Formed as an art school project just a few years ago, Dream Wife are now serious contenders. The group’s eponymous debut is raw and honest, with a polished veneer. Dream Wife blend the syrupy artifice and irony of pop with the hard thrashing fuzz of punk. Sugar sweet, bubblegum backing vocals — “woohs”, “oohs” and “aahs” — accentuate the lyrical barbs that Iceland-born singer Rakel Mjöll lets loose. Vibrant and candid, Mjöll’s words are immediate, unpretentious, unfussy and uncompromising. She deploys an engaging range of styles to make her points — singing, speaking, speak-singing, squeaking, screeching.
Guitar work from Alice Go is similarly varied, fresh and lively, with a pure simplicity redolent of late ’70s punk-pop. Dream Wife’s pop sensibility has a deviant streak, so that the “hey, hey, hey” accompaniment on the catchy ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ sounds almost threatening and Go’s piercing guitar notes on the incendiary discordant indie of ‘Fire’ disintegrate into a fine tremolo buzz.
On album opener ‘Let’s Make Out’, Go sounds like a disturbed wasps nest and a plane taking off, the fast riffing and light reverb setting the tone. Mjöll finds an emotional rasp in her voice as she shouts the song’s blunt refrain, “let’s make out”, probing the coyness and discomfort of desire by asking “or are we just too shy / are you too shy?” As on many tracks, boppy bass from Bella Podpadec is accompanied by hand clapping, the trio’s percussive touch adding to drumming from ‘extra’ group member Alex Paveley.
Another highlight is FUU — as it ends, Go’s frenzied guitar work accompanies the ferociously screamed word “bitches”, which the band have reclaimed as an empowering feminist term. Their fans are the ‘bad bitches’. Mjöll starts the song feistily: “I’m gonna fuck you up, gonna cut you up, gonna fuck you up.” But the chorus jokes that this may not be the shanking we assume: “I’m gonna cut your hair / Now, won’t you stare.” The song takes a wild detour through an Icelandic Spice Girls rap before pivoting into a wholly different outro of “I spy with my little eye bad, bad, bad, bad bitches” and that yelled climax, with the fizzing amps stuttering to close 35 minutes of spiky post-punk.
Mjöll charismatically adds emphasis when pronouncing words or parts of words, using wordplay and assonance to build meanings. When ‘Act My Age’ veers into attacking art-punk, she quizzes “do I amuse you, do I confuse you?” On ‘Somebody’, she sings defiantly about sexual harassment and the male gaze. She wrote the song from personal experience before #MeToo, but it resonates powerfully with that movement now. From the typical patriarchal dismissiveness of “you were a cute girl standing backstage / it was bound to ’appen” through the catharsis of “I took on the world / to find me again”, the lyrics end on the unapologetic anti-objectification battle cry, “I am not my body / I am somebody.” The word “somebody” draws a drum roll.
As on ‘Somebody’, Go’s melodious power-pop riffs anchor the frank ‘Spend The Night’, where her playing contrasts with Mjöll’s dream-pop singing: “Would you like to spend the night together / I would like to know you better /… I can’t read your mind / But I guess it’s now or never /… Spend the night with me.” Either side of the string-bending and fat riffing of ‘Kids’, the album pauses for breath with the quirky romantic pop of ‘Love Without Reason’ and the juicy chord progressions of new song ‘Taste’. In all, ‘Dream Wife’ bristles with the energy that makes the pop-punk attitude and arty glam magnetism of their live shows so compelling.
‘Dream Wife’ is released on January 26th 2018 via Lucky Number.
Photo credit for featured image: Joanna Kiely
Here’s the ‘Dream Wife’ track list:
01 Lets Make Out
04 Hey Heartbreaker
05 Love Without Reason
08 Act My Age
09 Right Now
10 Spend The Night