2020’s So When You Gonna… was Dream Wife’s Difficult Second Album. It was scattered and its impact was spotty, and it didn’t do a whole lot to elevate the band off the back of its release. Now to be fair, that last point can be attributed to any band contending with an early-pandemic ecosystem, but a caveat like that is still no kind of boon. What’s worse is that you could tell how So When You Gonna… was intended to be Dream Wife’s conscious expansion for what they can do—prior indie-punk augmented with more pop and infeasibly cool indie akin to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Sleigh Bells. As you might’ve guessed, it unfortunately didn’t land that smoothly.
So with Social Lubrication, why not just try again, eh? Because not only is it better than its predecessor while managing to hit those previous targets, it’s by a significant margin. There’s some sort of validation there that it was never a misguided idea holding Dream Wife back, now expanded even further by post-punk and the resonance that that brings, striking harder and reverberating deeper. They’re on a way stronger wavelength of dance-punk on the opening pair Kick In The Teeth and Who Do You Wanna Be?, signified by how resolute the spikes of guitar stand over throbs and pulse of drums and bass, and how Rakel Mjöll‘s vocals hit stronger with their elasticity. The Karen O comparison is inevitable, though the gulf is less gaping than on the previous album for simply feeling more self-assured.
Not that there wasn’t confidence before, mind, but it pays off spectacularly more this time around. Dream Wife are exceptionally good at sardonic exasperation on Hot (Don’t Date A Musician) and teeth-bared anger on Leech, the moments where the feverish qualities of their performance can come through the most. They contrast with slower, more spacious cuts like Mascara and Honestly, or the rounded indie edges of Curious that show the extent of Dream Wife’s sliding scale. But again, the variety is just more robust this time around. The production style hasn’t changed too much—clean surfaces and straight edges are very indicative of the dance-punk mindset—but like with everything else, Social Lubrication uses it way more effectively. There’s more consistent power behind it, be that in a chugging engine-room bass or a wide-reaching sense of atmosphere and restraint; all of that just takes a noteworthy step up.
And, of course, there’s the writing, the bread-and-butter of Dream Wife when it comes to establishing their feminist indie-punk baseline, and what’s always been their greatest strength. It’s not different on Social Lubrication, though with everything else now at a similar level, that extra bit of refinement definitely bubbles through here too. There’s more incisiveness, definitely, and Dream Wife’s gift for wit and humour certainly benefits from it on Hot (Don’t Date A Musician) and the title track. On Leech especially, the intermingled approaches of smart lyricism and socio-political knife-throwing is excellently realised, and having it seethe and writhe across a five-minute runtime makes for some brilliant tension. There’s also vulnerability and romance here too though, as Mascara and I Want You operate with similar poetic intent that has a lot of appeal to it. The human element to Social Lubrication is what keeps it running so consistently, even more so than Dream Wife have even been capable of in the past.
In fact, that consistency was arguably the last missing piece in getting Dream Wife to where they are on Social Lubrication. They had skill and intent and songwriting nous to spare, and now with it all punched up and uniformly able to hit, it’s not even a question of whether they’ve reached their highest point to date. It’s simply evident; on an album that rarely misses, with a sound and style that’s finally connected to come full circle, Dream Wife just have it nailed from front to back. As an upgrade in almost every conceivable way, Social Lubrication offers little other than true greatness.
For fans of: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleigh Bells, softcult
‘Social Lubrication’ by Dream Wife is released on 9th June on Lucky Number Music.
Words by Luke Nuttall