Aussie trio DMA’s have carved a popular place among hearts on these shores, with three top 40 UK albums already in the bag. It’s a love-in that can partly be explained by the Britpop tag commonly bestowed on them, with fuzzy, distorted guitars strumming out over frontman Tommy O’Dell’s heartfelt lyricism.
And whilst the palette across their output – from 2016’s wistful debut Hills End to 2020’s electronic-edged The Glow via 2018’s For Now – all offered a smattering of something new each time, the band have managed to obtain that rare feat of having a distinctive sound. Simply put, you know you’re listening to DMA’s.
Their latest album, How Many Dreams?, which comes off the back of bucket list support slots with Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys last year, maintains these near-instantly recognisable qualities. That was never in doubt. Yet by delving into the slightly different moulds of each of their three prior records, it’s a slightly less coherent project as a whole.
Perhaps that’s unsurprising given the album’s dislocated genesis, being recorded first in London with Stuart Price and Rich Costey at the production helm before it was completed in the band’s Sydney hometown, with Aussie producer Konstantin Kersting manning the studio. As a result, it has the flow of a greatest hits compilation – again, hardly a shock considering the final product was the result of 70 early demos being whittled down to 12.
The opening, titular track lives up to its original intention of being “written purposefully as an opening track for a record,” guitarist Johnny Took told me. Its whirring, synth-led start proves something of a decoy before making way for the tub-thumping, arena-ready anthem it represents.
Here, too, O’Dell extends the album’s philosophical title, asking “How many dreams to find out what you have lost? How many years to find out what you must love?”
Indeed, four albums and more than a decade in, and O’Dell, Took and fellow guitarist Matt Mason clearly have time (and its passing) on their minds. ‘Dear Future’ sees O’Dell offering advice from the perspective of his future self, at a tempo that brings things down to a lighters-swaying-in-the-air pace. Here, he delivers one of the more memorable lines, “You gotta get out, the country’s still a joke”. (A line which Brits might cling more to than Aussies).
‘Fading Like A Picture’ and ‘21 Year Vacancy’ likewise mull over life’s ticking clock, this time with a love interest being an axis on which the world spins. Yet as with this subject matter, neither sound is particularly new. However, when penultimate track ‘Something We Are Overcoming’ attempts something novel, it feels slightly out of place with its flashes of euro pop.
Those are the album’s shortcomings out the way. It might have the stop-start flow a greatest hits compilation, and as such there are certainly moments that are… well, great.
‘Jai Alai’ is the album’s most pained track and calls back to some of the hushed, sweet-sounding offering of Hills End; the reclining post-chorus of ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend’ matches the embrace referenced in the line “Better in your arms, always is / Better arms”.
Album closer ‘De Carle’, meanwhile, is the most interesting on the album, with its stomping big beat giving even the electronic energy of The Glow a run for its money. Here, the lyrics are there most obscured – “Rapture is coming up / Don’t let it ever stop” – which makes it all the more alluring.
All in all, How Many Dreams? is an album of standout moments and some less memorable parts. But, as many of the band’s fans will attest, it’s difficult to separate an appreciation for O’Dell, Took and Mason with evaluating the substance of their sound.
Released in the week in which a certain Mr. Sheeran has attacked the apparent pointlessness of music criticism, perhaps here lies a case in point: there will be little to sway the minds of DMA’s fanbase and prevent these new assortment of tunes from becoming crowd-pleasers.
And who knows? As demonstrated by The Lathums’ relatively surprising victory over Slowthai in the albums charts earlier this month, DMA’s loyal following may yet bag them an even higher chart position than The Glow’s fourth-placed finish. One can dream.