Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dead Man's Boogie

Horror music is a tricky beast. Ironically, much like Christian music it is judged whether or not it belongs under the genre umbrella by its lyrical content and presentation, rather than the style of music it actually employs. A band could be shredding on electric guitars or using an accordion and ukulele, but they're both potentially horror music.

Man, I am SO sick of the bubblegum pop scene.

For most folks, all you need is a death metal sound, grotesque masks, and loads of obscenities, and you're considered horror music. I'm not dissing on such acts, but my musical tastes don't skew the same way. I like my audio entertainment to be quick, light, and sometimes sardonic. I like unusual or old-fashioned instrumentation. I like themes and visuals that fit my favorite kinds of horror movies. Basically the scary, the silly, and the sublimely cheesy, which of course is what we're all about here at the Drive-in. So, this is an informal discussion about my favorite horror bands. They might be punk, or folk, or possibly even symphonic, but they all have one thing in common: an obvious love for horror movies and monsters both good and bad. I'm not going to spend time on older outfits like The Ghastly Ones or The Misfits, everyone knows what they've contributed to the genre. I'm just cherry-picking my favorite acts making the kind of music that goes well with a ghost story, a horror flick, or trick-or-treating. 

First up: Creature Feature

A two-man project from Los Angeles, Creature Feature refuses to be thematically tied to any one thing. Their debut album The Greatest Show Unearthed contains references to Romero zombie films, alien abduction tales, serial killers, The Twilight Zone television series, and most impressively, author and illustrator Edward Gorey, whose darkly humorous alphabet poem "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" is the obvious inspiration for the song in the video above, titled "A Gorey Demise". Curtis Rx and his partner in crime Erik X give us a bizarre annual gathering of ghouls and beasties who sing the previous year's obituaries, starting with A and ending with Z. It's a punchy mix of guitar and gravelly voices, punctuated by that catchy chorus. And it's educational! Be sure to check out Curtis' other project Rufus Rex

The Scarring Party brand themselves as an "end-timey" quartet. What's most engaging about this Milwaukee-based gang's music isn't the number of antique instruments they put to use or the talent with which they wield them. It's the way that the lyricist's words conjure up such vivid mental images. Particularly on their first full-length Come Away From the Light, the singer's tongue-twisting stories do an excellent job of putting out the vibe. Which seems to be "we're all going to die soon." Listen to "No More Room" and drink in the artistic phrases like the opener "She's got oxblood boots and a carney's laugh, silver spoon with a razor edge..."

Next: Calabrese

I can understand that this horrorpunk trio wants to blaze their own trail, but there's just no escaping it: Calabrese are heirs to the Misfits' throne. Rising out of Phoenix, AZ like a... um, phoenix, Bobby, Davey, and Jimmy Calabrese (yes, their actual name) are setting a new standard for hard-hitting goth-abilly hooks and screeching riffs. These guys are the perfect marriage of music and presentation, with everything they do revolving around the legacy of bad "B" movies. They know their horror history and it shows. Watch the official vid for "Voices of the Dead" above and set aside the money for all their albums, because you will be wanting them. And with titles like 13 Halloweens and The Traveling Vampire Show, why wouldn't you?

Finally: Jill Tracy

I've decided to slow things down a bit, and who better to contemplate with than Jill Tracy? A ridiculously talented jack-o-lantern of all trades from San Francisco, Tracy has a strange but incredibly effective composing technique that she calls "spontaneous musical combustion". Basically, she will spend time in odd or downright creepy locales such as cemeteries and abandoned asylums, and wait for inspiration to strike. It's paid off so far. Miss Tracy's music is rich in ear candy and even more delicious in its narrative structure. You've probably heard "Evil Night Together" posted above; it's been used in the soundtracks of several film and television favorites, including Dexter. She's also composed a complete score for the 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu, and she is the first musician in history to receive a grant from the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, where she is busy working on her next album. If you're looking for an artist who can give you the shivers in a decidedly more subtle fashion, spend some time with Jill. 

This list is by no means exhaustive, there are several great horror bands and artists doing their thing. Some honorable mentions include Harley Poe, The Marshmallow Ghosts, Clockwork Quartet, Aaron Stoquert, Mad Tea Party, Voltaire, Kristen Lawrence, and Midnight Syndicate. If you're tired of horror music being nothing but a seemingly endless wave of heavy metal sub-genres, then I heartily recommend any and every act listed here. 

For a final treat, here's a great vintage tune from Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Orchestra: The Haunted House.

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