Too True, by Dum Dum Girls
Dum Dum Girls, based in New York, and Peggy Sue, a British band, started in different realms: punky for Dum Dum Girls, folky for Peggy Sue. But there are moments on their two new albums when they are making nearly the same music, with women’s voices, a galloping beat and a guitar swathed in reverb.
Dum Dum Girls found that sound first. The group — which is now, in its studio lineup, just songwriter, singer and guitarist Dee Dee, abetted by guitarist, drummer and programmer Sune Rose Wagner, from the Raveonettes — arrived in 2008 with a concept so fully formed that, as with the Ramones, each successive album has largely offered refinements and variations.
“There’s no particular place we are going/Still we are going,” Dee Dee sings in Lost Boys and Girls Club on the new Dum Dum Girls album, Too True.
Dum Dum Girls continue to explore a sonic and formal intersection of the early 1960s — girl groups, surf-rock, garage-rock — and the post-punk 1980s of the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. A few chords, a clear melody and succinct verse-chorus-bridge structures are filled with darkly allusive lyrics and floated amid gauzy, sweeping guitar effects.
It’s a roomy concept, encompassing spaghetti Western guitar touches in Cult of Love, new wave momentum in Little Minx, stately folk-rock in Under These Hands, a weighty undertow in Lost Boys and Girls Club and a celestial serenity in Trouble Is My Name. As the titles suggest, Dee Dee’s lyrics glimpse loss, betrayal, loneliness and death, but she sings them calmly, in productions so finely burnished that the sound washes away the sadness.
Peggy Sue is a newer convert to the glories of reverb. The group is a trio, with Rosa Slade and Katy Young on vocals and guitars, and Olly Joyce on drums, and its songs can sound simultaneously old and new. The guitar-picking patterns and stark, open vocal harmonies have Celtic roots; the beat, the words and the way songs gather more intertwined parts as they go mark them as rock. Peggy Sue has grown more plugged in with each album, and Choir of Echoes revels in electric guitar tones, using reverb to add spookier depths. Substitute, with a tom-tom beat, a tambourine, a repetitive two-chord riff and the squeak of fingers on reverbed guitar strings, could be a rawer early Dum Dum Girls song.
The lyrics are full of love gone wrong: regrets, misunderstandings, reconciliations and more regrets. “I forget all the errors of your ways,” the women sing, “But I remember now.” Guitars intertwine and gather around them, in ever-thickening skeins of picking and strumming, pulling a listener into all the mesmerizing turbulence of those troubled romances.
— Jon Pareles, NY Times News Service
Anthem for a New Day, by Helen Sung
Jazz musicians do a lot of their growing up in public — it’s one consequence of a field in which talent shows up sooner than artistry — and the process usually follows a model of judicious refinement. But that’s not quite the case with Helen Sung, who trained as a classical pianist before turning to jazz, and has released a decade’s worth of crisp, conscientious and decorous albums. Anthem for a New Day is her major-label debut, and she has described it herself as a leap forward, the first full measure of her identity.
That’s a convenient selling point, but the music readily supports it. Clarity of purpose has never been a problem for Sung, whose previous albums include a bundle of themes inspired by Catalan composer Isaac Albeniz. And the quality of her touch, like her grasp of harmony and form, has never been in doubt. What’s striking this time around is an openness of vision, paired with a looseness of execution. Sung sounds both relaxed and searching, and she imparts the same qualities to her crew.