Dum Dum Girls have always interested me. They seem very concerned with a pop aesthetic, sonically and visually, despite making distinctly underground-inflected music. The echoes of negative space were the defining feature of their debut, but the songwriting was tight, catchy stuff – a dichotomy stark enough to perhaps hamper the push into the mainstream market as much as might have been expected. Their second album, Only in Dreams, pushes the two halves closer together and, in its best moments, reveals a mastery of the combination, leading to a glimpse of not only what the band has become, but what they could yet blossom into.

Only a few years ago, the very idea of an established band giving samples of their new music away for free seemed like patent madness. With the public fall of Napster and subsequent rise of peer-to-peer file sharing, free downloads were very much the enemy for the kind of band who expected to be making any real money from their music. Skip to 2011 and it would seem just as mad not to do the self-same thing. Whether a desperate plea for pre-orders, a “selfless” reminder to fans or even just a consequence of the rest of the industry following a similar path, it’s difficult to find an artist unwilling to freely share part of their work as a pre-release bonus – Los Angeles’ Dum Dum Girls being no exception. ‘Coming Down’, a six and a half minute epic lathered with singer Dee Dee’s plaintive vocals, booming drums and a truly spine-tingling crescendo is a perfect example of the power of this new form of album advertising. The blogosphere responded in typical foaming-at-the-mouth fashion, clamouring to acclaim this new elegiac direction as fast as possible and fans responded similarly. The only problem then lies in actually listening to Only In Dreams, the album it lies at the centre of, because Dum Dum Girls could well be accused of false advertising.

The band have certainly taken a new approach to their music, but ‘Coming Down’ simply isn’t representative of that. Where debut effort I Will Be bristled with brittle punk trapped in an echoing void, Only In Dreams pushes its guitar work to the forefront; smooth, melodic riffs acting as a perfect match for harmonies and choruses more akin to classic rock ‘n’ roll than the spikier influences of previous work. ‘Bedroom Eyes’ is (Smiths covers notwithstanding) the catchiest song the four-piece have produced, its beautifully repetitive chorus boring its way into your subconscious at speed, whilst handclap magnet ‘Heartbeat’ and short, sharp, surfy opener ‘Always Looking’ tail just behind. This isn’t to say the band have forgotten the strengths they already possessed however as ‘Just A Creep’s simplistic, signature guitar line attests to. These are excellent songs, more often than not performing the potentially disastrous balancing act of matching art with pop in admirable fashion.

But then along comes ‘Coming Down’, a song as seemingly ill-fitting in the context as it is brilliant. This is the track that could have seemed like the perfect anomaly, an indication of future evolution and a marker of the very real talent the band have. As it stands, it’s both of these things, but is also saddled with the marker of an advert – the image the band wanted to portray and very much don’t live up to in reality. The only real connection can be drawn with closer ‘Hold Your Hand’, a shimmering torchburner that matches ‘Coming Down’ for emotion if not technique. As it stands, Only In Dreams is a very competent evolution, an album that draws on what was acclaimed in the past and updates it with new, interesting styles that append it wonderfully. Dum Dum Girls are, as of this album, an excellent band, rather than a prospectively excellent one – musicians in a scene obsessed with rehashing the past that seem to understand their own music as well as that from which they borrow. What this album is not, however, is a record full of songs like ‘Coming Down’, a fact which may well disappoint the many who were so interested after its early release, but which raises the stakes for album three in a very interesting way.

Originally written for DIY