Underwhelming vocal performances hide DVG’s true talents
Los Angeles-based punk group Death Valley Girls have made their return to music for the first time since 2018 with a couple of covers on Breakthrough. First, they opt for a reinterpretation of Atomic Rooster’s, “Breakthrough,” the namesake for this 7.” For the B-side, the band explores the late Daniel Johnston’s, “Rock ‘N’ Roll/EGA.” While the two songs do make a strong impression, nearly every single memorable moment stems from a bold instrumental decision. Unfortunately, aside from maybe the second half of “Rock ‘N’ Roll/EGA,” the vocal performances are largely disappointing.
“Breakthrough” gets off to an intriguing start, with one of the riffs that carries much of the song immediately bouncing back and forth with the drums. The guitar stabs that coincide with snare hits and kick drums as DVG chants, “I gotta make a breakthrough,” are fun, but lack the same self-assuredness and energy that the track’s best instrumental moments carry, especially the awesome ending. It also doesn’t help that the song has an about five-and-a-half minute runtime, roughly one-and-a-half minutes of which could’ve been shaved off for a more concise cut.
“Rock ‘N’ Roll/EGA” falls into a similar trap. The fast and abrupt alternating between a louder approach during the, “That rock ‘N roll/ It’s in my soul,” moments and a much more relaxed sound elsewhere on the song is interesting. The band’s instrumental prowess shines through once again in their ability to make these transitions feel surprising and effective without becoming off-putting or the slightest bit unpleasant. Once again though, one can’t help but wonder how several minutes of Death Valley Girls hammering away on these gnashing guitars would’ve sounded without the lacking vocal performances. It might’ve been even more rewarding.
Death Valley Girls write their instrumentation in such a way that breaks between verses feel like statements of their own. They have such a strong and clear voice, and while these are both covers, all the music still feels patently theirs. If Death Valley Girls can further refine their vocal approach, or even just fully commit to a more instrumentation-reliant style, their future projects will remain a very worthwhile listen.