Review: Death Valley Girls – Islands In The Sky

Artwork for Death Valley Girls' 2023 album Islands In The Sky

Death Valley Girls soundtrack brighter days on Islands In The Sky.

Under The Spell Of Joy, the signature track and title of Death Valley Girls’ last album, had the unlikely status of becoming a kind of lockdown anthem after its release in 2020.

That’s not to say that there was much to celebrate during this period, but the situational intensity of being modern-day castaways changed the rules and this throwaway playground chant with additional vocals from a children’s choir became a sort of personal hit despite, well, everything.

Death Valley Girls singer Bonnie Bloomgarden was laid low for several months with a mystery illness around about the end of that year, leaving her bed-ridden and contemplating for the first-time ideas that would come with, ‘messages of love to my future self’.

If that all sounds a little new age, once recovered Bloomgarden set about turning those fever dreams into what would become Islands In The Sky whilst on a sojourn in the Californian mountains.

Despite this slightly vague premise though, and even with the addition since the last Death Valley Girls outing of new bass and co-singer Sammy Westervelt, the quartet’s core sound – a loose amalgam of auto-wrecked phantom girl groups, mystic psychedelia and primal rock n’ roll – has remained largely intact.

Those who want to short circuit both the story and the setup however won’t have to wait too long; opener California Mountain Shake lays out the whole thing for the newbie, coming in with an ominous, worshipful chant and then brooding its way through four minutes of incantations vaguely in the key of Stevie Nicks. You can imagine up your own dry ice.

You may by this point have guessed that nobody’s taking themselves too seriously, but just in case there was any need for doubt to be removed Magic Powers does the trick.

Propelled by a cheesy organ swirl and Larry Schemel’s reverb drowned guitar, it’s a witchy Vegas neo-classic in the making, the silly-but-brilliant gothic junket feel topped off with Bloomgarden dead panning wonderfully: ‘Now I have…magic powers.’

In tone we’ve been here before of course many times, most notably via the kitsch of the B-52’s, but familiarity doesn’t make any of this a bad thing.

The title-track’s lyrics read like something you’d get from a life coach – ‘You’re in charge of/Your perception of your life/You can choose what you keep/And What you leave behind’ – but its sense of warmth and sincerity is, no matter how cynically your cold dead heart beats, impossible to deny.

We’re in thinking big territory here. On Sunday they apply their potion’s recipe to classic 60’s R&B and nominally channel Percy Sledge, just about pulling it off, whilst Watch The Sky’s motorik pulse relocates it to mid-70’s Germany during what sounds like a flying visit from unidentified flying somebodies.

It is easier of course for some to think that a record not necessarily weighted down with a sense of its artistic gravity can’t possess a wider meaning.

All That Is Not Of Me is a worthy attempt to redress that perception, a wistful slice of more or less straight indie, but it’s closer It’s All Really Kind Of Amazing, with a starlit, twinkling Rhodes and bluesy undertow that signs off on message, one Bloomgarden says, ‘Even when everything seems shitty in the world, and it doesn’t seem fair to be happy about anything, the earth and the universe are still really amazing’.

Amen. The world isn’t staring out of its window anymore and on Islands In The Sky, Death Valley Girls are here to soundtrack all our good times and our long times.

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