Throughout this site’s almost 11-year history, I’ve spilled copious amounts of virtual ink covering Los Angeles-based garage rock/psych rock JOVM mainstays Death Valley Girls. Currently featuring the band’s 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 band has gone through a series of lineup changes throughout their history — and yet throughout their history, the band’s overall aesthetic and sound has generally been indebted to The Manson Family, B movie theatrics and the occult.
Last year was a rather busy year for the Los Angeles-based JOVM mainstays: They started off the year with the two-song, 7 inch EP Breakthrough, an EP which featured a cover of Atomic Rooster‘s “Breakthrough,” a song the band originally discovered through an even more obscure cover by Nigerian psych act The Funkees. Continuing upon the momentum of Breakthrough EP, the JOVM mainstays’ longtime label home Suicide Squeeze Records released their fourth album Under the Spell of Joy late last year.
The album deriving its title from a the text on a t-shirt that the San Diego-based heavy psych rock act Joy gave to Death Valley Girls’ Bonnie Bloomgarden, who wrote the shirt like a talisman ov er the course of the next five years. “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!”
Interestingly, with their fourth album, the band sought 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: Much of the album’s material is centered around chants, choirs and rousing choruses, written with the expressed purpose of encouraging people to sing and shout along. Unlike their previously released material, which found the band connecting to listeners in esoteric means, the album’s material sees the band attempting to tap into an age-old tradition fo connecting with people by inviting them to actively participate with them.
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.
Last year, I wrote about three album singles:
The Universe,” an expansive and mind-bending track which featured elements of shoegaze and Pink Floyd-like psych rock.
“Hold My Hand,” a euphoric track that evokes the swooning sensation of new love — and the urge to improve oneself through deep, personal reflection.
“Under the Spell of Joy,” a hallucinogenic fever dream that’s a rock ‘n’ roll take on the good news, gospel stomp that sonically is a seamless synthesis of part Fun House-era The Stooges, acid-tinged psych rock, Giant Steps-era Coltrane.
“Little Things” Under the Spell of Joy’s fourth and latest single is an ebullient and upbeat take on jangle rock centered around a shout along worthy hook. And at its core, the song is a gently smiling reminder that when life turns shitty — which is more often than not — that you should focus on the little things: in fact, sometimes your dreams can be what keeps you sane. “We wrote ‘Little Things’ for a friend of ours, who has been fighting for his life in physical pain for years,” Death Valley Girls’ Bonnie Bloomgarden explains in press notes. “While we talked about how stinky his health and living situation was, he realized how much he still loved dreaming. We both realized that if he shifted his focus to the part of his life he loved — even if it was just when he was dreaming/daydreaming, that was perfectly ok! Focus on the little things!”
Directed by The Little Ghost/Kelsey Hart, the recently released video for “Little Things” is a psychedelic fever dream inspired by children’s TV shows — and it captures the song’s infectious, child-like joy.
“My aim for this video was to reflect the unbridled hope and joy of ‘Little Things,'” The Little Ghost explains. “Bonnie and I discuss our dreams daily, so I wanted to create a cartoonish psychedelic dreamscape that invited everyone to dance, sing, and revel in the optimism of daydreaming! In order to keep the production of this video maximally Covid-safe, I used special effects to bring Death Valley Girls together digitally. I was inspired by Teletubbies, public access TV, and Tony Oursler.”