As Halloween begins to overtake Christmas in both ubiquity and popularity, Halloween music remains an under-explored feature of the haunting holiday. It’s easy enough to slap on a slasher movie OST and call it a day; but songs about spooky monsters aren’t exactly mainstream fare, even when the leaves start falling. Halloween music is more than just Monster Mash — it’s a seasonal treat that’s getting more expansive by the minute and spans several genres.
Horror-obsessed punks and gothic artists have created some excellent music that works any time of year — but especially well during October. In this apocalyptic era, Halloween is taking on a very different meaning, and might require more isolation than the holiday normally calls for, leaving many in a monstrous mood. We’re thinking outside the box when it comes to tunes that will shake your bones, so we’ve curated an unranked list of blood-curdling contemporary albums so you can have a soundtrack ready for your (socially distanced) Halloween gatherings.
1. Dead Man’s Bones by Dead Man’s Bones
Here’s a little known fact: For a time, Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling was the lead singer in an ultra-twee, indie horror punk band called Dead Man’s Bones. The crew travelled around the U.S. with a children’s choir dressed in makeshift spooky costumes, selling out local DIY venues throughout the country. The one full-length LP this bizarre troupe produced was a strange little self-titled album: Each cute track used different kinds of monsters as metaphors for different kinds of heartbreak. Songs like My Body’s A Zombie for You and Werewolf Heart were as sweet as bite-sized trick-or-treat snacks — careful, you might have some cavities after listening.
2. Half Ghost by Dani Shivers
Mexican goth queen Dani Shivers has been releasing low-budget DIY music videos on YouTube for years, these short films are a perfect distillation of her understated witchy essence. Shivers is the alter ego of Tijuana-based artist You Schaffner, who uses the character to explore the more macabre parts of her psyche. Half Ghost is a moody, lo-fi sequence of short songs that takes the symbolism of haunted houses quite seriously. Whereas Shivers’ earlier songs used a cutesy Casiotone, the synths on this album are deliciously dreamy, juxtaposing against the singer’s girlishly nasal, enchanting vocals. Half Ghost is probably the best goth album of this decade.
3. Witching Hour by Ladytron
Ladytron’s album 604 was a perfect example of the maligned electroclash subgenre: full of dispassionate lyrics about boredom and irony. The follow-up to that masterpiece was far more serious, and much more apocalyptic: Witching Hour is a whole aesthetic universe filled with haunted power plants and Ballardian high rises. The album’s lead single Destroy Everything You Touch became an enduring goth anthem played at underground vampire parties to this day. Ranging from bombastic and aggressive to eerie and understated, lead singer Helen Marnie’s wispy vocals guide the listener through a supernatural, post-cyberpunk world.
4. Without Warning by Metro Boomin, 21 Savage, and Offset
Those who have listened closely to Metro Boomin’s hits had noticed his gothic and avant-garde influences long before the release of Without Warning in 2017. The trio surprise-dropped this on Halloween day of that year, and the songs are all seasonally appropriate. On this LP, horror movie villains become metaphors for the terrors of the hood — whether it’s warring drug dealers or the dangers posed by overzealous police. 21 and Offset drop some of their strongest verses on this oft-ignored album, but it’s Metro’s beats that are the true star, filled with spine-chilling bells, sirens, and synths lifted straight from retro horror movie soundtracks.
5. King Night by Salem
A small sub-genre of electronic music popular in the late 2000’s that blended harsh noise, chopped-and-screwed trap, pop, industrial, and EDM eventually became known as “Witch House” — King Night is maybe the genre’s most representative album. In these speaker-destroying tracks, which switch between gorgeously melodic and ear-shattering, Salem explores a quite uncanny sonic universe: Sometimes hopeful, sometimes utterly hopeless. It’s far from easy listening, but the music provides a creepy backdrop for a walk through crunching leaves or a haunted night at the club.
6. Crazy Clown Time by David Lynch
Polymath artist David Lynch is better known as a filmmaker than as a musician, and if you think his movies are hard to digest, you’ll have an even harder time with his songs. Densely symbolic to the point of semi-incoherence, Lynch’s jazz / techno / noise music is absolutely unnerving — but also strangely beautiful. Crazy Clown Time features guest vocals from Yeah Yeah Yeah’s singer Karen O on it’s perfect opening track, Pinky’s Dream. Good Day Today became an unlikely EDM banger once remixed by Boys Noize. The album’s titular track is a full on nightmare filled with horrific screaming and frightening falsetto vocals from Lynch himself, with lyrics that darkly allude to sexual violence.
7. Batbox by Miss Kittin
Miss Kittin is another electroclash icon who took a swerve to the dark side in the early 00’s. Batbox is more upbeat than other albums on this list — a kind of ironic ode to perky goths a la Emily The Strange. There’s still a few sendups to Hollywood sleaze on here amidst tracks about partying barefoot at the nightclub and getting too high. Kittin’s switch to a more darkwave-influenced electro-house sound highlighted her devilish sense of deadpan humor as a lyricist and producer.
8. Themes for an Imaginary Film by Symmetry
Musicians Johnny Jewel and Nat Walker had created an entire score for the film Drive that wound up being mostly unused. The duo re-shaped the work into a moody synthesizer soundscape reminiscent of John Carpenter’s horror soundtracks on movies like The Fog and Vampires. It’s an oddly soothing set of tracks, but there’s of course something more insidious lurking underneath the calming melodies.
9. Everything Sucks by Princess Nokia
Bronx-based rapper Princess Nokia’s tracks were bumping in gay bars long before critics started paying attention to her music. In 2020, she released two albums at the same time: Everything Sucks and Everything is Beautiful. Both are excellent, but it’s the former’s horror-themed party-tracks that are appropriate for Halloween. Crazy House takes inspiration for late 90’s nu-metal classics while Harley Quinn celebrates the eponymous anti-heroine, whose iconic outfits have become a Halloween costume staple. The album gets quite personal (and quite mournful) by the time it reaches its conclusion, but what’s Halloween without a bit of tragedy?
10. Why Bother? by ADULT.
ADULT.’s music has come to define a certain brand of goth that prefers Helvetica to Old English: A sort of understated, emotionally distant, high-fashion aesthetic is characteristic of this particular faction of nightcrawlers. The married duo’s music at times deals with existential angst and other times is fueled by pure, uncensored disgust. Why Bother? is the band’s angriest work. Songs like Inclined to Vomit and I Feel Worse When I’m With You are expressions of pervasive antipathy; tracks like Plagued by Fear and Harvest are seasonally-appropriate odes to terror — at human society writ large.
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