We’re officially more than halfway through 2020 and the less said about the first half, the better. Thankfully, two things that are eternally welcome, especially during a pandemic, are good books and fun playlists. In spite of everything, incredible new books are still coming out and great bands and artists are still releasing new music. We might not be able to browse our favorite bookstores or go to our local music venue to catch a show, but we can still enjoy these pastimes while we’re staying safe at home. Yes, friends, it’s that time again: I’m Meghan, your friendly music-obsessed book nerd, and I’m here again to pair up some fantastic new and recent releases with some excellent songs to help take your reading experience to a whole new level…
Grab a book, grab your headphones, and settle in!
Harrow The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir — Grave Pleasures
Gideon The Ninth was one of the best books of 2019 and you are completely not prepared for the astounding achievement in storytelling that is Harrow’s story. There is no easy way to describe the second book in Muir’s space necromancer trilogy: it zigs when you think it will zag and goes in directions you can’t even conceive of. It’s utterly brilliant and the last few pages will leave you screaming in shock. This series has become an indelible part of me now, like new bone marrow changing the blood in my veins—I can’t stop talking about it or thinking up new songs to pair with it.
Where Gideon was a beautiful mix of horror, metal-influenced synths, our girl Harrow is a blistering, blasphemous chunk of deathrock. Deathrock is a genre mixing macabre lyrics and heavy instruments, like goth, only harder. Providing the most perfect anthem for our dearly beloved Harrow is a Finnish band called Grave Pleasures, who put out an album in 2017 all about death and nuclear apocalypse. “Oh happy death, it’s been too long!” shouts lead singer Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, and he’s right. The wait for Harrow the Ninth has been much too long. Trust me, though—it will be worth it. Harrow and Grave Pleasures both have BDE: Big Death Energy. “Let’s make these skeletons wail!” indeed…
- “Joy Through Death” by Grave Pleasures
- “Sigil” by Gost
- “Dead and Re-Buried” by Alien Sex Fiend
- “Time Crushes All” by Idle Hands
- “I Don’t Want To Be Me” by Type O Negative
Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan — Batushka
Emily A. Duncan’s Wicked Saints blew my world apart last year. It’s absurdly good, written with outrageous style and devastating turns of phrase. It’s like a black metal album cover come to life in book form, a Slavic-influenced story of fallen gods and a mismatched group of disaster children struggling to keep their heads above water. Duncan introduced us to two countries locked in an unwinnable war, a young Cleric forsaken by her gods, a monstrous boy flying too close to the sun, and a prince slowly losing his mind. The second book in the trilogy hit shelves a few months ago, and it’s filled to the brim with political intrigue, viscerally unnerving eye horror, and our favorite trio of sarcastic disasters doing all they can to make it out alive. A similar disaster is the Polish black metal band Batushka, which has been plagued by its own internal intrigue and usurpations. They begin as a mysterious group chanting Eastern European hymns on top of grinding, unrelenting, bleak metal and then schismed into two different bands, both claiming to be the one true Batushka. A book series as metal as Duncan’s deserves a heavy soundtrack and Batushka, in all its incarnations, delivers in spades.
- “Yekteniya I: Ochishcheniye” by Batushka
- “Swarm” by Ultar
- “Unleashed” by Epica
- “Vultures Fly” by Avatar
- “Faith” by Ghost
Network Effect by Martha Wells — Daft Punk
I can’t help it: Robot music for a robot protagonist. I had to. I don’t think Murderbot would mind. They want nothing more than to obsessively watch their favorite shows and not have to deal with other people, or duty, or honor. Duty and honor will get you killed, you know. In Network Effect our intrepid misanthropic AI is back to reluctantly helping their human associates and they’re going to complain the entire time. Murderbot is a true role model, I swear. This is the first full-length novel outing for the best sarcastic AI since Adams’ Marvin and it completely knocks it out of the park. It’s funny and wonderful, building on the award winning novellas that came before. In my mind, the book can only be paired with joyful, cheesy techno and sci-fi-inspired songs that will make even the grumpiest robots get up and dance. (Maybe these are all deep 21st-century cuts from the Sanctuary Moon soundtrack?)
- “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk
- “Chrome” by VNV Nation
- “Homosapien” by Pete Shelley
- “Dangerous” by Big Data featuring Joywave
- “Fiction (Dreams In Digital)” by Orgy
Savage Legion by Matt Wallace — Bring Me The Horizon
Complex, creative worldbuilding and intense, fascinating characters turn Matt Wallace’s Savage Legion into a brutal, violent delight. I haven’t read anything like this novel in a very long time; it will leave you stunned and speechless. It’s a raw, unfettered portrayal of a world built for maximum efficiency, where only the useful are important. It is an unflinching look at ableism, poverty, privilege, gender, and corruption wrapped up in a blood-drenched box. It’s whip-smart, full of political intrigue, heartbreak, and a plot twist that will punch a hole through your sternum like a cannonball. The fight scenes are incredibly well done and I could not get the song “Empire (Let Them Sing)” by Bring Me The Horizon out of my head as I devoured the novel. It’s a track I always think of as tailor-made for battle: a primal scream from a dying throat, a howl of victory. It’s exactly as fast and rough and brutal as Wallace’s outrageously good novel, and I had to create a playlist of “battle” songs to accompany it.
- “Empire (Let Them Sing)” by Bring Me The Horizon
- “Beast” by Nico Vega
- “Night Witches” by Sabaton
- “Drain The Blood” by The Distillers
- “Sin” by Nine Inch Nails
Drowned Country by Emily Tesh — Florence + The Machine
There are not words enough in my vocabulary to convey to you how much I loved Emily Tesh’s Silver In The Wood. It was just perfect, a beautiful tale of forests and folklore and the rot hiding in both. The characters immediately took up residence in my head and haven’t left since. When I heard a sequel was coming out I nearly wept with joy. Drowned Country was beyond my wildest dreams, bringing back beloved characters and adding wonderful new ones—there’s even a vampire! It could not have been more tailor-made for me.
The second book has the same quiet beauty as the first volume but adds to its mythology, making it a grander adventure than before. We leave the forests and rush headlong into the sea. My soundtrack for the first novel was pure Hozier, that fairy prince of bogs and moss, and Drowned Country can’t be anything but his counterpart, the Unseelie queen herself, Florence Welch: her soaring vocals like the cry of seagulls, her lyrics dark and cold like the deepest part of the ocean, and threaded with magic and wonder and romance throughout.
- “Ship To Wreck” by Florence + The Machine
- “Peaceful Afternoon” by Rufus Wainwright
- “If Ever I Stray” by Frank Turner
- “Heart of My Own” by Basia Bulet
- “Through the Roof n’ Underground” by Gogol Bordello
Hopefully these books, songs, and bands give you something to look forward to and to relax with as you work your way through your To Read Pile. If ever there was a time to lose yourself in a new story with headphones drowning out the outside world, this is it. Let me know how you liked these playlists, and what other book and band pairings you’d recommend! And stay safe out there, friends. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay home if you can. Until we meet again, I’ve been your intrepid book DJ, signing off for now!
Meghan Ball is a writer who enjoys playing guitar and spending way too much time on Twitter. You can find her there at @EldritchGirl. She currently lives in a weird part of New Jersey.