For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a very little girl, I’ve had this feeling inside of me that I was bad. The things I wanted, the things I did, the way I looked and the things people did to me, it was all evidence of the fact that I was bad.
“Am I a lemon?” Daddy Issues’ guitarist and vocalist Jenna Moynihan muses on “Lemon,” the third track from the Nashville band’s debut full-length album Deep Dream. “I’ve been sucking my thumb and I think I’m sour.” The way she sings the line, the tight desperation at the start of the question, how the first syllable of “sour” pulls smooth and long while the second goes blunt and low, it sounds so familiar to me, like my voice. Not my actual singing or speaking voice, but my voice.
Over the course of the album, Moynihan calls herself lots of things: sour, stupid, unimportant, a bummer. She says she’s just a “motel” for some guy, says she doesn’t play guitar that well. On “I’m Not,” penned by drummer Emily Maxwell about her history of childhood sexual assault, Moynihan wails Maxwell’s lyrics about how she’s not great, how she’s no use and she feels dumb. And while you might think hearing raw self-effacement to that degree would be wearying, in fact it feels fucking amazing. Because what Daddy Issues does, in naming and saying all those feelings, is remove the shame. And losing the shame that comes with being a woman is one of the most significant ways to claim your power, which is exactly what each and every song on the fearless, clear-eyed, unapologetic Deep Dream does in one way or another.
Exemplified by impossibly sharply observed single “In Your Head,” a kiss-off to an ex that describes in brutally accurate detail what he probably imagines her life is like now without him, Deep Dream is what it feels like to be the smartest person in the room and still not have the power to get the respect you deserve from the men you’re spending time with, because they’ve had a whole lifetime of being conditioned to get what they want and you’ve had a whole life of being expected to shrink and contort yourself to fit into their world. And Daddy Issues both lays out that reality in clear, unflinchingly honest detail and bashes it all to pieces with shrieking scuzzy guitar and howling, snarling dismissals of all the bullshit.
Full of self-interrogation at times bordering on self-dissection, and buoyed by a bold and revelatory honesty, Deep Dreams proves just how perfectly suited Daddy Issues’ fusion of sludgy grunge and hazy pop is to communicating the sorrows and the glories of being a smart young woman. Songs like “Boring Girls,” which takes pages from Exile in Guyville-era Liz Phair and the lowlife highs of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” as well as the truly exemplary “Dog Years,” which channels furious rage into pummelling lines like “if you could do anything/you would ruin the best things” and a deeply cathartic shrieking reverb freakout, see Moynihan, Maxwell, and bassist Jenna Mitchell using the reserves of themselves, their honesty, their words, their musicianship, to take back agency over their experiences. Not everyone deserves sympathy. Not everyone deserves well wishes or amends. Some people deserve to choke on their own spit.
Precise imagery and fierce metaphors have been hallmarks of Daddy Issues’ music from the beginning. Few descriptions of coping with pain hit harder than “I tried to eat around the bruise,” the Atwoodian chorus of “Bruise” from 2015’s Can We Still Hang EP. The band continues to grow their already stellar songwriting skills on Deep Dream: the comparison of former relationship as “just a mosquito bite” on “Mosquito Bite” is clean and effective, while pretty much every line on “Dog Years” — “there you are in the rearview/faking landings on the moon/here we are in the driveway/I’m deciding which tree to run us into” — is devastating. I’ve said a lot about Moynihan’s voice, and the pure and elegant way it slips from piercing to possessed to wistful to resigned depending on the moment is lovely, but Maxwell’s drums are also a critical driving force, propelling each song forward steadily and confidently, while Mitchell’s basslines build out the fullness of the band’s sound. The closing song “Dandelion” is a highlight for both of them.
If there’s one thing I wish about Deep Dream, it’s that the mixing allowed the vocals to come through a little crisper, so that the nuances could really come through and each and every word could be memorized and screamed. (The band has lyrics to all their previously released songs on Bandcamp, so the dream of learning every lyric from Deep Dream will likely be realized soon enough.)
There is a painful and glorious freedom that comes from embracing your badness. Maybe me and girls like me are bad ones, maybe we’re lemons, maybe that’s okay or even amazing. If it means we get to claim Deep Dream as ours, if it means we’re half as dynamic, challenging, and interesting as Daddy Issues’ songs are, then I think we’ll be okay.
For more from Daddy Issues, check out their Paste Studio Session below.