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Review: Ex-Danity Kane Divas Become Pop Smart-Asses on Dumblonde’s Eponymous Debut

Dumblonde - 2015 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 30: Singers Shannon Bex (L) and Aubrey O'Day of the duo Dumblonde arrive to the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on August 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: September 25, 2015
Label: Double Platinum

Danity Kane’s too-simple songs were clearly designed more for mass consumption than artistic vision. But in spite of their success (two gold records, both of which debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200), Diddy disbanded them in 2009, kicking off an unusually protracted and ugly demise.

Four of the five members reunited in 2013, another left, and they recorded one last album and released a single with Tyga (oof). Then Dawn Richard apparently punched Aubrey O’Day in the back of the head last August, thus sealing the group’s fate – O’Day and Shannon Bex decided to move forward as a duo. Teaming up with Candice Pillay and Dem Jointz, whose names are all over Dr. Dre’s Compton, and R8DIO (whose father is George Johnson, a.k.a. half of the Brothers Johnson), they gave themselves the incredibly cheeky name Dumblonde. Whereas Dawn Richard, post-Diddy-Dirty Money, has delved further into future-alt-R&B to much critical acclaim, O’Day and Bex have gone hard in an electronic/dance-pop direction.

All but one of Dumblonde’s 11 tracks are credited to Bex, O’Day, and Pillay, and together they’ve made a  self-assured (electro-)pop album in the vein that could get Kylie back on the charts in 2015 (she’s making music in a similar ballpark, but not quite so hooky as this). Dumblonde’s debut looks back to look forward: “dreamsicle” takes a perfectly easy pop record and fillets it, with a treatment akin to cut-up/glitch-pop artists from the early ‘00s, like kid606 and Dsico. With its backwards-tape action, heavy looping, and treated vocals (used as more grist for the mill), the slab of heavy electro is one of the year’s most exciting singles.

Opener “white lightning” does include a couple of builds/drops, but they sound organic rather than shoehorned in for EDM co-opting. (And there’s something delightful about the goofy couplet, “You’re white lightning / So enlightening.”) An elastic bassline underpins “eyes on horizon,” complementing Bex and O’Day’s vocals, which in their semi-anonymity — akin to those of a disco diva like Andrea True, say — fit these songs perfectly. The album’s not without its weaknesses: “tender green life” has an irritating vocal loop pitched unfortunately high sullying its chorus, and “remember me” will likely only teach you that Dumblonde shouldn’t attempt reggae rhythms, an entirely unnatural fit; they were born to four-on-the-floor. But overall, Dumblonde is a clever collection of smart tunes that rarely flags and frequently excites, presented with a wink and a sly grin. It’s designed for mass consumption and artistic vision.