Throughout the course of this site’s 10-plus year history, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the Los Angeles-based garage rock/psych rock act JOVM mainstays Death Valley Girls. The act, which currently features 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 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). Interestingly, despite the fact that the band has had a series of lineup changes thrhgout their history, the band’s aesthetic and sound has been generally indebted to The Manson Family, B movie theatrics and the occult.
2020 has been a very busy year for the JOVM mainstays: Earlier this year, the band released the two song, seven-inch EP Breakthrough, an effort that saw the Los Angeles-based JOVM mainstays covering two songs that have a profound connection to the band — both in their spirit and aural alignment. One of the songs included on the EP was Atomic Rooster‘s “Breakthrough,” a song the band originally discovered through an even more obscure cover by Nigerian psych act The Funkees. The Death Valley Girls’ cover leans more towards The Funkees’ version — thanks to grimy power chords, fire-and-brimstone organ lines and an in-your-face, combative chorus — but all three versions are centered around the age-old desire to be free from prisons — both literal and figurative.
Continuing upon the momentum of Breakthrough EP, the members of the Los Angeles-based JOVM mainstays will be releasing their newest album Under the Spell of Joy through their longtime label home Suicide Squeeze Records on October 2, 2020. The album’s title is derived from the text on at-shirt that the San Diego-based heavy psych rock act Joy gave to Death Valley Girls’ Bonnie Bloomgarden. 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 chants, 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.
So far I’ve written about two of the album’s previously released singles: the slow-burning and expansive, Wish You Were-era Pink Floyd-like “The Universe,” which featured elements of shoegaze and classic psych rock — and the straightforward and soaring “Hold My Hand,” a track that evoked the swoon of new love, and the urge to improve oneself through deep personal reflection. Interestingly, Under the Spell of Joy‘s third and latest single, album title track “Under the Spell of Joy” is a hallucinogenic fever dream featuring chanted lyrics, fiery blasts of saxophone, enormous hooks and even bigger power chords. Seemingly one-part Fun House-era The Stooges, one-part acid-tinged psych rock, one-part Giant Steps-era Coltrane, the track is a rock”n’ roll take on the good news gospel stomp — while centered around an ebullient and mischievous joy.