Vampire Weekend: Scary Name, Friendly Music

It's more Manilow than morbid.

Sweet, I thought, upon seeing the band Vampire Weekend's name online the first time. New cheese goth rock! From the first download, though, I realized I was so, so wrong. With their Columbia University pedigree, these guys were more Patagonia fleece than morbid black. And the music sounded, well, like a bunch of Putumayo discs shoehorned into jangly guitar rock. The singing was nasal and plaintive. It was undeniably catchy but absolutely unrelated to immortal bloodsuckers. And these guys aren't alone in using the lure of monsters or fear to draw in the unsuspecting. Here are some other bands with "scary" names whose music turned out to be anything but.

Death Cab for Cutie: Imagine, if you will, a time when it was possible to have the most cursory interest in "indie"-type stuff and not hear of this band. When seemingly nearly every bad actor looking for some sensitivity cred didn't name-drop it. When urban hipster parents didn't nearly wet themselves while pushing their Bugaboos to buy the group's latest album so they could still feel young and in touch. There was such a time (approximately from about 10 to four or so years ago). And in that time, you would have been forgiven for thinking this was some kind of experimental droney dark stuff. Of course, you'd be wrong. (Side note: It's part of a family tree, of sorts, of ridiculous band names — it's cribbed from a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band).

The Dismemberment Plan: A stop-and-start, gasp-inducing attack of intelligent heavy stuff for your face? Oh wait, that's The Dillinger Escape Plan. Sorry, no gore here, just arty indie rock from D.C. dating to a time (the Nineties) before indie rock = Apple product commercial. Coincidentally, in 2002 they coheadlined a tour with Death Cab for Cutie — The Death and Dismemberment Tour. Metalheads wailed and gnashed their teeth.

The Groovie Ghoulies: Some misguided soul, fooled by the name, filed this band on Wikipedia under "horror rock." Wrong — much like old pals Screeching Weasel, this long-running Eighties and Nineties act played punk by way of the Beach Boys (and thus the Ramones). I guess that's where the "groovie" part comes in.

The Killers: This one really needs no explanation. Unless their method is murder by overexposure.

Phantom Planet: Apparently ghouls and phantoms often indicate upbeat power-pop (if not, rockabilly is a safe-ish bet). Banshees are exempt from this rule.

Scary Kids Scaring Kids: This is truly one of those magical combinations that prompts firm disbelief, along the lines of, That is NOT a band name. Despite its extreme cringeworthiness, however, the name derives from a song by Cap'n Jazz, the excellent Nineties Chicago quintet that played emo long before it was a dirty word that signified a teenager's haircut. Thus this name is misleading on a couple of levels. If you're old enough to actually remember Cap'n Jazz, you are automatically too old to attend a Scary Kids Scaring Kids show. Also, they sound nothing like Cap'n Jazz. They might be loud at times, and even prove to be far more talented than the crappy name originally reflected. Scary, however, they are not: This is the band whose breakout song was about being left at the altar (written when they were 19 or something).

Thug Murder: Possibly the most confusing entry on this list. Although it sounds like the latest random Southern rap record label, it was actually three small girls from Chiba, Japan, who sang straight-ahead punk in mostly unintelligible English lyrics. Go figure. Did they derive the name by dictionary-dipping, or was this, like all the best examples of "Engrish," backed by some convoluted — but real — logic?

The Zombies: The boomers did it too — the undead, simply, do not sing about seasons of love. Further proof we're doomed to repeat our parents' mistakes.

 
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