Kristin-kontrol-xcommunicate

Are Dum Dum Girls dead? They certainly look as if they’re hanging in the balance. When frontwoman Kristin Gundred announced her new project, Kristin Kontrol, back in January – one that’s seen her revert to her real name, after going by Dee Dee Penny during the Dum Dum years – she made the curious decision not to leave her old band’s online presence in stasis, or even mothball it, but instead to simply change the name and aesthetic of the Dum Dum Girls social media pages to Kristin Kontrol’s instead. Dum Dum Girls, then, have disappeared, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a deliberately theatrical move, and maybe even a touch presumptuous – “you liked my old band, so you’ll no doubt be into this new one, too.”

In fairness, though, Gundred probably had just cause for doing so; she was, after all, the beating heart of Dum Dum Girls, writing and recording their debut ‘I Will Be’ entirely on her own and continuing to steer the creative vision both in and out of the studio thereafter. Plus, after a stellar run that took in both the superb sophomore LP ‘Only in Dreams’ and the fine EPs ‘He Gets Me High’ and ‘End of Daze’, the band seemed to have finally run out of steam with 2014’s muddled ‘Too True’; it doesn’t seem like coincidence, either, that the album Gundred made with her husband that year under the name Haunted Hearts – ‘Initiation’ – sounded considerably more inspired.

Dum Dum Girls appeared to have ended up in a rut and the best way out of it, Gundred seemed to reason, was a solo reinvention – not just on the surface, but in the studio, too. She always masked her pop sensibilities beneath guitars in her old band, but this new LP as Kristin Kontrol, ‘X-Communicate’, largely eschews the six-string in favour of an electronic approach. On the surface, this is as glossy a record as you’re going to hear all year; it’s a polished affair from top to bottom on the production front, but to pigeonhole ‘X-Communicate’ as Dum Dum Girls gone all-out pop would be to miss the deeper point of what Gundred’s trying to do with this new identity.

This is an album littered with deft touches and nuances, with the assured pop front that Gundred puts up cleverly disguising the breadth of her musical tastes. She flits between styles smartly, never sacrificing cohesion; ‘(Don’t) Wannabe’ is a slice of synthpop that’s virtually chart-ready and she pairs dramatic harmonies with a killer hook on ‘Drive the Night’, but those cuts are set against the likes of ‘Face 2 Face’, all choppy menace, and the dreamy ‘Going Thru the Motions’. The title track brings out most clearly the krautrock influence that Gundred flirts with throughout the album, with the guitar only ever being used for colour and punctuation. In fact, if there’s one key thread linking these songs together – other than the consistently strident vocals, easily her most confident to date – it’s the percussion, the thumping electronic beats that dictate the pace throughout. That’s probably the most compelling evidence that Gundred understands the new direction she’s taken, and isn’t just trying a new guise on for the sake of it; ‘X-Communicate’ would’ve been seen as too much of a stylistic divergence had it been released as a Dum Dum Girls record, but as a personal rebirth, subject matter and all? It fits the bill very neatly indeed.

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