June 3, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: Death Valley Girls album takes a spiritual journey

Islands in the Sky

Suicide Squeeze Records

Los Angeles-based garage rock band Death Valley Girls, fronted by Bonnie Bloomgarden, has a psychedelic sound with a Siouxsie and the Banshees-meets-’60s-girl-group feel. Thankfully, for fans of both goth and psychedelic rock alike, Death Valley Girls has just released their sixth album, “Islands in the Sky.”

“Islands in the Sky” is the band’s magnum opus thus far; it is a culmination of the psychedelic doom boogie sound that Death Valley Girls has been developing since their debut album, “Street Venom.” It has more polished, atmospheric, mellow tracks in comparison to some of the group’s earlier work. When combined with Death Valley Girl’s classic alternative sound, listeners get an absolutely haunting album.

The progression of the band’s sound since its founding can be tied to the change in members. The group was originally founded by Patty Schemel of the ’90s grunge band Hole and her brother Larry Schemel, releasing their first album in 2014 with Bloomgarden and bassist Rachel Orosco. Since that album, both Patty Schemel and Orosco have left the group. With the departure of the band’s founder, Schemel, Death Valley Girls’ sound became more experimental, leaning into the more psychedelic aspect of their music. The current lineup consists of frontwoman Bloomgarden, Larey Schemel, Rikki Styxx and Sammy Westervelt.

This trip of an album opens with “California Mountain Shake,” full of haunting vocals and mystical instrumentals. Drummer Rikki Styxx’s talent shows through on this track and throughout the rest of the album, adding to the mystical atmospheric ambiance. Styxx’s skillful percussion permeates the album in a way that listeners are bound to feel in their souls.

“Islands in the Sky” has tracks just as catchy as they are otherworldly. The more uptempo “What Are the Odds” will get fans wanting to dance. The chorus, “We are living in a simulated world / And we are simulated girls” will easily get stuck in listeners’ heads, but in the best way possible.

Listening to “Islands in the Sky” feels like going through a spiritual journey. That is likely, at least, partially because of the fact that it was inspired by Bloomgarden’s own journey through sickness and health. While written as Bloomgarden was in a state of fever and hallucination with a mysterious illness, the album is full of tracks like “Magic Powers,” which will take listeners on a journey, with powerful lyrics like, “I wanna open up inside / Let go of everything behind my eyes / Shine bright on the darkest night.”

In the title track, Bloomgarden’s soul-stirring voice sings, “You’re in charge of your perception of your life / You can choose what you keep / And what you leave behind” in the chorus, and “You’re built for the biggest and the best things in your life / Don’t carry all your pain, pack it up tight, let it go at night” in its final verse. Bloomgarden’s poetic, very intimate songwriting shines through here. This is where listeners can really start to feel all the emotion that Bloomgarden has painstakingly put into this album. Perhaps this is a message from her to her fans, warning against the suffering that comes from holding onto pain and emotional anguish. This is Bloomgarden’s warning against the suffering that she endured to make this album.

The album ends with “It’s All Really Kind of Amazing,” a song that feels like it’s straight from the ’60s. Instrumentally, this track, like many on the album, feels as if it could be by Jefferson Airplane or The Zombies. Well, if Jefferson Airplane was fronted by Siouxsie Sioux. The mantra-like song feels almost inspirational, with the repeated chorus, “Wake up in the dream / When you believe / You have everything / Everything that you need.” While self-empowering in a way, this album goes beyond any modern, new-age self-help rhetoric. Like Bloomgarden did while writing these eleven tracks, the listener is going through a journey of healing and ascendence. “Islands in the Sky” is the soundtrack for transcending your body and finding your higher self.