In addition to being a book geek with a collection of unread sci-fi and fantasy tomes large enough to crush me to death, I am also a giant music nerd. I have over 200 gigs of music on my computer, I still buy music magazines, I read music blogs like crazy, and I even play guitar. Naturally, whenever an SFF book featuring musicians comes around, I pounce. Though there have been some great once, the trope isn’t exactly commonplace, which makes Scotto Moore’s excellent debut Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You that much more thrilling. Exploring the weirder side of the esoteric world of music critics, it’s a bombastic banger of a novella that kicks you in the teeth like a metal head in a mosh pit.
The premise of is immediately evocative: new band Beautiful Remorse announced a plan to release their EP one song per day for 10 days. As they trickle out, each song seems to have a visceral, often violent effect on their fans; many commit crimes or even suicide after hearing them. The band has come out of nowhere, and is suddenly everywhere, prompting intrepid music blogger to investigate. He discovers the first song on the EP and gets completely lost in it, quickly promoting it on his blog and to all his music snob friends. Things spiral out of control from there, and the novella snaps into high tempo and never lets up until the frenetic encore. It’s a relentless performance, told swiftly and with deft skill.
Moore utterly nails the vibe of music fandom, and his descriptions of obsessively listening to a song on repeat for hours are so authentic, I searched my house for cameras. He also realizes just how terrifying fandom can be: a certain sort of superfan will go way beyond for their favorite group, even before you add in the possibly mystical playlist filled with songs telling them to kill or be killed. Beautiful Remorse is an all female group (I get the idea they sound like a mix of CHVRCHES and Sigur Rós) led by an ethereal woman named Airee Macpherson, who is so much more than meets the eye. Curious and mildly obsessed, our protagonist reaches out to her to find out the story behind the music. Macpherson invites him to their first concert and grants him an interview. (Music to a music blogger’s ears.) Soon, he’s caught in her web, watching madness unfurl from the rail: a front row seat to the destruction and chaos that reverberates with the end of every song.
Your Favorite Band Cannnot Save You is beautifully violent and wickedly sharp. It knows exactly when to lean in on the horror elements, and when to pull back and drop in a joke. The music blogger protagonist is hapless but earnest. He knows there’s something horribly off about Macpherson and her backing band, but he’s trapped by their music. Before he realizes what’s happening, he’s on tour with them, starring in his own nightmare version of Almost Famous. He’s granted interviews and is dubbed Macpherson’s Herald—the sole person who can upload each track online every day. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but the body count spiking alongside Beautiful Remorse’s rising profile makes him worry that his devotion might be the end of him.
There’s a wonderful “weird internet” vibe to the whole affair. Macpherson’s abandoned Tumblr posts are dissected for clues about her origins and her end game, bloggers delve into each new track online, and a much of story unfolds as people start sliding into each other’s DMs. (I was utterly delighted at references to music blog mainstay the Hype Machine.) Moore is clearly writing what he loves, and uses modern technology and the real world communities that have sprung up around them to propel the plot forward in interesting ways. Who knew you’d learn about the world ending in Slack?
What I’ve described above is only the opening act. What comes nect kicks it up to 11: I see your weird death cult rock band, and raise you aliens and conspiracies! Despite its novella length, this story never feels like it is doing too much or stretched too thin. The Ramones only needed 2 minutes and 12 seconds for the masterpiece that is “Blitzkerg Bop” and Moore only needs 130 pages to spin a story so gonzo it will leave you feeling like you just stumbled out of a wild night at CBGBs.
Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is the novella equivalent of four guitar chords played loud and fast over screaming vocals. It’s a bottle thrown, a messianic stage dive, a structure fire at an outdoor festival. It will delight fans of horror novels, music nerds, and everyone in between. And even knowing what I now know about Beautiful Remorse, I’d still listen. Tell me this song will change my life? I’ll risk it.