On their fifth album to date, mystifying garage rock band Death Valley Girls continue their consistent workflow on their newest album, Islands in the Sky. More so than previous efforts, the female-led quartet (wrapped up by guitarist Larry Schemel, bassist/co-lead singer Sammy Westervelt, and drummer Rikki Styxx) offers more than an infectious indie rock sound, bringing multiple genre experimentations to the forefront.
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From the first few seconds of the album, the dark and occultic sounds might mislead some to believe the group is embracing a mysterious approach to their music. But with each passing song, Death Valley Girls adopt a positive outlook focused on lust for life.
Kicking the album into gear, “Magic Powers” lets loose in the wake of harmonic drones that send the track soaring. Simple in structure and lyrics, it better sets the stage for what subject matter singer Bonnie Bloomgarden explores, all while turning pressure into positivity.
For context, Bloomgarden said that the album came out of her wondering “if it would be possible to write a record with messages of love to my future self. This was really the first time that I consciously thought about my own suffering and what future me might need to hear to heal.” No other song follows that thought process than title track, “Islands in the Sky,” where the Siouxsie Sioux-inspired vocals give a welcome ghostly atmosphere to the music. Contrastingly, the lyrics are positive and all about self-confidence. “Don’t carry all your pain / Pack it up tight, let it go at night,” Bloomgarden melodically shouts without any sign of apprehension.
“Sunday” might be the album’s best, which sounds like a lost 1950s doo-wop demo discovered by a dream-pop band. The saxophone especially brings a new life to the song and a refreshing switch up from the indie rock instrumentation before the post-punk outro amps up the energy.
Shortly after the album’s release, they followed up with “Feel the Colors,” — a song inspired by an interview with cyborg, Neil Harbisson — known for being the first person in the world to have an antenna implanted in his skull. The track is a more pop-flavored single similar to previous outings. Spouting color on every second of the track, the frantic drumming from Rikki Styxx juxtaposes the 60s vibe. But, it does enough to remain just as engaging as their recent dives into new ground.
That’s probably what Death Valley Girls do best: switching things up without losing sight of what drew attention to them in the first place. Even with the inclusion of their 2021 single “It’s All Really Kind of Amazing,” where the country rock sound and doses of psychedelia appropriately close the album on a laidback note, ending as softly as it began. It’s the kind of throwback track that reminds how wide-spanning the album is, giving in exchange an exciting new direction for the ever-working quartet.
Words: David Sosa
Islands in the Sky and “Feel the Colors” are available on all streaming services. For more on Death Valley Girls, including new music and UK tour dates, visit their Instagram, Twitter, and Bandcamp.