Arthur Rimbaud published his extended poem “A Season in Hell” (1873) at the age of 19, had a well-known “relationship” with another French decadent poet (the older Paul Verlaine), disappeared from the public eye and quit writing by age 20, and has since then became the poster child for youthful rebellion. Dismissing his literary endeavors as “absurd, ridiculous, disgusting,” Rimbaud joined the Dutch Colonial army and later found home in the city of Aden, Yemen, where he headed a caravan for a French coffee trader. On Dum Dum Girls’ surprisingly yet unexcitedly mature EP End of Daze, Kristin “Dee Dee” Gundred sings of her own “Season in Hell”: “There’s always darkness to endure/ On the path to be redeemed.” Everything from the songs’ composition (which is less ramshackle and more purposeful and introspective than their previous releases) to the EP’s title to the lyrical content marks a deliberate attempt toward maturity and away from the “daze” and delirium, a conscious step that the band hinted at with last year’s Only in Dreams. But like Rimbaud’s unexplained turn from poetry to commerce, Dum Dum Girls’ call for a turn away from “daze” is worthy of investigation.
Even though End of Daze only spans a short 18 minutes, the EP is a journey, albeit a short one that is bookended by “Mine Tonight” and “Season in Hell,” which shares motifs, rhythms, and a tonal key. There is, surprisingly, a story to the album of loss and redemption. It starts with the condemned state of humanity, “Satan on my lips/ Paralyzed by his wicked kiss” (“Mine Tonight”), then illustrates the existential despair of the decentered self without a voice (“I Got Nothing”) that leads to a nihilistic rejection of the lived space (“Trees and Flowers”), which, following Freytag’s “tired” pyramid, then leads to attempts “to live a pure life” (“Lord Knows”). The EP leaves its listeners in a space of enlightenment, where “daze” dissolves and clarity and purity reign: “It’s the end of daze” (“Season in Hell”). The EP tells the time-tested yet clichéd Dante-esque narrative, something that is somewhat indicative of Dum Dum Girls’ musical output. Their reverb-washed style of pop, while continually becoming more sophisticated with every release, has long existed in the cultural matrix in this exact mutation: “Lord Knows” is “Crimson and Clover.” “Season in Hell” is The Jesus & Mary Chain. Throughout End of Daze, along with Only in Dreams, there is always a sense of looking back to the past. Conrad Tao’s review of Dum Dum Girls’ Only in Dreams shared a similar concern: “While I know that conventionality is a fundamentally unsound base to negatively judge music on, it nags at the brain.” So instead of judging the EP on those grounds, especially when the music is pop in its most direct and reified state (which is already problematic), one must see what lies in the Dum Dum Girls’ use of pop conventions.
Rimbaud wrote, “Why was I Seeking a friendly hand? I have an advantage now: I can now laugh off truthless loves, and strike down duplicitous couples with shame — down below, I experienced a hell womenknow well — and now I’ll be able to possess truth in a single body and soul.” The use of pop conventions on End of Daze is not connected to a political/cultural/aesthetic project of subversion, but to a somewhat overbearing David Foster Wallace-like project of heart-on-sleeve sincerity, an attempt to achieve a purity of soul. Even with their cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers,” Dum Dum Girls ditched the original’s playful juxtaposition of agoraphobic anxiety with saccharine instrumentation by stripping the song to its bare essentials, the voice and chords. The lucidity that Dee Dee sings of (“the day we wake up feeling clear”) is one of reduction and limitation. Rimbaud warned of clarity of this kind: “don’t fall prey to sudden salvation.” We shouldn’t leave daze, delirium, and disorder. Speaking of Rimbaud, Gilles Deleuze said, “the disorder of all senses defined the poetry of the future,” the continually indefinite future that is always yet to come. It is the space of impossibility that grants possibility of a daze-like clarity of thought and creation, not the rejection of confusion and the irrational for an attempt for “authenticity” and “sincerity.”
Possibly silence and emptiness, of which Dee Dee laments on “I Got Nothing,” should be the end-goal of daze and delirium, a willing resignation from speech and towards non-linguistic/nonhuman expression. Instead of enlightenment or the lucidity of “self” — “I don’t want to fade/ I just want to shine“ — one must stay in a hell, not just for a short “season,” in order to further burn oneself until one’s voice, even when filtered through pop conventions, becomes alien, animal, and chimerical. No one is like Rimbaud, who only needed a brief season in hell to create a truly affecting piece of radical poetry. While End of Daze features some of Dum Dum Girls’ more sophisticated songwriting to date, there is an overwhelming shadow of certainty and safety that is cast over the EP, preventing it from being a truly singular musical experience.