Throughout the bulk of this site’s 10 year history, I’ve also spilled quite a bit of virtual ink cover the Los Angeles-based garage rock/psych rock act JOVM mainstays Death Valley Girls. Featuring core and founding duo Larry Schemel (guitar) and Bonnie Bloomgarden (vocals, guitar) and a rotating cast of collaborators that includes Alana Amram (bass), Laura Harris (drums), Shannon Lay, members of The Make Up, The Shivas and Moaning, as well as The Flytraps’ Laura Kelsey, the JOVM mainstays can trace their origins back to over a decade ago, when they were formed by Schemel, Bloomgarden, Rachel Orosco (bass) and Hole‘s Patty Schemel (drums). And although they’ve gone through a series of lineup changes throughout their history, the band’s sound and aesthetic for much of their history was heavily indebted by The Manson Family and B movie theatrics — while thematically focused on the occult.
Last month, the longtime JOVM mainstays and Suicide Squeeze Records, released a two song, seven-inch EP Breakthrough. The EP found the Los Angeles-based act covering two songs which have a deep and profound connection to the band — both in their spirit and aural alignment, including Atomic Rooster‘s “Breakthrough,” a song discovered through an even more obscure cover by Nigerian psych act The Funkees. While the Death Valley Girls cover leans more towards The Funkees’ version — thanks to a grimy power chords, fire-and-brimstone organ chords and an in-your-face, combative chorus — all three versions of the song evoke the age-old desire to be free from prisons both real and mental.
Although they’ve been unable to tour because of COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines, the Los Angeles-based JOVM mainstays have managed to make 2020 a busy year: Slated for an October 2, 2020 release through their longtime label home, the band’s forthcoming album Under the Spell of Joy derives its title from the text on a t-shirt that the San Diego-based heavy psych rock act Joy gave to Death Valley Girls’ Bloomgarden. As the story goes, Bloomgarden regularly wore the shirt constantly over the next five years, treating it like a talisman. “I read it as being about manifesting your biggest dreams and responding thoughtfully and mindfully to everything that comes in your path with joy and compassion first,” Bloomgarden explains in press notes. “There is a lot to be really angry about in the world but joy is just as powerful if used correctly!”
With Under the Spell of Joy, the members of the Death Valley Girls sough to make a spiritual record — what Bloomgarden describes as a “space gospel” — with the intention of bringing people together and creating the kind of participatory musical experience people have in places of worship. And as a result, the album’s material is generally centered around chains, choirs and rousing choruses, written with the purpose of encouraging people to sing along. Where the band had once sought to connect people through more esoteric means, Spell of Joy finds them tapping into an age-old tradition of uniting people by inviting them to be an active participant.
Although Bloomgarden and Schemel knew their intention for the album’s material before they had written a single note, the nature and direction of the music was initially inspired by the Ethiopian funk records they had been listening to while touring — but once they began playing and recording the material they had written, the music, which they claim came from tapping into their subconscious seemed to come from the future.
centered around soaring and soulful saxophone, shimmering keyboard arpeggios, a sinuous bass line, a propulsive bass line and a shout along worthy chorus, “The Universe,” Under the Spell of Joy’s first single is a slow-burning and expansive song with a cosmic sheen that yearns and arches itself into a higher — and seemingly lysergic — plane of existence. Simultaneously nodding at Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here era Pink Floyd, 60s psych rock and shoegaze, the song bristles with a mischievous and ebullient joy that’s infectious.
“The world is crazy right now and it feels like we should be doing more than just trying to perpetuate joy,” Bloomgarden says. “I think music becomes a part of you. Like Black Sabbath’s first record is as much a part of me as my own music. I think you can listen to music or song to get lost in it, or you can listen to music to find something in your self or the world that either you never had or just went missing. I want people to sing to this record, make it their own, and focus on manifesting their dreams as much as they can!”
Directed by Bradley Hale, the recently released video for “The Universe” is a collage of newspaper and magazine clippings featuring occult and horror films, astral projection, UFOs and abductions and psychedelic blasts of color. And all of it centered around the desire to seek something beyond oneself, beyond their limited plane of existence and knowledge.