Death Valley Girls Howl Up Black Hole Psych-Rock With Aplomb On ‘Under The Spell of Joy’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Under the Spell of Joy, the newest release from the Los Angeles based Death Valley Girls vacillates between cosmic black hole psych-rock and punchy lo-fi poppy garage numbers as the band seeks to engage old fans and newcomers with their dark-tinged, yet upbeat sound.  

The core group (vocalist/guitarist Bonnie Bloomgarden, guitarist Larry Schemel, bassist Pickle (Nicole Smith) and drummer Rikki Styxx) are joined by saxophonist Gabe Flores and keyboardist Gregg Foreman for the more languid searching numbers such as opener “Hypnagogia”. Named for the space between sleeping and waking the haunting distant sax, bass pulses, and eerie organs all float around before Bloomgarden, backed by choral support, shines a light vocally.

That psych-rock continues on the marching title track while the dull droning of “Hey Dena” never goes anywhere very interesting, instead, closer “I’d Rather Be Dreaming” is a dynamite elongated jam that winningly incorporates deep screams, fuzzed-out guitars, and organ vamps. The best of the spacey styled tunes is “The Universe” which takes a breezy floating tone as the organ bumps the track along successfully.  

On the flip side, the band also puts out their brand of lo-fi bubblegum goth-pop. Tracks like “Hold My Hand”, “Bliss Out” and “Little Things” all fit this motif as Styxx drumming pops while Schemels’ guitar gets fuzzy and Bloomgarden sings sweetly with a touch of darkness. “It All Washes Away” kicks up the tempo to the outskirts of punk while “10 Day Miracle Challenge” infuses some Sleater-Kinney into dance rock.  

These two distinct styles work well separately on the album and fuse together on the finale as “Dream Cleaver” takes both the pop and psych into a whirling blender of grooving beats, tripped out riffs, and choruses that can be shouted along to. Under the Spell of Joy allows Death Valley Girls the freedom to explore and the structure to tighten up as they communally dance and shake along the void. 

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