It’s a shock that the Cool Alt Kids of Twitter haven’t yet adopted Dream Wife as their patron saints. That’s not to say that the British rockers are stereotypical—just that they effortlessly check all the right boxes. They can pen a metaphor like Lorde, capture emotional turbulence like Mitski, and craft commentary like Rina Sawayama. Yet comparing their sophomore album, So When You Gonna…, to the work of these artists doesn’t begin to do it justice. So When You Gonna… is not simply good music, or good indie music, or good feminist music; it’s catharsis transposed to musical form.
If you detect a hint of subversion in Dream Wife’s name, you’re on the right track. Rakel Mjöll, Alice Go, and Bella Podpadec named the band after a 1953 rom-com that satirized the notion of the docile, submissive fantasy woman. Of course, Dream Wife the Band can’t be silenced or tamed. Their radical ethic bleeds through all aspects of their work, whether they’re inviting girls to approach the barricade at their raucous live shows, singing about issues like sexual harassment, or simply encouraging self-love. This attitude is immediately evident on So When You Gonna… with opening track “Sports!” Talk-singing over an infectious riff, Mjöll shares a series of maxims: “Put your money where your mouth is”; “Never apologize”; “Serve it, smash it, win it, own it.” Every now and then, she’s met with a chorus of voices chanting, “These are the rules—sports!” She’s not just flaunting her own confidence—she’s taking you (yes, you!) to training camp.
One of the most remarkable aspects of So When You Gonna… is the way it centers the female perspective. The members of Dream Wife don’t idealize themselves for male consumption; nor do they objectify men to “turn the tables.” Their lyrics are first and foremost a chronicle of their own desires, relayed with a giddiness and directness that often feels revolutionary. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the title track. “So when you gonna kiss me?” Mjöll shrieks within the first seconds of the song. Throughout the verses, she coaches her love interest on how to make her feel wanted: “When you gonna take that hand off my leg/and move it higher up?/Pull me closer by the waist.” After a few minutes of tension, she lets her frustration boil over and screams, “All right! I guess I’ll just have to spell it out for you then!” The final verse brings the narrative to the perfect conclusion: “And then they kissed me,” Mjöll sings over roaring guitars, somehow even more fired up than she was before. Background ad-libs capture the excitement of the moment with all the gusto of a baseball announcer: “It is happening! …Whoa! I have never seen a kiss like that before!” Not only is the chaos entertaining—it’s refreshing, considering how women’s attraction is often characterized as bowdlerized pining or calculated seduction in song lyrics.
Make no mistake, though: it’s not all kisses and goals in Dream Wife’s world. They never shy away from the grittier aspects of life, whether that means confronting the realities of toxic relationships or reflecting on their own insecurities. Exhibit A: “Homesick.” The song begins with a tender proposition: “I like the way you move me/Wanna watch a scary movie?” By the chorus, things have turned south: ”You got me feeling kind of homesick so I threw up all over you.” It’s not often that you hear vomit mentioned in a song about romance—but Mjöll isn’t afraid to go there, and the record is better off for it. Equally punchy but less flippant is “Hold On Me,” a ballad about being the fabled “other woman.” Mjöll admits that she feels comfortable with her lover: “I like you and I like your friends”; “You like me and you like my friends.” Yet she’s not afraid to hold herself accountable, eventually coming to the conclusion, “Now what we had before isn’t very gentlemanly/So let me keep my conscience and set boundaries.” Countless other artists singing about the same topic have defaulted to playing unapologetic vixens or asking for pity; Dream Wife’s willingness to see the nuance in the situation makes the track especially powerful.
Just as Dream Wife are willing to open up about every topic under the sun, they’re unafraid to experiment musically. “So When You Gonna…” and “Homesick” boast the most quintessential Dream Wife sound, drawing upon the time-honored traditions of punk and riot grrrl. “Hasta La Vista” and “RH RN” have a post-punk vibe calling to mind artists like Blondie and New Order, whereas “Validation” and “Temporary” are best classified as laid-back indie pop. Mjöll, Go, and Podpadec are natural shapeshifters, adapting their style to each genre with ease. Expect both headbanging and pensive swaying when they perform this record live.
The last track on So When You Gonna…, “After the Rain,” is a piano ballad. The melody is stark, Mjöll’s voice gentle; it’s far more Billie Eilish than Kathleen Hanna. Yet Mjöll’s refrain—”My choice, my life”—tells you all you need to know about Dream Wife’s duality. They’re strong in their softness, soft in their strength—and that’s what makes them stand out.