The cult of domesticity (unfortunately) remains alive and well in 2018, but bands like Dream Wife and Sunflower Bean are taking a sledgehammer to it one brash musical quip at a time. The picks for mass destruction last night (May 3) at Sonia were “I’m not my body/I’m somebody” and “I do not go quietly,” respectively.
Booked on a joint North American tour, England’s Dream Wife and NYC’s Sunflower Bean have been sharing a prosperous 2018, each with a new full-length album out and racking up critical acclaim -- but perhaps more importantly, they both feature women with a better-than-ever-footing on their confidence, musical or otherwise.
Up first, Dream Wife delivered a swift KO as soon as they leaned into the audacity of “Hey, Heartbreaker,” demonstrating their unique ability to beg someone not to tread on their feelings in the most threateningly punk way possible. Helping their cause was lead singer Rakel Mjöll, who performed with saccharine yet often squeal-laden vocals that translated into an angry wallop to the gut, and Bella Podpadec’s robust basslines that could simultaneously slap you silly. Dream Wife proved to be as abrasive as punk-pop gets.
Take a gander at the 10 songs of Dream Wife’s self-titled debut album and the common rage-y theme certainly comes across, but the source of the unabashed angst never surfaces. Songs like “F.U.U.” (that stands for “Fuck you up,” kiddos) makes you fear for where that fury came from, as Mjöll scowled as she mimed scissors with her fingers, asserting “Whilst I fuck you up, gonna cut you up, gonna fuck you up.” Nevermind the subsequent menace of “Let’s Make Out,” a song about snogging that makes love affairs out to be a hazardous activity.
Dream Wife left the stage in an impassioned funk, leaving Sunflower Bean to clear the air with a touch less mania. And, in comparison, Sunflower Bean felt subdued, even when lead singer Julia Cumming snarled about dragging everyone to hell (“Burn It”). New music from the New York outfit comes across as more old-school rock than anything too rough n’ tumble, but that never stopped Cumming from exuding alarming glares from under her heavy indigo eyeshadow.
And, unlike Dream Wife, whose peril ricochets through every single one of their recorded tracks, there’s a lot to a live Sunflower Bean gig that doesn’t -- and can’t -- come across in the span of their new record Twentytwo In Blue: How Cummings played bass on the tip-toes of her metallic cowgirl boots, the way she developed a slight underbite while playing particularly punchy bass licks, the overall giddy buoyancy of her bandmate and lead guitarist Nick Kivlen.
Playing almost exclusively off Twentytwo In Blue, the group’s updated catalogue establishes just how far they’ve grown towards the sunlight since their 2016 debut record Human Ceremony. Twentytwo In Blue offers an outgoing collection of tracks -- ones that are especially outgoing when you’re watching Cumming and Kivlen engage in centimeters-apart riff-offs -- that offer more perspective than the deliberate monotony of their 2016 hit “I Was Home.”
Juxtapose the lyrics of the older tune (“What did you do today/I stayed at home today/I was home and then I wasn’t”) with the vulnerability of new tracks “Puppet Strings” and “I Was A Fool” and the progress becomes glaring. As for what Twentytwo In Blue actually sounds like, the fact that Sunflower Bean decided to sneak a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” into the mix tells you everything you need to know.
Are Sunflower Bean and Dream Wife similar in style? Not quite -- one group aims to melt your face with guitar licks, while the other will flat out scalp you. But differences be damned; with women at the helm of both groups, they show that there's no one way to be a riot grrrl.
View images from the show by Victoria Wasylak below; follow her on Twitter @VickiWasylak.