For the better part of the past decade, Los Angeles-based JOVM mainstays Death Valley Girls — currently Bonnie Bloomgarden (vocals, guitar, Wurlitzer, organ), Rikki Styxx (drums), Larry Schemel (guitar) and Sammy Westervelt (vocals, guitar) — have used their music as a means of tapping into a communal cosmic energy. 2016’s Glow in The Dark, 2018’s Darkness Rains and 2020’s Under the Spell of Joy saw the band openly challenging the soul-crushing banality of modern society and celebrating “true magical infinite potential” through scorching proto-punk influenced riffage, earworm melodies, trippy lyrics and lysergic auxiliary instrumentation.
Released earlier this year, through their longtime label home Suicide Squeeze Records, Death Valley Girls’ latest album Islands in the Sky sees the band’s primary songwriter Bonnie Bloomgarden turning inward and using the band’s anthemic revelries as a guidebook to spiritual healing — and a roadmap for future incarnations of the self.
Islands in the Sky‘s material can trace its origins back to when Bloomgarden was bedridden with a mysterious illness from November 2021 to March 2022. “When I was sick I had to sleep most of the day,” Bloomgarden recalls. “I kept waking up every few hours with an intense message to take care of the island, feed the island…I have no idea why, but making music for the island kept coming up.”
Before her illness, Bloomgarden’s primary focus was writing songs to help others deal with their own suffering. But something within her shifted, and she began to turn her focus inward. “When I was sick I started to wonder if it would be possible to write a record with messages of love to my future self. This was really the first time that I consciously thought about my own suffering and what future me might need to hear to heal,” says Bloomgarden. “I struggled so much in my life with mental health, abuse, PTSD, and feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. And I don’t want anyone—including my future self—to suffer ever again. I realized that if we are all part of one cosmic consciousness, as we [Death Valley Girls] believe, then Islands in the Sky could serve not only as a message of love and acceptance to myself, but also from every self to every self, because we are all one!”
The bulk of the album was channeled into being when Bloomgarden and Styxx went out to a cabin in the California woods on New Year’s Day 2022 to hunker down and write. Schemel and the band’s newest member Westverlt joined the band at Station House Studio to further flesh out the material. And while being some of the most ambitious aims for the band to date, the material may arguably be among their most raucous, danceable, and celebrato
The JOVM mainstays have ensured that 2023 has been a busy year. They’ve been touring to support the new album, and they recently released a standalone single, “I Am a Wave,” the first bit of new material since Islands in The Sky‘s release. Building off the sound and approach they developed on Islands in the Sky, “I Am a Wave” sees them adding elements of prog, shoegaze, pop and psych rock to their sonic palette to create something warmly familiar yet very different.
The song sees Bloomgarden’s earnest and soaring vocals pushing up against layers of reverb-soaked guitar jangle, propulsive and cascading drums and a supple bass line. Schemel also contributes a scorching solo before ending with a fervent and ecstatic coda. The song was written to evoke the sensation of a wave that crests and crashes out of the speakers — or your headphones.
“This song is for anyone that has had a hard time making decisions or following their gut!,” Death Valley Girls’ Bonnie Bloomgarden explains.
“I linger in indecision, and get stuck in the muck of options, weighing every single dynamic except ‘how does this make me feel.’ Sometimes it’s from fear of imperfection, but always it’s from self-doubt, not trusting my instinct, or letting my intuition be my guide.
“I’ve learned a lot from spiritual people lately,” Bloomgarden continues. “Pagans and witches, calling in the elements. I imagine it’s similar to asking Jesus, a saint, an ancestor, to help for guidance.
For me this song is like a meditation, or a prayer. To become a wave. To not want to turn in, quit, and become small or unseen, but to flow, and grow. Become part of the flow!!”