A name can carry a lot of meaning. For Kristin Welchez, her chosen moniker of Dee Dee and her band the Dum Dum Girls had left the artist in a box she couldn’t shake. Releasing a handful of strong albums and EPs over the last decade, Welchez developed a reputation for sublime dream pop influenced by both ‘60s girl groups and ‘80s melodramatic indie pop. When she wanted to pivot toward new wave and synthpop, she decoded to create a new identity, and Kristin Kontrol was born. With her first album under that name, she is able to shed the limitations imposed by her old work and put forth material that, while familiar, finds her coming into her own.
From a songwriting standpoint, X-Communicate is not a far departure from her approach with Dum Dum Girls, as she explained to Filler Magazine that she recorded eight out of nine Dum Dum Girls records solo with producers, with only Only In Dreams featuring the rest of the touring band. Therefore, Kristin Kontrol is less a solo departure than the next step in Welchez’s evolution as an artist, less Cocteau Twins and more Siouxsie. While the new album should help fans differentiate projects and help Welchez shed preconceived notions that might have shaded the record, there are enough similarities to what came before that it’s not jarring. Throw in some reverb on “What Is Love” or “Going Thru the Motions” and neither would appear out of place on a recent Dum Dum Girls record.
The most notable difference is Welchez’s confidence, as she clearly owns her new persona. She leans in heavily, indulging the upper register of her voice for swooning hooks, often backed by lush synths or brass arrangements. Like Dan Bejar, she embraces elements typically thought of as kitsch, but also imbues them with a sincerity that sells them. The saxophone opening “Show Me” acts as a bold signifier of style in the same way it did on Carly Rae Jepsen’s highly lauded Emotion. X-Communicate recalls that record throughout, as well as Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob. It may not be as surprising an ’80s pop adoption as those two examples, but echoes their sense of adventure.
Dum Dum Girls’ strengths often came from creating massive moments — the thunderous chorus of “Lord Knows” or the dramatic slow burn of “Bedroom Eyes” — and X-Communicate contains no shortage of similar hooks. There’s the catchy repetition of “Skin Shed”, the fleeting abandon of “White Street”, and the Madonna-indebted dancefloor ready irreverence of the title track. As consuming as the high points are, the middling ones that play out over the second half of the album stall the momentum. Dum Dum Girls had a similar problem, often leaving EPs like End of Daze or He Gets Me High as stronger representations of their work than the full-lengths.
Welchez has always been an enigmatic bandleader, with a stirring charisma frequently more compelling than the material. Her new persona is refreshing in that she is finally fully indulging that strength, acting with an unrestricted swagger. As great as Dum Dum Girls were at heady, emotional material, it’s inspiring to see how much fun Welchez is finally having. Drastic shifts like this aren’t easy to pull off, but Welchez has the chops and talent to succeed with Kristin Kontrol. While it may not be her strongest album, it’s an interesting new direction.
Essential Tracks: “Skin Shed”, “White Street”, and “X-Communicate”