SCARY IS FUN. We learn this fact in childhood, and it stays with us to some degree, but never quite so strongly as it did while we were learning it—sleepovers, bonfires, nights spent under covers reading books with terrifying illustrations. Ghost stories. Was there anything worse or better than being scared out of your pants by the thought of something? Is there anything more worth celebrating?
New York's O'Death, which more than fittingly shares its name with an old Appalachian traditional song, manages to celebrate the cultivated spookiness of youth and perform their songs with the same joyful enthusiasm. If Halloween were a band, this would be it.
An ensemble of guitar, banjo, electric fiddle, ukulele, and junk percussion, their ingredients—like some crazy backwoods whiskey mash—are varied. Old-timey ghost songs and gospel call-and-response rave-ups meet punk sensibilities. Guttural howling over twangy instrumentation, stomps and shouts, and the sinner's simultaneous pleading/don't-give-a-shit evocation of greater power surge through each raucous number. At other moments, the songs are more deliberate, measured, pensive—the day after a drinking binge during which you punched your best friend in the face and then went home alone to savor the memory of someone lost and gone. But even this, to a certain degree, is celebratory—every party has its quiet moments by comparison; even dancing skeletons need time to catch their breath.
There are plenty of folk and country-tinged bands floating around America these days, but few are able to take Americana and evolve it toward something interesting or unique, something that begs to be heard, something catchy enough to dance (or stumble) to. O'Death manages to do just that, and also manages to take us to that dark and haunted place inside us that takes such enthusiastic satisfaction in being dark and haunted. Death, from birth, is in us; let's shake its hand, pass the flask, and be its drinking buddy.