For the better part of a decade, LA’s scrappy rock n’ roll mystics Death Valley Girls have used their music as a means of tapping into a communal cosmic energy. On albums like Glow In The Dark (2016), Darkness Rains (2018), and Under the Spell of Joy (2020) the band challenged the soul-crushing banality of modern society and celebrated “true magical infinite potential” through a collage of scorching proto-punk riffs, earworm melodies, far-out lyrics, and lysergic auxiliary instrumentation. But on their latest album Islands in the Sky, Death Valley Girls’ songwriting mastermind Bonnie Bloomgarden uses the band’s anthemic revelries as a guidebook to spiritual healing and a roadmap for future incarnations of the self. And while these may be the loftiest aims of Death Valley Girls to date, the resulting music is also by far their most infectious and celebratory.
The seeds for Islands in the Sky were planted while Bloomgarden was bed-ridden with a mysterious illness from November 2020 to March 2021. “When I was sick I had to sleep most of the day. I kept waking up every few hours with an intense message to take care of the island, feed the island…I have no idea why, but making music for the island kept coming up.”
Before her illness, Bloomgarden’s primary focus was writing songs to help other people deal with their own suffering. But something in her shifted, and she began to turn her focus inward. “When I was sick I started to wonder 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. I struggled so much in my life with mental health, abuse, PTSD, and feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. And I don’t want anyone—including my future self—to suffer ever again. I realized that if we are all part of one cosmic consciousness, as we [Death Valley Girls] believe, then Islands in the Sky could serve not only as a message of love and acceptance to myself, but also from every self to every self, because we are all one!”
If this sounds too cerebral or esoteric, don’t worry. At its core, Islands in the Sky is a party—a riotous, danceable, sing-a-long celebration of life, love, and mystery. The bulk of the album was channeled into being when Bloomgarden and drummer Rikki Styxx went out to a cabin in the California woods on New Years Day 2022 to hunker down and harness the songs from the ether. Further bolstered by Larry Schemel’s guitar prowess and the addition of new bassist and co-lead singer Sammy Westervelt, Death Valley Girls set out to make their most ambitious and exciting record to date at Station House Studio in Echo Park.
Islands in the Sky opens with a patient, hazy, aura fueled synth, organ, and Schemel’s dusty guitar twang on “California Mountain Shake”—a love song to our future selves, as evidenced in the song’s confession “I’m still in love with you.” The slow-burn yields to “Magic Powers,” where Death Valley Girls teach us how to harness the hard times, abuse, and feelings of being alone, abandoned,
or powerless in your life into magic powers, all while channeling the pomp and swagger of ‘90s big-budget rockers like Elastica and Garbage. This segues into the title track, an anthem fully deserving of having an entire album share its name. Imagine Rush’s “Freewill” without the math but with an even more triumphant chorus and an openness to otherworldly possibilities. From there we have “Sunday,” which uses the swirling organ, soulful vocals, emotional bombast, and the hip-shaking climax of a classic Percy Sledge tune as a foundation to Bloomgarden’s lyrical examination of coping with the struggles of her past. Still not a convert? Just one spin of “What Are the Odds” and you’ll be singing along with the chorus of “we are living in a simulated world, and we are simulated girls.”
On side B, the self-empowerment song-talisman of “When I’m Free” makes a reappearance after initially showing up in late 2021 on a split 7” with Le Butcherettes and getting a scorching remix treatment from Peaches in early 2022. The fall 2021 digital single “It’s All Really Kind of Amazing” closes out the album, serving as a reminder that all the answers to all the secrets are already inside you. Fittingly, Bloomgarden states that the soaring finale to Islands in the Sky “was fully 100% channeled from my guides to remind me 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.”
Suicide Squeeze is proud to release Death Valley Girls’ Islands in the Sky to the world on vinyl, CD, cassette, and DSPs in early 2023.