Initiation is a long overdue longplayer collaboration between Dee Dee Penny, beguiling front woman of Dum Dum Girls and Brandon Welchez, her guitarist husband and founding member of California surf-poppers Crocodile - aka Haunted Hearts. Born of winter nights in their NYC home surrounded by the rich harmonies of Motown, and recorded in sun-drenched San Diego, this album is eight songs of lofi pop perfection.
Opening track Initiate Me begins with what sounds like a literal klaxon, heralding an unassuming start that would be underwhelming if it didn’t provide a subtle platform from which the rest of the shoegazey majesty launches. By the time second song, the Siouxsie Sioux-esque Up Is Up (But So Is Down) reaches the halfway point, it all begins to make sense.
Despite previous protestations from San Franciscan native Dee Dee against accusations of bicostality in her music, there is a definite sense of New York City about this album, but lighter, and filtered through a Californian lens. Love Incognito snakes around the Battery, with tones of Debbie Harry and Shayla in the mezzo-soprano packed under fuzzy guitar. Something That Feels Bad Is Something That Feels Good, seemingly an ode to the intricacies of long-term love, reverberates with gutsy bass and a joyously sing-a-long-a-chorus. Brandon’s colder, barer vocals are definitely better on this album for being sparsely used, because when they are, the effect of the razor sharp contrast between the pair is magical. Throughout, his hazy layered guitar perfectly envelops Dee Dee’s dreamy vocals. It’s like The Raveonettes, but a morning after, drank too many shots, smoked too many cigarettes and it’s suddenly 6am Raveonettes. Every note feels lovingly delivered. Ethereal closer Bring Me Down pairs bare synth tracks with guitar static and lulls the listener into such a stupor that it’s almost a shock when it ends and real life begins again.
There’s a cinematic quality to Initiation; like the soundtrack to stumbling home over the Williamsburg Bridge as the sun comes up behind you over Kings County, and in my head, this is exactly what it is. An imagined film reel of a couple in love with each other and their music against a backdrop of iconic Americana is, for this English girl, impossible to ignore. The chemistry in their music is almost palpable as it fizzes and hisses from the speakers. Listened to as a whole, it conjures up images of stolen kisses and sunglasses and a blur of subway trains, but the songs are such expertly crafted tiers of sound that it prevents them from falling into shallow waters.
There’s nothing genre busting or particularly innovative here, but the way it’s assembled and its constituent parts are the selling point. A perfect marriage of romance noir and dirty guitars, of adventure and ruin, San Diego sunshine and East River grime. Pure, beautiful escapism.
Words - Angi Strafford
Initiation is released on May 26th on Zoo Music
Buy here on itunes
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