Dressy Bessy: self-titled

Mitch Pugh

Dressy Bessy

Dressy Bessy

Label: Kindercore
US Release Date: 2003-08-26
UK Release Date: Available as import

What can you say about Dressy Bessy that hasn't already been repeated?

The Denver foursome with ties to the overly name-checked Elephant 6 collective has been quietly putting out sugary, 1960s-style fuzzed-out guitar records for several years. Quietly, that is, until this year's South By Southwest music festival, where critics and the casual music fan started to take notice. It's funny how fickle success can be.

It's not like front woman Tammy Ealom and company started doing something drastically different. The formula has always been fairly simple: timeless girly pop funneled through fuzzy psychedelic-tinged guitar with an indie rock edge. At the end of the day, the Go-Gos won out over Sleater-Kinney. And that was just fine. In fact, there was a sort of celebratory feel to the band, the joy of being free and unconfined by expectations -- almost like a child.

But on the their third full-length (and self-titled) release, Dressy Bessy is all grown up. Ealom hasn't literally -- by all recent reports -- given up the skirt and go-go boots, but this is a band dressed smartly for success. Spit out your bubble gum kids, this may hurt a little. But it is, as they say, good for you.

Right out of the gate, Ealom and guitarist John Hill -- who pulls double duty with former Denver stable mates Apples in Stereo -- are going for the jugular. The pop sheen is still there on opening track "Just One More", but there's also a sense of urgency that was missing from previous efforts. Hill's guitar work is sloppily precise; Ealom's lyrics are endearing but have a new edge. This is a band that has taken ownership of their sound. The familiar comparisons don't quite work anymore.

"I'm on a massive high", Ealom sings on the second track, "The Things That You Say You Do", and is she ever. Hill's guitar sound is fatter than anything Dressy Bessy has ever done and Ealom's voice calmly walks through all the band's old tricks with the kind of confidence you would expect from someone growing into one of the best lyricists working today. "If it's uncool to be polished / Baby, I don't want to talk", Ealom continues on "Baby Six String", a song that is indeed polished, but in all the right ways. The same can be said for "This May Hurt (a Little)". Hill's rhythms have always been deceptively complex, but he's never been showcased quite like he is on Dressy Bessy. For all of Ealom's gifts, the band simply wouldn't function as cohesively as they do without Hill's stabilizing force.

Longtime fans may be put off a bit at first by the harsher sounds on this record. The hum-a-longs here aren't quite as obvious. The band has also abandoned the lighter, breezier songs that dotted their two previous efforts. Instead, there is a carefully controlled chaos filling up the empty spaces. There's not as much room to breathe; not as much open territory to help navigate your way from verse to hook. In one sense, that means the record isn't as innately listenable. But in another sense, it's much more rewarding. Nothing, as they say, ever comes easily in this life. Dressy Bessy, like a lot of under-the-radar acts, knows that as well as anyone. And on songs like "Hey May" that sort of world weariness comes through via Ealom's mature lyrics and restrained vocal performance: "Hey, May, we'll tie a string out around the garden / Little small torn bag marked, 'need them, want them' / What are you going to do when the world turns in on you / Hey, check it out, think of me once in a while / Did it make you happy / Did it come in handy / But, of course, you said it's gonna hurt me more this way".

Yet the differences between this record and, say, Little Music, shouldn't be overstated. There's still plenty to smile about here. But saccharine is so much easier to swallow when mixed with something a little bitter. It's those contrasts that make everything in life a little better. Whereas Dressy Bessy divvied out the sugar by the bagful before, they're measuring it with teaspoons now. Still, if you like your coffee black, Dressy Bessy probably isn't for you. But if you enjoy nothing more than a warm, smooth cup of expertly brewed, time-tested java with just the right mix of cream and sugar, then there will be much on the band's latest effort to savor.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.