Album Reviews

Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell Of Joy

(Suicide Squeeze) UK release date: 2 October 2020


Death Valley Girls - Under The Spell Of JoyThe omens are good at the launching of this, the fourth proper album, by Bonnie Bloomgarden and her melodious sisters. Death Valley Girls have not strayed too far from the template they set themselves, one of an oft-laborious duality of obnoxious romantic insouciance and drug fuelled cavernous emptiness. Admittedly they can sometimes come across more Tumblr than Tumbling Dice, but it’s not without allure.

Hypnagogia drags a vibrating guitar riff from some unknown realm, as impassioned saxophones echo around a reverb drenched choir and the musical engines kick in. Inspired by the band’s love of Ethiopian funk records and the tantric connectivity of Pharaoh Sanders, its heart lays more with the bratty effervescence of The Bangles or The Go Go’s.

Hold My Hand detonates out of the speakers with a blast of rickety organ and blustery drum work. Think The Velvet Underground covering The Archies in an industrial tumble dryer. It’s a frothy pulsing concoction that verges dangerously close to the bittersweet. And so the album continues to its inevitable candy coloured climax. The titular track again is a highlight, with snarling choirs and wall of feedback, sounding like an untethered hysterical Langley Schools Music Project interpreting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and their Jesus And Mary Chain-laden pastiche before crumpling in a scruffy heap of its own momentum.

The Farfisa heavy Bliss Out takes a simple melodic motif that chugs back and forth then drowns it in more flamboyant choir vocalisation. Lyrics sing of finding heaven and it feels like the band are finally unleashing the depraved sun fried cultish ravings that their name evokes. The sickly spectre of unexpressed menace looms over the cut.

Yet more droning keyboards and saxophone proclaim the opening of Hey Dena as Bloomgarden trembles and spirals downtempo. It seems the giddy urgency of ecstasy is starting to wear off and the confusion is kicking in. With the lethargic motorik of The Universe, the group takes a solipsistic position, drifting away to a nonchalant plateau. You worry they’ve lost themselves in the fog, but they pull themselves away from the edge and recalibrate with the two-song palette cleansing punch of It All Washes Away and Little Things.

They’ve often expressed admiration for The Stooges‘ sonic assault but had so far not matched that band’s panic-inducing free jazz punk ragas. But 10 Day Miracle Challenge comes pretty damn close to approximating the sounds of the Detroit agitators, circa Raw Power. Penultimate number I’d Rather Be Dreaming aims for a sense of euphoric nirvana and surf fuelled braggadocio but the introductory melody sounds awkwardly like it’s about to reveal itself as a cover of Smash Mouth’s retro ska smash Walking On The Sun and is a minor disconnect to the seamless affirmative energy that invades the remainder of the album.

Luckily there’s Dream Cleaver to conclude the record. Suggestive of the impassioned and bruised call-and-response associated with those first two B-52’s albums, its brisk and cloying yearning is at once recognisable, forming a musical ouroboros with the start of the record. Under The Spell Of Joy didn’t quite achieve the transcendent ritualistic occurrence Death Valley Girls pointed to, but it should still win them a few zealous new converts.


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Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell Of Joy