I am not my body,
– From the song “Somebody”
The world needs more female rock bands. Women have won over audiences throughout the musical spectrum (though at times their gains were hard-won), but the world of rock has proven a tougher nut to crack. Certainly a handful have made their mark, especially fronting groups – I’m thinking here of super-talented women like Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and the woefully underrated Suzi Quatro. Punk is the one area of the harder genres that women have been able to flourish and find acceptance for their talent, starting with the earliest days of the scene through riot grrrl and into the modern day. Europe is more advanced than the US in this regard and over the last nine years of attending Iceland Airwaves we’ve seen tons of ladies on stage who rocked out faces off, both in all-female and mixed-gender bands.
But I have seen the future of women in rock, my friends. And that future’s name is Dream Wife.
Dream Wife’s 2016 debut EP destroyed all comers, a four-song pop-punk masterpiece that will melt your jaded rock ‘n’ roll heart and make you fall in love with music all over again. Last year they gave us the five-song 12″ Fire and later in the year they announced their first full-length, the self-titled Dream Wife that just dropped about a week ago. They are talented. They are empowering. And they know how to rock.
First things first. If you have some of Dream Wife’s other stuff you’ll probably notice that you know some of the songs on Dream Wife – five of the album’s 11 songs appear on earlier releases. But in many ways that’s a good thing, because the band has gotten so much amazing press over the last six months or so that my guess is a lot of folks buying this LP will be experiencing the band for the first time, and those earlier songs are integral to understanding their sound. It appears that the only previously-released song (excluding remixes) that didn’t make it onto the new album is “Lolita”, which is a bit surprising since it’s so good. When Dream Wife blows up and becomes hugely popular (which WILL happen), I suspect “Lolita” will be like one of those hard-to-find B sides that the die-hards are always searching for.
Dream Wife opens with “Let’s Make Out”, and right from the get-go it’s apparent that they’re exploring a harder sound. Sure, it’s rock ‘n’ roll at its core and the backing vocals are reminiscent of the best of doo-wop, but Rakel Mjöll pushes her voice hard into what at times becomes raspy, yelled, and aggressive; she’s not suggesting we make out, she’s flat-out demanding we do so, right now. Sonically it’s quite the juxtaposition to their earlier work, such as the album’s second track “Somebody”, a more poppy number on which Rakel’s lyrics drift about of their own accord, not tied down to any rigid musical structure. It’s a technique she’s used to great effect both with Dream Wife and back in 2015 with the brilliant Halleluwah, whose self-titled and only LP was my pick for top album that year.
After a trio of previously-released tracks we reach the second new song on Dream Wife, “Love Without Reason”. And if “Let’s Make Out” made me think that maybe the band was moving in a harder direction, this does a complete 180, a sweet and dreamy song that suggests let’s be kids / and fall in love. “Kids” brings us back to the combo rock-pop mold that is Dream Wife’s wheelhouse, a certain pop sensibility that can (and does) explode at any moment into a supernova of punk attitude and dissonance.
Dream Wife have been musically tight since their earliest releases. Guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec drive the action, along with the band’s seldom-mentioned drummer (and only male member) Alex Paveley, but arguably the most distinctive element is Rakel’s voice and delivery. She often appears to be following her own path as her vocals wander about in ways that are alternatingly charming and aggressive, and her Icelandic-accented English provides a certain uniqueness to her words. Bella and Alice’s backing vocals, structured and punctuated, are the perfect offset to their lead singer, and the whole thing comes together in a way that gives Dream Wife a unique sound that commands attention. If you haven’t heard them before, you owe it to yourself to check out the new album.
– Jeff Obermeyer