Dream Wife Merges Punk Energy with Female Empowerment on Debut Album
Dream Wife attempts to merge punk attitude, pop sensibilities, and female empowerment themes on their debut album and mostly succeed.
Lucky Number Music
26 Jan 2018
Dream Wife's self-titled debut album mixes punk energy and attitude with a bit of post-punk guitar work and occasionally a good hook. The all-female trio tends to write songs about empowerment, although that often takes the form of aggression; the album begins with "Let's Make Out" and closes with "F.U.U." (Fuck You Up). Conceptually this is a band that feels equally inspired by and a gentle parody of the '90s riot grrrl movement.
Take the album's catchy second song "Somebody". The song's chorus "I am not my body / I am somebody" is a simple sentiment that seems like it was written as a genuine female empowerment anthem. But the rest of the song's lyrics are even more simplistic. There's a single verse, repeated twice, about running into a cute girl backstage that closes with "It was bound to happen", and there's a nonsensical pre-chorus ("I took on heaven / To find peace / I took on the world / To find me again"), and that's it. Then you throw in Icelandic singer Rakel Mjöll's strange, accented emphasis that makes the word "somebody" sound like "some bah Tee" and it's difficult to tell if the band is trying to be serious and awkwardly failing or if the song is intentionally just inept enough to be taking the piss out of self-important feminine empowerment anthems. The issue is confused further by Dream Wife's origin as a fake band for a college performance art project.
This toe on the line technique is again on display with "F.U.U." at the end of the album. At first, it seems like it wants to be a fierce punk anthem, repeating "I'm gonna fuck you up / I'm gonna cut you up / I'm gonna fuck you up" a whole bunch of times over a buzzsaw guitar riff. But then the actual chorus goes, "I'm gonna cut your hair / Now won't you stare." By the time guest vocalist Fever Dream comes in with a verse mostly in Icelandic that concludes with the English statement, "I spy with my little eye bad bitches / Dream Wife for life", it's clear that the band's tongue is firmly planted in its cheek.
Elsewhere on the album, the band seems mostly interested in celebrating female sexuality in a fun way. Opener "Let's Make Out" finds the band shifting between a noisy chorus and more restrained verses without changing the actual music much. The hook comes from Mjöll's shouted refrain "Let's make out / Let's make out / Or are you too shy?" "Spend the Night" has some catchy interplay between the guitar lead and rhythm guitar chords and marries that to Mjöll's charmingly sung, simple chorus "Spend the night / Spend the night with me." Then there's "Taste", which features a more tentative point of view. It's the best combination of lyrics and music on the record as the quieter verses find Mjöll grappling with her feelings and building up to the loud, triumphant chorus where she bellows "All I wanna do is TAAAAASTE YOOUU!" This chorus also features the band's purest power-pop guitar riff, a genuine earworm that would make Cheap Trick proud.
Dream Wife is more musically interesting when guitarist Alice Go tries out styles beyond standard three-chord pop-punk. Songs like "Fire" and "Kids" feature staccato, post-punk style playing. The former has an intriguing, syncopated riff in the verses before bursting into major chords on the chorus. The latter has an active, complex lead that she plays in at least three different styles throughout the song. "Love Without Reason" goes in a more dream-pop direction, with reverb-soaked guitars and another big, catchy chorus. "Act My Age" also gets in on the poppier side of things and features some interesting interaction between the guitar and drums, which makes it stand out on the album.
Everything Dream Wife is doing on their debut album isn't aces, but it's a fun, easy listen. They go for the big chorus in most of their songs, but they don't always have the musical hook to make it as catchy as they seem to want. This dependence on big refrains also leads to a lot of songs that have the same "restrained verses, huge chorus" format. While they're far from the first band to overdo it on that element, it's very noticeable after a few listens to the album. But the trio has an attitude that manages to be both aggressive and charming. Their demeanor is fun without taking themselves too seriously, and that makes Dream Wife an easy album to like.