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Up-and-coming bands: Free Energy, Dum Dum Girls, Dam-Funk and the Soft Pack
There are plenty of hints as to what to expect from the Dum Dum Girls based on the little details. The band's name references songs by proto-punk wild man Iggy Pop and cult favorite '80s indie-pop group the Vaselines. Kristin Gundred, the 27-year-old Californian who started the band as a one-woman project a couple of years ago and goes simply by Dee Dee, shares a stage name with a member of the Ramones. The band's first album, "I Will Be," comes out at the end of the month on storied Sub Pop Records.
But the best hint may be that "I Will Be" features production assistance from Richard Gottehrer, co-writer of '60s girl-group mega-hit "My Boyfriend's Back." While Gundred's songs are as compact as the Ramones' punk blasts and share a scruffy charm with the Vaselines, sweet harmonies and sticky choruses make for an inviting combination.
"Pop songwriting of the 1960s has always ranked high on my list [of influences]," Gundred says. "I'm not a revivalist, but I do strive to write songs as catchy as all the oldies I grew up on."
Being able to do that is what makes "I Will Be" such a striking debut. It delivers on the promise of a handful of fuzzy, self-recorded singles that have had blogs buzzing for the past year. This time around, things are more refined. The vocals gently float on top instead of lurking lower in the mix. The overall sound is still noisy, with generous doses of reverb, but the various elements never congeal into a massive sonic wash.
Now the Dum Dum Girls are helping to spearhead a renaissance of indie girl groups that includes Best Coast, Vivian Girls and Frankie Rose and the Outs. Just don't expect any "Mean Girls"-type rivalries. Quite the opposite.
"I am only happy to see other women playing music," Gundred says. "What's lame is when competitiveness between them is forged. It doesn't have to be only one on top."
Not that she has time for such competitiveness, anyway. The band recently completed a week of shows in London and will kick off a month-long U.S. tour in Austin next week. "I'm just trying to take advantage of all the opportunities I've been given," Gundred says. "I want to make music for a living. I'm not compelled to do anything else."
Short description: Imagine "Dazed and Confused" -- the look, the sound, the mindset -- lifted out of time and placed in modern-day Philadelphia.
Kindred spirits: Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex
The first song on Free Energy's first album is called ... "Free Energy." If that makes it something of a mission statement, there's good reason. On that one track the Philadelphia five-piece defines its musical aesthetic by managing to cram all the calling cards of '70s arena rock into a tidy package of oversize hooks, synchronized guitar solos and stoner poetry. "We're breaking out this time/Making out with the wind/And I'm so disconnected/I'm never gonna check back in," are the first words Paul Sprangers sings as bright power chords ring alongside him. There's also plenty of cowbell. (Obviously.) Later come the hand claps. First song on first album now, first song on a double-live album a few years down the line?
"Stuck on Nothing," the band's long-delayed, just-released album, is one that your outcast uncle, who has hung on to all of his old vinyl LPs, will dig as much as your hipster nephew, who is just discovering the joys of a turntable.
"Obviously, we listen to a [expletive] ton of classic rock," Sprangers says, laughing. "Springsteen, Seger, they're singing from the heart. They're, like, dudes who have been through the gantlet of life. Thin Lizzy, I hold all those bands in such high regard. I just don't feel like we live up to those." The modesty may be misplaced. "Stuck on Nothing" features a seemingly endless supply of singalong choruses and air-guitar riffs, turning every song into a lighter-waving anthem.
Sprangers and guitarist Scott Wells used to play together in Hockey Night, an indie rock band with classic-rock tendencies. This time around they decided to embrace their love of the '70s and go all the way with it, a decision encouraged by their most important fan, James Murphy. The mastermind of dance-rock faves LCD Soundsystem signed them to his label, DFA, and served as producer for "Stuck on Nothing."
"He just pushes us to make those direct choices," says Sprangers, 29. "His experience helps. Sometimes what may seem like cheesy choices, well, it's easier to take risks when someone's got your back."
Those cheesy choices may or may not extend to the band's wardrobe and look. Free Energy looks the '70s part as much as it sounds it. Catch the band live and you'll see the rail-thin Sprangers sporting shoulder-length hair, painted-on jeans and maybe a ratty tank top while the rest of the band members seem as if they just stumbled out of the back of a Volkswagen van. And if they could find a Volkswagen van that would ably get them from city to city, that would probably be exactly the case.