The Dum Dum Girls and Dinosaur Jr. remind us how it used to be

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The Dum Dum Girls strip off the fuzz-fixated power pop and find their rock bottom. Photo: Patrice Jackson. The Dum Dum Girls strip off the fuzz-fixated power pop and find their rock bottom. Photo: Patrice Jackson.

Garage days revisited

When Kristin Gundred released her first home-recorded demos as Dum Dum Girls in 2009, she was part of an ongoing (and welcome) trend of young bands combining the dreamy pop of ’60s girl groups with the fuzz and grit of ’80s underground rock. It’s a formula that’s worked since the Jesus & Mary Chain’s classic 1985 Psychocandy LP: Simple drum beats and memorable pop ballads, coated in gallons of reverb, and buried under layers of heavy guitar distortion and feedback. It’s a sound that’s been revisited and revived so many times that it’s become timeless.

But the Dum Dum Girls are far too ambitious to be pigeonholed in subgenres. The Dum Dums (now a full quartet, with Gundred claiming the Ramones-esque pseudonym Dee Dee) have released a steady stream of recordings through Sub Pop Records, each one bigger and better than the last. Dee Dee’s voice has always been confident and expressive, but her songs have grown increasingly bold and irrepressible. She’s a skilled songwriter with a killer set of pipes to back it up.

Last year’s He Gets Me High EP might be the band’s career high-point: An A-side with two powerful rockers, a B-side containing the best ballad anyone’s written in years (“Take care of my baby / I don’t think he can do it himself.”), concluding with a killer cover of The Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The follow-up full-length, Only in Dreams, was several steps closer to a pop record, sounding more like the Pretenders than any garage band. But the songs hold up to the clean, polished production by veteran producer Richard Gottehrer, whose pop credentials are deep. He not only produced Blondie and The Go-Go’s, but co-authored “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy.” “Bedroom Eyes,” “In My Head,” and “Coming Down” are all brilliant examples of how to evoke deep feelings with simple music; the lyrics concern the recent death of Dee Dee’s mother and the anxiety of being away from her husband while on tour, but the sentiments are simplified enough to stand as universal sentiments about loss and regret.

The Dum Dum’s newest, End of Daze (Sub Pop), is aptly named. It’s the clearest and most direct record yet, in which all grit and grime has been wiped away, letting stripped-down, somber rock stand on its own merits.

The Dum Dum Girls play at the Southern Café and Music Hall on Thursday, October 25. The opening act is New York-based garage rocker Devin Therriault.

The upside of lo-fi

For a subset of fans who grew up on college radio and alternative rock, Dinosaur Jr. was king: glorious shredders, wild homegrown visionaries who combined snarling twang-rock with loose guitar noise. J. Mascis may have sung in a thin whine resembling Neil Young’s hyperactive little brother, but he had the chops to back it up; many of his peers have hailed him as the greatest guitarist of his generation.

The relationship between Dinosaur Jr.’s band members has been notoriously contentious almost since the band first formed in the mid-’80s. The band released a trio of classic records before Lou Barlow departed in ’89. Mascis soldiered on, using the Dinosaur name for a number of albums (with diminishing returns) before transitioning into a solo career, while Barlow went lo-fi, gaining his own cult following under the name Sebadoh, and even scoring an unexpected Top 40 hit in 1995 with Folk Implosion (“Natural One,” from the Kids sound-
track). But their separate successes never equaled the glory of their early days. Reunions have become popular in recent years, but for over a decade the possibility of a reconstructed Dinosaur Jr. seemed unlikely.

Against all expectations, Barlow and Mascis finally put their differences aside in 2007. Since then, they’ve managed to produce three records—Beyond, 2009’s Farm, and the brand new I Bet on Sky, out last month on Jagjaguwar—that can stand up alongside the best work from the early years. For die-hard fans, the only ingredient missing is decades of familiarity.

Dinosaur Jr. will bring its reassembled ruckus to Charlottesville’s Jefferson Theater on Friday, October 26. Shearwater opens.

Block party

Local festival enthusiasts who can’t wait ’til spring for the second installment of the Tom Tom Fest can get a taste on Saturday, October 27, when Elliewood Avenue hosts the Tomtoberfest. The one-day satellite event will transform the street into a daytime block party while local businesses both old and new—Coupe Deville’s, Biltmore, Para Coffee, The Pigeon Hole, and Buttz BBQ—host live music and games, and offer a variety of seasonal and craft beers (a cup for the “charity beer crawl” costs $5, for those of-age). The event runs from 2pm and details can be found at www.tomtomfest.com.

 

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The Dum Dum Girls strip off the fuzz-fixated power pop and find their rock bottom.

Patrice Jackson

The Dum Dum’s newest, End of Daze, is aptly named. It’s the clearest and most direct record yet, in which all grit and grime has been wiped away, letting stripped-down, somber rock stand on its own merits.

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