Reviews of New Releases By Dum Dum Girls, Jerry Sprague and More
Weekly records roundup.
Published: January 22, 2014
Dum Dum Girls
On early singles, Dum Dum Girls seemed determined to out-scuzz and out-fuzz contemporaries like Vivian Girls and Best Coast, as if they were locked in a lo-fi race to the bottom. The lyrics were indistinguishable and the production was shit. But at some point (actually, right before being signed to Sub Pop), DDG ditched the abrasive shtick and cleaned up its sound.
The approach continues here on Too True, DDG’s third studio album (and second on Sub Pop’s dime), but with more satisfying results. Where their last full-length was perhaps scrubbed a little too clean, reducing its minimal components too much to be interesting, Too True splits the difference: It’s well-produced and lush. Even back when they were at their skuzziest, DDG had a clinical, almost academically sterile approach to ’60s girl group-inflected pop, and it’s underscored here with help, again, from production veteran Richard “My Boyfriend’s Back” Gottehrer and disciple Sune Rose Wagner of the Raveonettes (both have been behind the boards on more DDG records than not at this point).
Fortunately, DDG has some new tricks to keep things interesting, expanding its palette to include ’80s pop and dark wave. Opener “Cult of Love” (the dual goth-pop sensibilities are right there in the title) is fun, dynamic and lyrically interesting, and “Lost Boys and Girls Club” successfully mines the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” era without ripping it off. —Lee DeVito
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
What’s going on with that name? Sounds like it’s going to a gospel record or something, but then you see the title of this six-track mini album and you think, “Hmmm, probably not religious music, this.” What it is is a chunky, monolithic mother of a record that sees the band soak in the likes of Mastodon and Kyuss, while also drawing from the jazz-rock Zappa well. It’s telling that three of the musicians involved also play in experimental rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Frankly, this shit is weird. It takes so many twists and turns that the band could be about to drop anything on you. It’s psychedelic, there are children and women singing in a choral, pretty way, and then the guitar comes with some creepy high notes and those same choral voices sound very Omen-like. And that’s just opening track “Fuck Off Get Free.”
“Austerity Blues” slows things down, but the intensity remains high. Everybody in the band takes a turn at the vocals, and they all sound like they would happily slit your throat before a show and then sing to what remains. But that edge, that creepy element of surprise, is what makes the band different, and it’s what makes the sound gel. Dial up the happy, tweak the vibe, and a lot of these songs could be indie rock ditties that we’ve heard a million times. Rather, we’re left with a record which genuinely thrills. —Brett Callwood
Summer State of Mind
Jerry Sprague has been plying his trade in college clubs and campuses throughout the upper Midwest for over 30 years. When you stop and think about it, that’s quite an impressive feat. Students come and go every few years, so even if you wanted to knock him for sticking to a narrow fan base, that’s at least 10 different sets of students he’s had to win over.
The title of his new album, plus the godawful photo of a ship’s sails on the front, is enough to make you hurl before you even press play, perhaps enough to dissuade many people from popping the disc into the player at all. Those that ignore all of that crap will be rewarded, though, because the music is catchy, brimming with good feeling, and the songwriting is strong. In addition, Sprague’s band includes three of his grandsons — Isaac, Gabriel and Samuel Sprague. It’s practically the Osmonds!
There are elements of Donovan here, some Mungo Jerry and the Byrds. It seems slightly odd that the record is getting a winter release; this album would soundtrack a Detroit summer beautifully, Sprague then placing comfortably on many local outdoor festival bills. As it is, the record just makes us long for an end to all this snow. —Brett Callwood
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