‘Dead Beats: A Musical Horror Anthology’ is a comics anthology, edited by Joe Corallo and Eric Palicki, around the curiosities for sale at a cursed record store run by the mysterious Shoppe Keeper. With this premise, the ‘Dead Beats’ anthology unfolds like a mixtape of short horror song-stories that get you trapped in the middle of its characters’ desperation, tragedy or even joy, and, for me, pairs itself with some of the books, albums or movies that have impressed me, squeezed me and made me uneasy the most.
First, I gotta talk a little bit about who’s “me” before I talk more about ‘Dead Beats’, at least in why I wanna write by myself about an anthology that has more than 50 creators. Since you’re reading this in a comics journalism medium, you can assume I love comics. Music, from going shopping for vinyls to playing in bands or going to concerts, is a very central part of how I have created a notion of who I am (and I’m missing a lot of it on quarantine), and, even while being a 1994 kid, I have done CD-mixtapes for most of my close friends at one point or another since I was like 14.
But my relationship with horror is something more complicated. Sure, some of my favorite pieces of art are about vampires, ghosts, demons and monsters. My favourite book is Frankenstein. However, there are two things I rarely find entertaining: 1) making myself scared without a further reason, 2) watching “scary” representations of real things people don’t understand (like horror movies have done a lot with mental disorders). And this is why I wanted to write about ‘Dead Beats’: cause it has given me reasons and depth of why to be scared, and cause it constantly understands what is telling, controls its pacing and breaths to a certain beat and cadence, even if it’s more than 50 creators telling very different stories.
The premise of the anthology (right from the mixtape style from the index) is to put in front view some of the commonplaces of music creation, reproduction, industry, instruments… And question the ways in which the relationship we have with these things and with music might be scary or otherworldly to us. Some of the approaches to this include the metaphor of the music industry as a capitalistic demon that consumes artists and robs their soul (like Patrick, Peterson & Atlansky’s The Rider), and some of them focus on how relationships can become absorbing, too idealistic or dangerous, when forged by notions like success or art (like Shammas & Boo’s Reversed Cards).
The pacing and the structure plays a lot in how this anthology uses the mixtape style, preceding a dark hit like Reversed Cards by the grief-infused separation anxiety tale of Erman & Santirino’s Vanishing. This structure composes the mix at multiple layers, like how some of these stories about bands are really stories about relationships that interconnect, and how some of its classic horror get twisted and subverted later. Through all of it, the always poignant and acute letters of Taylor Esposito, Micah Myers, Zakk Saam, Matt Krotzer and John Workman carry it all like a bassline, with the few interludes inside the ‘Dead Beats’ shop preparing you for each next riff to come.
There’s even what we could call a cult band coming for a one-time-again-song with Doom Patrol’s Pollack & Case team getting together for Snake Song, a story that feels dated but powerful, with literal old monsters coming back from the caves and art that feels like self-actualization of old hauntings in the best way possible.
As with every anthology (CD or otherwise), I have my personal favorites that play time after time in my head. The revenge fantasy ones always get me on the way they subvert terror to a point of self-satisfaction for the reader, and I can almost hear X-Ray Spex or Against Me! in the noises of reading Sara & Cruz’s Love In A Dark Cabin or Osajyefo, Cabrera & Aguirre’s ABM. Both take on the mantle of the terror-that-is-catharsis of revenge against hateful bigots and hate crimes, and both are thrilling and empowering in a twisting way. The punk songs of the bunch.
I’m also mesmerized by the more personal and insightful part of this anthology. The gay cold-blooded art infused song of longing from O. Stack & Burton’s The Angel From My Nightmare leaves a bittersweet taste, and Noelle Weir and Steenz’s Beyond Her Years delicious piece on perfectionism through a partiture and a player makes me think about my own fears within art, process and self-realization with an art that haunts its own artistic process between the panels and the gutter.
This is what these little vinyl jewels have all in common for me: they play with deep and unsettling concepts to give you a condensed three minutes hit with a weird twist. Strange melodies, like coming out of Throwing Muses or Pixies albums. The closing is, in fact, Debaser by Corallo and Hickman, and in an art that gets from the sexy to the haunting of anxieties that are interpersonal and existential, it says goodbye like the mix that wants to play again. To hear that melody that was stuck in our heads.
To make the little unsettling thoughts we have loud and noisy. And turn up the volume till we get the chills.