Do you want to lose yourself in tales of debauchery and murder, backed by lamenting fiddles and sung by the rawest of voices? Gothic Americana might be the genre for you.
Typical artists blend alternative country with such genres as post-punk, dark cabaret and alternative rock, and their brews of traditional instrumentation and doomy new composition are a dismal delight. Some of the most obvious influencers of the genre are Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Tom Waits, and Ennio Morricone, and while all three are pretty much impossible to surpass, there are some gems of artists who’ve gotten pretty close.
16 Horsepower is one particularly outstanding example; their riffs are dissonant and nihilistic (reminiscent of the aforementioned Cave, or Siouxsie and the Banshees), while their instrumentation leans more towards conventions of American roots. They’re critically acclaimed for a reason, and are regularly considered one of the driving forces in the genre’s growth.
Brimming with the violence of a spaghetti western
Reverend Glasseye is another to check out; his patchy, disordered vocals make a perfect foreground to the thrum of percussion and cabaret violins. Ghoultown is one of the cheesier acts in the Gothic Americana canon, but their album Bury Them Deep is a gothabilly nightmare, their music brimming with the violence of the spaghetti western. Alternatively, there’s Murder By Death, who provide a slightly more understated, indie-rock infused edition of the same fare.
A more recent contributor to the genre is the theatrical American Murder Song, the new project of Terrance Zdunich (also known as the man behind the divisive Repo! The Genetic Opera). Their folksy murder ballads are chilling – if as campy as Zdunich’s musicals – and their revolving door of vocalists a welcome change in a genre that can sometimes put too much stake in the authenticity of the singer and their pain.
As well as providing a fabulous atmosphere, Gothic Americana is a good entry point for anyone who thinks they hate country -- as it was for me personally. The ‘country’ part of the genre is rooted more in classic country; meanwhile the comparative accessibility of gothic rock is a superb foundation for a new listener.