While studies have been conducted aiming to understand the science behind music, our inexplicable ability to tap into the emotions of another human being by way of arrangements of sonic frequencies still seems a bit like magic. LA’s Death Valley Girls have always sought to wield that magic like ancient mystics, creating psychic bonds with willing ears through the medium of their fiery rock n’ roll.
On the surface, previous albums like Glow in the Dark and Darkness Rains were rowdy mash-ups of early American punk, sun-baked psych rock, and proto-metal fire-and-brimstone guitar worship, yet there was always an undercurrent of some kind of strange, celebratory communal ritual in their music. With their latest album Under the Spell of Joy, the band dives even deeper into that magical cosmic energy.
The album title Under the Spell of Joy comes from the text on a t-shirt from San Diego heavy psych rockers Joy that was handed off to Death Valley Girls’ vocalist/guitarist Bonnie Bloomgarden, who wore the shirt for five years straight, 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. “There is a lot to be really angry about in the world but joy is just as powerful if used correctly!” The band sought to create 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. It’s a record loaded with chants, choirs, and rousing choruses, all for the purpose of encouraging people to sing along. Where the band had once sought to connect people through more esoteric means, they now tap into the age-old tradition of uniting people by inviting them to be an active part of the music.
While Bloomgarden and guitarist Larry Schemel knew their intention for the album before a single note was written, the actual nature and direction of the music was a mystery. The initial inspiration for the record came from the jubilant spirit of Ethiopian funk records the band had been listening to on tour, but once they began to channel the songs it seemed like the music came from somewhere not in the past but in the future. In the weeks leading up to recording, Death Valley Girls relied on their subconscious and effortlessly conjured Under the Spell of Joy’s eleven tracks as if they’d tapped into the Akashic Chronicle and pulled the music from the ether.
The album opens with “Hypnagogia,” an ode to the space between sleep and wakefulness where we are open to other realms of consciousness. The song slowly builds along a steady pulse provided by bassist Pickle (Nicole Smith) and drummer Rikki Styxx. Tripped out saxophone bleats from guest player Gabe Flores swirl on top of the organ drones laid out by guest keyboardist Gregg Foreman. The band’s choral objectives for Under the Spell of Joy are established right off the bat, with Bloomgarden’s melodic invocations bolstered by a choir, giving the album a rich and vibrant wall-of-sound aesthetic. The song ominously builds on its hypnotic foundation until it opens up into a raucous revelry at the four-minute mark. The portentous simmer of the opening track yields to the ecstatic rocker “Hold My Hand,” where verses reminiscent of Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” explode into big triumphant choruses. From there the band launches into the title track, which marries the griminess of The Stooges with an innocence provided by a children’s choir chanting the album’s primary mantra “under the spell of joy / under the spell of love.”
Death Valley Girls have always vacillated between lightness and darkness, and on “Bliss Out” they demonstrate their current exuberant focus with a patina-hued pop song driven by an irrepressibly buoyant organ line laid down by keyboardist The Kid (Laura Kelsey). A similar cosmic euphoria is obtained on “The Universe,” where alternating chords on the organ help elevate soaring saxophone and keyboard lines out beyond the stratosphere. If you’re looking for transcendental rock music, look no further.
“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!”
Suicide Squeeze Records is proud to offer up Death Valley Girls’ Under the Spell of Joy to the world on October 2, 2020 on CD/LP/CS and digital formats. First vinyl pressing is limited to 1500 copies (1200 on gold, 300 on label-exclusive silver).