Under the Spell of Joy by Death Valley GirlsRelease date: October 2, 2020
Label: Suicide Squeeze Records
It may seem odd to release an album packed full of songs about the spiritual power of happiness, but there is no doubt we do need to find ways to counteract the worries and concerns that seem to be tightening their grip on the world right now, and good music is one way to achieve this. And this is what Los Angeles Death Valley Girls have done with fourth album Under the Spell of Joy without any notion of irony, as vocalist/guitarist Bonnie Bloomgarden explains in the press release “There is a lot to be really angry about in the world but joy is just as powerful if used correctly!” Applied correctly has been delightfully achieved as these garage punk rockers self-described styled ‘Space Gospel record’ is an enjoyable antidote to what’s going on around us for its roughly forty minutes’ length.
It’s a rather good description because the eleven songs are united by strong ear worm melodies and plenty of chants, choirs, and rousing choruses. Death Valley Girls want you to sing along, that’s for sure. To give it all some point of musical reference the album sways between and melds Yo La Tengo pop styled melodies and organ drones, Stooges ‘Funhouse’ saxophone crescendo blasts, with the imagining of Le Tigre with guitars, plus a touch of Sleater Kinney’s channelled hard drive. If that sounds good to you then check this album out because it is as good as it sounds.
It all starts with a smattering of cymbal and floating saxophone before ‘Hypnagogia’ progresses into a heady mix of drone infected jazz and yelping vocals – it’s a joyous melting of the Slits joining forces with Acoustic Ladyland. It sets the album up in fine style for ‘Hold My Hand’ to sprightly spring into upbeat action recalling Brit Pop positivity and Tanya Donelly’s era Throwing Muses at their most sunray poppy.
The whole album is largely an infectious slice of joyful punk abandon that brings satisfaction and charm throughout, but the title track may just edge it as it blasts out like Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre armed with guitars and soaring saxophone jazzy embellishments. And when they ratchet up the Stooges intensity half way through, the Death Valley Girls have me hooked and won over completely. If this song doesn’t take you into their ear worm exuberance then this isn’t the album for you.
What makes Under the spell of Joy so compelling is no two songs are the same due to an array of variation of tone and tempo, while the album still feels and sounds expertly cohesive. ”This is heaven now, we’re all in the sky” sings Bonnie on ‘Bliss Out’, the Inspiral Carpets evoking keyboard led refrain is another fine slice of old school pop. They create and form effortlessly sounding infectious melodies that bite and won’t let go, and none more so on the sun-drenched haze of ‘The Universe’.
So many of these songs could be released as a single. ‘It All Washes Away’ has fuzzy drone guitars which embrace the Velvet Underground but its laced with MDMA, not heroin. ‘Little Things’ and ‘Dream Cleaver’ are further examples of simple catchy songs that in a bygone era would have hit records stamped all over them. While ’10 Day Miracle Challenge’ ups’ the bounce infused with Sleater Kinney’s harder stride.
Death Valley Girl’s fourth album Under the Spell of Joy couldn’t be more appropriately titled. Its packed full of songs that propels your love for good catchy pop hooks but drilled with an Indie/punky grit, rawness, and artful sophistication. This album has caught me by total surprise and succeeds by injecting much needed positivity into our lives.