with Psychocandy, while the girl-boy duet “Blank Girl” could teach the Raveonettes a thing or two about sexual tension and slowburned yearning as Dee Dee goes back-and-forth with Brandon Welchez of the Crocodiles. Indeed, Welchez’s lines describe best the progress Dum Dum Girls make on I Will Be: “It’s so sweet to see you make it / On your own from duck to swan.” That it’s easy to mishear “make it” as “naked” on the track speaks to Dum Dum Girls’ appeal, since the lyric works both ways, summing up what the band achieves on the album, while hinting at the sly come-ons and subtle turn-ons of I Will Be.
All in all, Dum Dum Girls have come into their own with a rare debut effort on which everything comes together in a way where reach and grasp go hand-in-hand. In short, I Will Be suggests that the Dum Dum Girls’ future is now.