Listening to Dream Wife’s Social Lubrication, you wouldn’t guess that it’s only their third album. Where their second record, 2020's So When You Gonna… made the Brighton-born, London-based trio - Rakel Mjöll, Alice Go and Bella Podpadec - a big noise on the UK's indie/alt. rock scene, album three takes them to bold new places, pushing the boundaries of genre and influences with the maturity and polish of a band who have been around for decades. By turns playful, political, provocative and personal, across its compact 38-minute run time, Social Lubrication finds Dream Wife living their best, most authentic lives, and having a blast while doing so.
Two of the five songs released as singles ahead of the album, Leech and Orbit, are prime examples of how expansive and wide-ranging the Dream Wife sound is in 2023. The former opens as spoken-word, sparse post-punk with simple instrumentation, taking a similar path to Paramore on C’est Comme Ça, but as the lyric builds to a fierce condemnation of music industry misogyny, Mjöll's melodic monologue gives way to feral rage, and a chorus screaming “The leech is out for blood”. The band take a different approach on Orbit with more intricate riffs, electronic flourishes and cool, intriguing lyricism ("In our past lives, we definitely knew each other / You could have been my best friend / You could have been my mother / You could have been someone that I would lean on"). Perhaps most importantly, they show off this range without ever losing coherence or poise.
Social Lubrication is at its most carefree on moments such as Hot (Don’t Date A Musician), where Dream Wife prove that they aren’t afraid to have fun while also offering genuinely important life advice. Listing the different variety of people you should date instead of musicians - plumbers, electricians and even magicians make the cut, if you’re wondering, but not bartenders... they could secretly be moonlighting musicians, after all - they set themselves apart from post-punk bands that take themselves far too seriously. This trend continues on the punky I Want You, a neat, sub-two-minute ode to desire, and later on Curious, with its laugh-out-loud declaration “I feel too sexy to listen to my friends.”
But these light-hearted moments also serve to make Mjöll's more serious lyrics all the more impactful, as with the title track’s exploration of womanhood, which encompasses everything from the tired, lazy “What’s it like to be a woman in music?” question that female artists put up with on a daily basis, to a harrowing, hard-hitting verse on the fear women can feel walking home alone at night. At their most powerful, Dream Wife's rage can stop you dead in your tracks, posing questions about why misogyny, toxic masculinity and gender-based violence persist in even the most evolved communities.
It's significant that Dream Wife have taken their time to put out new music in the three years since So When You Gonna… emerged. In an industry that demands a constant stream of content from new bands, their refusal to get drawn into playing the game speaks of their growing confidence and self-awareness, and Social Lubrication is proof that good things come to those who wait. Nevermind lighting up the UK's the alternative scene, Dream Wife have shown here that they've got everything it takes to gatecrash the mainstream. Now wouldn't that be a dream?