“Are you familiar with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark?”
Vudu Sister’s Keith McCurdy asks me this early in a conversation that had already found itself wandering in and out of childhood reminiscing (he’s got an impressive collection of Super Nintendo carts). Of course I’m familiar with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. What ‘90s brat isn’t?
“Those original illustrations were so visceral,” he says, and I get chills just thinking about them. The black and white illustrations featured phantasms and horrors that often seemed like they’d be a better fit for a Hellraiser movie than a kid’s anthology, but therein lay the beauty of them. “I was flipping through it and looking at the titles of the stories and thought ‘some of these sound like cool song titles.’ I never write a song based on a title but sometimes it’s a fun exercise, so I decided to do that. Then it just got ahead of itself.”
Mortis Nervosa might draw from a beloved piece of Gen X pop culture, but it completely abandons the grunge trappings of Vudu Sister’s 2013 rocker Household Items. Mortis Nervosa goes for straight folk with a sinister twist, sounding more like traditional ballads than even Vudu Sister’s debut, Bastard Children, which lands more in the orbit of Americana and folk revival. Populated by murderers and ghosts, Mortis plays like the horror anthology that inspired it, with beautiful string arrangements to compliment the dark, often grisly subject matter. Like a raspy-voiced stranger on a dark country road, Keith leads listeners from one macabre tale to the next.
Songs like “White Satin Evening Gown” and “He Heard Footsteps Coming Up the Cellar Stairs” – lots of dead children in that one – calls out to that part of us that will always be uncomfortable in our own basements or nervous about being home alone after dark. On the flip side, “Raven-haired Girl” and “Rings on Her Fingers” feel more indebted to Poe’s gothic tradition than the gorier spooks and horrors elsewhere on the record, though they certainly don’t lack for their own kind of sorrow.
“Some of it’s gruesome,” Keith says. “But most of the material on this album is me trying to find disturbing themes and work with them in a way that’s beautiful. A lot of the subjects are disgusting, but [the songs] aren’t overtly disgusting. It’s trying to find the beauty in decay.”
Vudu Sister will be releasing Mortis Nervosa at the Columbus Theatre on Friday, May 13 (of course). Joining them will be Pixels and Bloodpheasant, each performing acoustic sets which kind of blows my mind. In the meantime, you can stream “White Satin Evening Gown” from their website to get a taste of what you’re in for. Draw the curtains and light some candles, set your phone in the middle of an Ouija board and hit play… if you dare.
Mortis Nervosa release show
May 13 8pm-12am