No ‘1950s tough-guy’ cosplay here, Russian Psychobilly duo SlapClapS’s 2019 release Screams From The Darkness is a return to the gothic Punk origins of the Psychobilly genre.
Opening track Pimple of Lust (gross!) roars out of the starting gate like a bat out of hell. Snares shuffle with such speed and punch that it feels the track is on the edge of exploding. Guitar shimmies its way all over the fret board while standup bass chatters along at equally high speed.
Following tracks Point of No Return and Bubble turn up the degree of spookiness with a more Western guitar style typical of Psychobilly. The vocals are snotty in that kind of capital ‘P’ Punk way that when utilized well, which they are here, is both hostile and charming.
Screams From The Darkness is what you want a Psychobilly record to be, but rarely come across. SlapClapS avoid the overproduction and cheese of cosplay music to instead create focused, raw psycho rhythms and tunes. The songs are fast, fun, and non-ostentatious. This may be SlapClapS’ biggest distinction from their contemporaries, and what more could you want from Psychobilly?
Oh! I just got it. ‘slap’ / ‘clap’, like the sound of a standup bass. Nice.
For fans of: Koffin Kats, Horrorpops, The Hellfreaks
Southern Gothic is, first and foremost, a literary genre that seemingly no one can define; a series of broad themes, stereotypes, and general ‘vibes’ often interpreted through the lens of the untrue many, regurgitated back into a self-affirming echo chamber of aesthetic cheesiness. In many ways, what people view to be southern gothic music is more of the steampunk approach to being poor wHite (with a capital “H”) country folk with an alcohol problem. So take it from a southerner who’s seen their fair share of weird occurrences; that ain’t southern gothic.
Here to correct course, flesh out your southern gothic music knowledge or at least your spooky Halloween playlist, here’s Resident Sound’s Guide to Southern Gothic Music.
Bill Frisell – Tales from The Far Side
Originally the theme for the hard to find Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side 1994 TV Halloween special, The Bill Frisell Quartet’s lengthy opening statement takes cartoon oddity to a macabre and haunting place. The song’s eerie and haunting motif is slowly twisted and transformed into a grotesque and wild semblance of its origin, giving Tales from The Far Side more bite than its ‘Denver sound’ contemporaries.
Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room
From Porter Wagoner’s vaguely uneasy What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972), The Rubber Room is the oft overlooked and much needed addition to any southern gothic or spooky country playlist. On the non-cinematic side of additions to this list, Rubber Room sings the malady of the minds and the confinement and isolation imposed on the mentally ill, all located in “a building tall, with a stone wall around.” The whole song could’ve started with ‘on a dark and stormy night’ for all I’m concerned…
Rowland S. Howard – Dead Radio
What’s more southern than the southern hemisphere? Okay, that’s a copout, but Australia has given us The Birthday Party, and with it the solo careers of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and my personal favorite Rowland S Howard. Rowland is the Lee Hazlewood of goth music, and in turn Hazlewood’s southern gothic counterpart. While his earlier work alongside Nick Cave in The Birthday Party may have embraced southern gothicism to a T, Rowland S Howard’s solo record Teenage Snuff Film (1999) is a must for anyone looking to dive right in.
Hank Thompson – I Cast A Lonesome Shadow
Let’s get it straight: the best version of this song is on Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas (1963) bar none. The spacious feel of its environment only sneaks into mind all the negative tropes of carnies and fair. Besides that, Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas offers a more uptempo version to the song’s slower single release from the year prior.
Foetus – Spit on The Griddle (The Drowning of G. Walhof)
The lush orchestral arrangement from composer J.G. Thirlwell more or less speaks for itself. Thirlwell’s high anxiety sound lends itself perfectly to the dark edges of perception. Perfect for night drives in the backwoods or stumbling upon a mutilated dead body. Looking for more? Try the Foetus track Rattlesnake Insurance.
Reverend Horton Heat – It’s A Dark Day
Perhaps the only person using ‘reverend’ in their band name that I don’t hold disdain for, Jim ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ Heath and crew usually deliver at least one fairly dark gem per record. 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em may have the beloved hit Psychobilly Freakout, but It’s A Dark Day, a perfectly somber song drudging through the depths of depression and heartbreak, is our takeaway.
These Immortal Souls – These Immortal Souls
These Immortal Souls was the brief side-project of Rowland S. Howard. A split from his work in Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls may be the most interesting and overlooked branch in The Birthday Party lineage (to echo sentiment from Charles Spano). Rowland S Howard’s work may be the most consistently southern gothic while never falling to the try-hard cheese of dedicated ‘southern gothic’ music acts.
Mario Batkovic – Quatere
It would be remiss to go straight to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack in a guide hoping to change your perception on southern gothic music, but Red Dead Redemption go-to-ers get some things right. We went with score contributor Mario Batkovic’s cinematic solo accordion work and, I guess, ‘hit’ Quatere.
Patsy Cline – Crazy
C’mon. Do I need to explain this? If you still don’t hear it, go back to Tumblr fanfic or harassing children on the internet or whatever it is you do with your life. …Still here? Great. Try throwing a little extra reverb or delay on this song if you really want to trip out. I highly recommend it.
Eddie Noack – Psycho
Of course this song is on our list. What’s wrong with you? While plenty of murder country music should be left to the grave, Eddie Noack’s single Psycho is a bonafide classic in our ears. Sometimes put in comparison to the later serial killer Ed Kemper, Psycho is a twisted tale of black outs, murder and mommy issues. What more could you ask for?
Evil is the final 7” single by the original American psychobilly band HellBillys. Fronted by vocalist Barrie Evans, the band consists of Greg Langston (drums), Rick Tanner (bass), and Dan Watson (guitar, formerly of progressive thrash metal band Hexx).
A-side titular track Evil is an exhibition of rock’n’roll aggression packed full of chugging palm-muted guitar. Always on the verge of rupturing forth, Evil growls along before Dan Waton’s expressive guitar work cries out in an explosive solo.
Vocalist ‘Hell’ Barrie Evans snarls, drools and seethes his way through a violent (yet reserved) performance. The “squeakin’, squakin’, [and] squealin’” Barrie’s vocal delivery, while at times indecipherable, is delivered with a nuance rarely seen in psychobilly.
The Evil 7” is mixed in a manner atypical to rockabilly revivalist tent genres. Unlike the compressed records of their contemporaries, Evil’s heavy low-end brings so much warmth as to justify calling it a weed mix.
In an interview conducted by Jessica Thiringer for Razorcake issue #31 (2006), Barrie Evans (going under his childhood nickname Scary) speaks about his time living in Japan and how it inspired the creation of The Hellbillys;
“When I was living in Tokyo, I had just left Christ on Parade and I was kind of sick of rockabilly. A friend invited me to a rockabilly show and I was blown away by how everybody looked. It was the same sort of vibe you get now (2006), but much earlier. Everyone’s dressed in vintage everything. I met the guy from the Falcons and went to see his band a week later. It was fast and heavy and had a cool look. I knew what I wanted to do.”
B-side opener Captain Scarlet is a reworking of Barry Gray’s theme for Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons; a 1960s UK children’s show exploring themes of morality dualism, social-integration, and nuclear devastation through the lens of interplanetary war. Did I mention that it was made for children? And used puppets?
HellBillys’ punched up take on Captain Scarlet features Barrie Evans’s vocals taking over the predecessor’s horn and vibraphone melody. Paired alongside themes of blatant evil, Captain Scarlet invokes the disturbing nature of a truly indestructible being.
Evil closes fittingly with Murder; a somewhat typical psychobilly romp of bass/snare syncopation and whammy’d western guitar chords topped with lyrical themes of internalized voices and, well, murder. It’s a great track, while not particularly inventive, predates the rigidity of today’s psychobilly scene.
In the same interview with Jessica Thiringer, Barrie unknowingly utters a forewarning of psychobilly’s inevitable stagnation.
“There wasn’t a template to follow. I think the regimentation of rockabilly has a lot to do with Continental Restyling (French magazine)— not that it’s bad, but it sucked the originality out of it. It’s however you interpret rockabilly. Psycho has a lot of room to grow. Let’s hope psycho doesn’t get regimented. I’ve always had a huge pomp. People put so much emphasis into looking correct, but back in the punk days you’d put together some kind of non sequitur outfit. Rockabilly used to be the same way. During the ‘80s, Macy’s (department store) even had a line of clothes called ‘‘80s Rocker,’ inspired by the Stray Cats.”
‘Stealing’ from one’s predecessors is completely natural, dare I say should be encouraged. Nothing is completely new under the sun. But it’s about that time of year when we need revisit an oft-repeated T. S. Eliot’s quote;
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it came.”
Or, to quote the back of the record jacket:
“THE HELLBILLYS ARE INDESTRUCTIBLE. YOU ARE NOT. DO NOT TRY TO EMULATE THEM.”
For fans of: The Misfits, Nekromantix, Koffin Kats