Death Valley Girls: Under the Spell of Joy (Suicide Squeeze) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, January 24th, 2021  

Death Valley Girls

Under the Spell of Joy

Suicide Squeeze

Oct 05, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Under the Spell of Joy is a nourishing elixir. One tablespoon psych-rock, two cups of saxophone, some notes of a children’s choir, and one heaping serving of boundless, but sublime euphoria. Perhaps necessitated by a pervasive need to create a new reality, Death Valley Girls have donned their album a “space-gospel.” But, despite having an almost dreamlike undercurrent, Under the Spell of Joy is bewitchingly in touch with its humanity. 

Historically, Death Valley Girls have consistently leaned on their fiery rock haze for previous albums like 2016’s Glow in the Dark and 2018’s Darkness Rains. But this proclivity is helpful rather than harmful. It’s admiring how with each of their albums avoids feeling like a camp imitation of a lauded sonic niche. Instead, Death Valley Girls convince you of their credence—and the new record is no different. With Under the Spell of Joy, the Los Angeles rockers summon a cosmic, rockin’ rapture.  

Not only are Death Valley Girls—Bonnie Bloomgarden (vocalist/guitarist), Larry Schemel (guitar), Nicole Smith (bassist), and Rikki Styxx (drummer)—joined by saxophonist Gabe Flores and keyboardist Gregg Foreman, the group also enlisted a children’s choir to join them on the LP. We first catch the group on lead track “Hypnagogia.” 

Named after the state between wakefulness and sleep, the track is a preface to what’s to come. Ominous sax drifts in over organ; the choir chants about objects that “make you believe,” until a raucous breakdown closes off the song with a message attached: “Endless relentless, endless love.” 

This is the crux of Under the Spell of Joy: endless love. The album almost acts as a guide to live by—a scripture that aims to lead to salvation. The children’s chorus helps with this by playing into the spiritual, religious consciousness. We hear them again on the title track, a screaming-guitar backed chant for the “sinners,” “growers,” “prayers” that slowly builds to jazzy vamp. Then they’re back once more on “Little Things,” a cutesy track that proclaims it’s okay to be jaded, just “Live in your day dreams.”

Along with the star vocalists of the children’s choir, Bloomgarden is as sharp as ever. Sounding like a gritter Mamas & The Papas song, “Hold My Hand” is propelled forward by Bloomgarden’s directions to “let go and believe,” which are nicely underscored by a delightful acoustic guitar jam. She’s just as strong on “we’re doomed, so let’s party” song, “Bliss Out.” “Bliss Out” could most certainly be something from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (well, perhaps if it had just a little synth and a huge guitar solo). 

And while the spirit of YOLO is alive and well on Under the Spell of Joy, there are some songs that unsurprisingly, don’t particularly stand out. By virtue of the formulaic tempo and tone of a psych-rock style, there are always a few songs that result in: wait, did I hear that already? “Hey Dena” is a good example of this, as well as closer “Dream Cleaver.” But, it’s just one small hiccup in an otherwise cohesive album. 

Under the Spell of Joy will no doubt be a Death Valley Girls staple. Come here if you want the feedback soaked groove of The Jesus and Mary Chain, or maybe something of a more punk Cranberries. Regardless, this is what you’ll get: an invitation to exist in a proverbial space that is contained with dreams, love, and of course, just plain joy. (

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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