Cursed with admiration for the well-written hook and burdened by a crippling obsession with separating themselves from the pack (via varying degrees of over-intellectualized "experimentation"), indie rock bands have always found themselves performing a high-wire act. This writer included, the critical establishment often pushes a canon of bands that, to their ears, have managed to strike some idyllic balance between opposing forces, some burying that undeniable knack for pop beneath clouds of noise, and others slicing catchy riffs into irregular time signatures. Ironically, the fear of appearing to seek popularity through instantly recognizable songcraft has squeezed the life out of many a blossoming performer.
But Dream Wife don’t have time for pop pessimism, yours or mine. They’ve been too busy cramming wave after wave of stadium-sized, fist-pumping melodic goodness into every square inch of their long-awaited debut. In a sense, the London-based trio evolved in reverse. Starting as an art school project to create a fake girl band, the three women discovered an unexpected chemistry and ditched highbrow artifice in favor of near-religious dedication to hook-fueled rock and roll. Their first proper LP is 35 minutes of mania, a commanding collection of pop-punk tracks bristling with riotous energy. Dream Wife don’t waste time hiding their melodic gifts, and why should they when the results are so damn fun?
From beginning to end, the band operates within a well-defined universe, rallying around linear, palm-muted riffs, strutting basslines, and yelping choruses determined to pull wallflowers like you onto the dance floor. Dream Wife know their lane and stick to it, but they find enough wiggle room within that paradigm to keep you thoroughly entertained. Opener “Let’s Make Out” leaps right into the fray with rabid abandon—a few reverb-drenched “oohs” and you’re slammed into a throat-shredding chorus, with all credit to vocalist Rakel Mjöll for bringing the bravado in spades. Under her thumb, potential slow-burners like “Love Without Reason” turn into theatrical blowouts that call to mind The Killers at their arena-conquering best, and scuzzy dirtbombs like “Hey Heartbreaker” take on a winking mischief courtesy of her bratty, hiccuping delivery.
The raw power behind Mjöll’s vocals finds a worthy foil in guitarist Alice Go, who howls alongside her partner in crime with a roaring tone that fills in the spaces with a satisfying squeal. Center stage on the album’s best track, “Fire,” is hers entirely. Alternating between seasick bends that ramp up the distortion and metronomic pulsations, the riff explodes off the drums in a flash of garage-rock brilliance.
For every minor moment on the album that seems to skew towards the formulaic (the penultimate track, “Spend the Night,” doesn’t quite break free of its clichés), Dream Wife turn in five massive hooks that muscle their way into the back of your mind with ease. Most of these hew close to the classic rock antics that make up the majority of the record, making final track “F.U.U.” all the more mysterious. A completely blasted, fuzz-fried banger featuring the chant “I’m gonna fuck you up / I’m gonna cut you up / I’m gonna fuck you up,” the track skips along with a hip-hop groove, an update of “Kool Thing” with a modern swing. It’s like nothing else on the record, but there’s a real joy to how Dream Wife turns the tables on you one last time. A sugar-coated fist to the brain, this album hurts too good to ignore.