I’m a diabetic, so I’ll refrain from using the usual spun-sugar adjectives used to describe Denver’s Dressy Bessy. True, they’re a bubblegum band, named after a doll, on the nation’s premier kiddie-kitsch pop label, but that’s no reason to cleave to candyfloss prose. The fact is that there are sharp, crunchy things in this particular flavor of bubblegum which make it especially fun to chew. While the band finishes recording their follow-up to 1999’s Pink Hearts Yellow Moons, The California EP is a five-song offering to keep us warm during the long cold winter, an audio slideshow of a trip to California, where the sun is in full shine and everything is relentlessly groovy.
Each song on the disc deals with some aspect of living in and with Cloud-Cuckoo Land, and though Dressy Bessy’s hook-laden ‘60s-girl-group sound remains intact, here the songs are informed by a number of uniquely West Coast musical referents. The songs resonate with psychedelics, both the trippy Bay Area sort and the more aggressive Whisky-A-Go-Go variety, and the spirit of Brian Wilson (yes, I know he’s not dead) hovers over the mix.
In his hippy-dippy travesty “San Francisco”, Scott Mackenzie once whined at us to wear flowers in our hair if we go there, but when DB frontgirl Tammy Ealom promises to do it, in the extremely catchy “California”, it actually sounds like a good idea. The second track, “Some Better Days”, a cheer-up song about cheering up, has the bright, skipping feel of one of those songs that plays over the hijinks-on-the-beach montage sequence in a mid-Sixties makeout flick. In “Super * Everything” (that’s “Superstar Everything”) guitarist John Hill begins to trade in some of the first two tracks’ jangle for some crunch, then goes fully Grape-Nuts in “Hangout Wonderful”—love these titles—wherein Ealom’s waify, off-key harmonies invite us to hang out “‘cause you’re wonderful/ It’s beautiful”. And you know, it is.
The EP’s final track, “In the Morning”, is a departure from the rest of the disc, the slightly groaning carnivalesque sound that has yielded a staple track of psychedelic albums from the Beatles to the Dukes of Stratosphear. If this disc has a weak spot, it’s this track, if only because it’s such an abrupt shift in gears—“In the Morning” sounds like the sort of thing that closes full-length albums, the end of a journey rather than of a 15-minute whirlwind tour—and this is a minor quibble, really.
All in all, The California EP stands out as a short but substantive entry in the growing renaissance of bubblegum fuzz-pop and gives a clear signal that sophomore slump is definitely not in Dressy Bessy’s future. It’ll deepen your tan and straighten your teeth and make you a better citizen. Or at the very least it’s a sweet snack you can nosh on without going for the insulin afterward.