The countercultural, nonconformist, confrontational nature of punk reaches far beyond three-chord riffs—a reality foundational to the cleverly named Icelandic-British trio Dream Wife. Finding its main influences in Madonna and David Bowie, two legendary examples of punk manifesting far outside its stereotype, these three are set to carry the traditions of riot grrrl into the new decade with the fun-loving pop sensibilities, quirky charisma and unapologetic attitude laced throughout their debut album.
Dream Wife’s knack for writing sticky hooks within their blaring instrumental backdrop takes effect right away with kick-off track “Let’s Make Out.” Rising above its basis in bodacious rock and roll via playful melodies and a dancefloor-filling guitar work, the song’s energy sends it ricocheting off feral screams into tremendously catchy vocal lines. This balance of accessibility and zany liveliness ripples throughout the record, but the first track earns its place as Dream Wife’s introductory statement with infectious exuberance.
While the riff-happy “Hey Heartbreaker” and the bouncy ode to teen romance, “Love Without Reason,” feature a youthful abandon similar to the opener, Dream Wife remarkably demonstrates its ability to maintain social consciousness without sacrificing carefree atmosphere. “Somebody,” though certainly a solid grungy pop anthem in its own right, strikingly details the struggle against objectification within the rock scene. In the same way, the Blue Cheer-esque wall of sound riffage in “Act My Age” lays the perfect foundation for a song railing against perceived social norms and laughing in the face of those left in the dust—and doing so with eccentricity to spare.
Rakel Mjöll further solidifies herself as the standout feature of Dream Wife’s sound with this LP. Whether her voice tips a hat to antecedents like Bikini Kills and Jack Off Jill with unhinged caterwauls, casts spells on listeners with floaty dream pop melodies or hints at Bjork with the hyper-enunciated sing-talking most notably employed by the fellow Icelandic singer, her unmistakable voice sustains the spirit of this album.
Though the aforementioned tracks employ the fierce aspects of her delivery, Mjöll’s diverse range also brings a compelling dynamic range to the table. “Taste” and “Right Now” see her transition seamlessly through powerful choruses to evolving melodic dialogues in the verses, all the while acquiring extra layerings from guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec. They support Mjöll’s delivery to allow “Kids” to blossom into a harmonious celebration, all the while keeping one foot in grinding chords and pounding grooves.
Having no qualms about breaking ties with the meat-and-potatoes of punk rock, Dream Wife’s guitar-based sound still maintains a familiar simplicity. “Fire” lives up to its name in this way, finding its footing in a two-note vamp before dropping into oddball high-end chords, but the band again maintains undeniable musicality with muted arpeggios and surprisingly intuitive percussion. The band reigns in what could have easily become half-an-hour of grating noise pop with refined sensibilities, as exemplified in the driving puppy love anthem “Spend The Night,” but make no mistake: The most digestible elements of this LP stand in unabashed solidarity with the feminist ideas they’ve built their reputation for.
“F.U.U.” concludes this impressive outing by a fully realizing Dream Wife’s precocious artistic statement. Over misshapen garage rock riffs, Mjöll’s quirky phrases escalate to maniacal shrieks; a forceful tie-cutter toward those who would threaten the community they’ve fostered with their music. Counterculture naturally manifests in this record, not through political bloviating, but the entirety of an unapologetic way of life. Oozing with melodic decor and spry enthusiasm, Dream Wife’s first LP effortlessly elicits an explosive reaction, thrusting them to the vanguard of modern punk.
Follow writer Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.