By JAMES RAINIS
Since today is Halloween — and Zach Zahos already beat me to the punch with a fittingly touching tribute to recently deceased art-rock curmudgeon Lou Reed — I’m inspired to do something thematic. However, I feel like Halloween’s been devalued. Instead of fake blood and scary clown masks, we get a bevy of supposedly “timely” pop culture references and slutty reinterpretations of blue-collar occupations. I mean, I love an ironic “What Does The Fox Say?” costume just as much as the next guy, but when was the last time something on Halloween scared you? (And, no, I’m not referring to the time that girl on your freshman floor starting puking blue or the time you saw that dude from the football team — undoubtedly a freshman offensive lineman — wearing a thong.)
So, in an attempt to get in the true spirit of the holiday, I’m going to suggest some actually scary music.
Note: I’ve reserved for consideration only intentionally scary tracks. While Associate Editor Liz Camuti’s suggestion of Kevin Federline’s “Playing With Fire” does elicit a certain existential dread, it’s hardly done on purpose, and I’d like to focus on the real terror artists here. I’d also like to prematurely apologize for omitting all metal. The average non-metal fan thinks it all sounds sort of scary — guttural pig squeals and down-tuned guitars are not for everybody — so it really does me no good suggesting it.
“John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” by Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan is not known for his dark side. Hell, some might even call him twee, and, with two albums each dedicated to U.S. state histories and Christmas, they’re pretty much correct. What Sufjan does best, however, is provide unique perspectives on his song’s topics — his Christmas song cycles often question the commerciality of what is supposed to be a reverent time of year — and the most starkly disturbing example of this is his character study of serial murderer John Wayne Gacy. In talking about Gacy’s abusive father, you get uncomfortably close to the cycle of abuse that produces such sick individuals. Solemn and purposefully non-graphic, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is an emotionally affecting and intimate exploration of a verified creep.
“Come To Daddy” by Aphex Twin
Screw all those dubstep tracks that sample horror movies. Richard D. James, the man/machine/psychopath behind trailblazing ’90s electronic alias Aphex Twin, beat them all to the punch with an absolutely brutal track whose explicit vocal sentiment (“I will eat your soul / Come to daddy”) doesn’t even hold a candle to the spazzy drum patterns and filthily distorted basslines. And in place of a drop: A brief interlude into a lilting melody sung in a child’s voice, more disconcerting than any wub-wub I’ve heard. If I were to be possessed by a demon and inspired to murder a camp filled with innocent-but-horny teens, I’d want “Come To Daddy” to soundtrack it. For bonus creepiness, check out the equally disturbing video.
“Dance With The Devil” by Immortal Technique
I remember in high school, sometime during my senior year, some guys I had been going to lunch with were adamant that I listen to some rap song. I obliged. That song was “Dance With The Devil,” and, just, Jesus, it just ruined my day. As menacing as the track sounded — that haunting Henry Mancini piano sample, those moaning vocals, that lo-fi drum sound — nothing beats the absolutely harrowing twist ending. Some might complain that Immortal Technique gets a little too preachy with his politics, but “Dance With The Devil” is akin to German fairy tales before Disney got to them: a lesson learned via sheer terror.
“The Cue” by Scott Walker
Scott Walker’s voice is a unique instrument. As a young man, it garnered him the adoration of teenage girls across England; at a time, his fan club was bigger than that of The Beatles’. However, as he aged, Walker has grown interested in experimental orchestral arrangements. His lyrical interests too have matured, turning from schmaltzy pop ditties into darkly impressionistic short stories. “The Cue” is a prime example of his particular allure: His quivering baritone sings, “From the voice flooded semen clotting to paste / Can’t swallow it then bury it,” while tense string vamps and erratic drum accents erupt below. Walker has been silent as to the meaning of its inscrutable lyrics, but, with the uncomfortably slow accompaniment, it’s hard to imagine that they’re anything other than nightmarish.
“Good Morning, Captain” by Slint
Slint’s Spiderland might have been the inspiration for the epic crescendos and orchestral pomp of post-rock, but its instrumentation is a lot more modest. Recorded live in four days, its simple ingredients coalesced into some of the most bizarre music many had ever heard. On “Good Morning Captain,” Spiderland’s concluding track, the band is firing on all cylinders. At the climax, quietly dissonant riffs explode into burnt-out guitar fuzz as singer Brian McMahan screams, “I miss you.” The lyrics — a tale of a captain being refused refuge following a shipwreck — are difficult to parse, but the foreboding mood and atonal melodies sent chills down many a record nerd’s spine.