Sounds of Screaming: The Black Canary EP is a Goth Rock Delight
Actual music that purports to be by a band from a comic book? There’s no way that’s going to be good, right? I mean, the one really successful example is Sugar Sugar by The Archies, and that doesn’t particularly stand the test of time. So when I heard DC had put out an official Black Canary EP, timed with this week’s release of the first trade paperback, I was understandably skeptical.
I think about music a lot, and already associate particular artists and sounds with characters and comics, even the ones that aren’t about bands. In my head, I’d always imagined Black Canary sounded like Savages crossed with Shady Hawkins. But there’s no way DC Comics would ever authorize anything that raw and authentic, right? I figured anything that was officially released as Black Canary’s music would sound safe and boring, and not at all what the band portrayed in the comic should sound like.
(I should take a moment here to note for those who’ve yet to read the current Black Canary comic by Annie Wu, Brenden Fletcher, et al, that the title is not a name currently being used by Dinah Drake in a superhero context. It’s the name of the band she sings in. I will also note that you should read this comic, because it’s very good.)
When I gave in and listened to the three-song Black Canary EP, I was thrilled to discover how wrong I’d been. This sounds like real music, by a real band. It doesn’t sound like it’s trying to sound just like some other band, and it certainly doesn’t sound like an attempt to ape anything that’s popular in the mainstream right now. It’s clear that what the band from the comic should sound like was foremost inthe minds of those making the music. This is backed up by the inclusion of series writer Brenden Fletcher’s name in the EP’s credits.
Black Canary’s sound is a little less punk than I imagined, but it makes up for it by unapologetically harkening back to the classic goth bands of the 1980s. The vocals, provided by Michelle Bensimon of Caveboy, are a bit reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux. Similarly, the instrumentation owes a little something to Bauhaus, and in fact the last track on the EP is a cover of a Bauhaus song.
That’s not to say there aren’t contemporary influences too. There’s something of Metric in the mix of guitars and electronics, and yes, just like in my fantasies, there are hints of Savages.
The first track on the EP is “Fish Out of Water,” which opens with rumbling feedback and a satisfying vocal yelp. The first lyric is “sixty seconds and the lungs will collapse,” which immediately injects the music with a sense of violence, which is absolutely appropriate to the comic. The “fish out of water” of the chorus is in some sense Dinah, who repeats throughout the story that she’s not really a musician; her forte is fighting. About two and half minutes into the song, the vocals turn into something strange, which sounds very much like an audible representation of Dinah’s sonic scream. But none of these resonances with the comic would stand out to someone who hasn’t read it. It never stops sounding like an authentic rock song.
The second track, “Old World,” has the most vintage 1980s sound of the three, although not to its detriment. It has a particularly moody sound, and there’s something ominous lurking just underneath the lyrics:
New song with the same old chorus
Gets worse if you sing along
Four words: things are getting scary
And oh, these days are dragging on
The words of a musician who’s tired of touring, or one who’s being followed by invisible monsters that live inside the music? It depends on your perspective, and whether or not you’ve read the comic.
The EP ends with a cover of “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” by Bauhaus, which ups the tempo a bit and makes you want to pogo dance in a dark club. The current version of Dinah Drake has to be at least in her mid-30s to accommodate the length of her backstory, so it makes sense that these are the influences she’d be drawing on. It also justifies the modern version of her classic costume. This is the music of a woman who thinks black boots, black fishnets, a black leotard, and a black leather jacket add up to an ideal look. (And frankly, what you’re reading is the music review of a person who agrees with her.)
If you’ve read Black Canary, I absolutely recommend these three songs as a companion piece. If you haven’t read Black Canary, I still recommend the EP, because it’s just good music. But I also recommend you read Black Canary, because that’s really good too.