During the last few years, I have become a collector of music that sends a sense of dread up my spine and clammy chills on my skin. I like music that embodies the month of October, Halloween and the shifting landscape from summer to winter--the Texas Panhandle does not boast a lengthy Fall season. Music, much like horror cinema, affects people differently. What embodies dread to me, may not sound even remotely horror-themed to someone else. That's the beauty of art; how wide-ranging the responses are. So, below, I have put together a list, a mere glimpse, into some of the music that embodies the Halloween season for me. This is the music that puts me in the right state of mind for the All Hallow's Eve. I hope some, if not all, can do the same for you.
self-titled by Dead Man's Bones (2009)
This has been my favorite Halloween album since it came out. Dead Man's Bones is a collaboration between actors, Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling. Yes, you read that right, Ryan Gosling. The origins of the band go back to a double date that Ryan and Zach were on with their girlfriends at the time. They didn't particularly get along until they began to bond over their love of old horror cinema. Classic black and white horror. And out of this rather odd bond came a band and an album that oozes with atmosphere from a time of the Universal monsters, silent, long-fingered vampires and creeping things.
Hand claps, organs, desolate piano, a children's choir, ghostly vocals and reverb to boot create an album that feels like an older time came crashing down into the present day. For a one-act band that will probably never make another album, this album makes for the perfect soundtrack to the season. All of the classic monsters, creatures and fears are present here amidst the moody atmosphere and salient pop sensibility.
Lullabies To Paralyze by Queens of the Stone Age (2005)
Really anything put out by QOTSA could easily be put on this list, but the album that exudes the most dread, for me, is this one. From the lullaby that starts off the album to the slow-burner conclusion, this album plays out like a wicked, auditory Grimm's fairy tale. Josh Homme delivers the vocal swagger that he brings to any project he ever takes part in. Where this album excels over their other offerings is its elastic quality. Within the same song, you never know when the pace will be kicked up 12 notches and then dropped back down to a seething drag. Plenty of heavy guitar riffs, malevolent sound effects that border the outlines of the songs, and dark lyrical content.
This album will deliver on the haunting atmosphere and stoner rock edge that turns Grimm into something more like an acid trip gone horribly wrong.
Welcome To My Nightmare by Alice Cooper (1975)
Even though, by now, Alice Cooper has become somewhat of a self-parody, his first 5 or 6 albums are classic garage rock for a bunch of guys out of Detroit that didn't even know how to really play their instruments when they started out. However, by the time Alice Cooper hit this album--arguably his most known and loved--he had created a type of rock horror persona; Welcome To My Nightmare would become his mission statement. Between the classic rock, funk and spacey elements that make up the record, there is a playfulness that masks a darker, underlying story that undergirds the album. Then there is the perfect monologue by the Horror great, Vincent Price, that hits all of the notes of a classic horror film.
What I have always loved about Alice Cooper is how his music, his performances and his onstage persona creates a story and image that is bigger than the man himself. He learned from the greats of Vaudeville. People like Groucho Marx would show up at his concerts and view his performance as a modernizing of the very thing they pioneered. And, if any album is able to best encompass the whole of the Alice Cooper experience, it would be this one.
Petr & The Wulf by Munly & The Lupercalians (2010)
Jay Munly is an important staple of the gothic americana genre that developed, largely, out of the Denver area. Member of Slim Cessna's Auto Club and creator of several other projects, Munly's most recent incarnation is through the retelling of the classic Peter and the Wolf story set to his typical dark bluegrass atmosphere and instrumentation that transports its listeners to the shadowy backwoods of the Appalachian region. This album not only reinterprets the classic story, but gives it a darker intonation that gets under the skin easier than most renditions that vie for classical music constructions. For Munly, this material is ripe for his musical persona where he brings the listener into a world of nature that is red in tooth and claw, a deadliness only surpassed by that of human nature.
But even with the subject matter as it is, the album has a certain beauty to the compositions. They feel classical in how the songs are composed, but instead of the typical orchestral instrumentation, we have something a little more at home, intimate and malevolent in mood.
The House That Dirt Built by The Heavy (2009)
Within the last ten years there has been a host of terrific soul acts that have come onto the scene, The Heavy is probably one of my favorites because they are able to hit all of the notes of the Stax-style, raw soul while injecting a unique rock background and horror atmosphere. This album and their last album, The Glorious Dead, incorporate classic horror film samples and use horror imagery to get at the dread that is inherent in life and relationships.
On top of all of this, though, this album is just such an absolute joy in which to listen and sing along. Kelvin Swaby's vocals are simultaneously soulful and seething. The man has the most swagger I have seen since the likes of soul greats Otis Redding and Al Green. This is soul music for the horror crowd and all the better for it.
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)
Though not my all-time favorite Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon is easily their most "Halloween"-ish album. This is the opus to madness. This is an album that revels in futility and the dark side of life as it slowly drives us all mad. I mean, what else is there to say about this album that hasn't already been said. Maybe more than any other classic rock album, this one has planted itself firmly into the American subconscious and continues to transcend generations of music lovers and delivers on the dread with every single listen.
Plus, "Brain Damage" may be one of the most frightening songs ever created it.
I'll Sleep When You're Dead by El-P (2007)
El-P's whole career is based on spacey, dank and dark beats and samples that match his general propensity to dig into futility and nihilism through his flows. The guy, from Company Flow, on, has only gotten better with age, both in production and rapping. I'll Sleep When You're Dead may be his most intentional thrust into the concepts that litter his philosophical wastelands. From the beats to the samples, this album consistently feels grimy and full of futility.
It doesn't hurt that he has fellow musicians who share similar themes and concepts as him on this album, including Trent Reznor, Aesop Rock and Cedric from Mars Volta. However, if you can handle the weight of the album, then the black beauty displayed throughout is worth the listen every single time.
The Night Creeper by Uncle Acid and the deadbeats (2015)
The most recent addition to my collection comes from a band out of Cambridge, England which has begun a revival of sorts of that in between period after psychedelic rock and right before the metal acts like Black Sabbath and Black Oak Arkansas came on the scene. Their music has much in common with the wall of sound that would become the trademark, later, in the shoegaze movement, but they wear their influences enough to where they sound straight out of the 60s. If you get bored with music that has a similar pace from song to song and doesn't really shift from album to album then you will appreciate Uncle Acid.
I brought them into the realm of Halloween albums because their music is such that you can get lost in the fuzz and dense atmosphere of their guitars. Disorientation and blindness would be the sensation if their music was an actual feeling or being.