Oct. 29 2014 02:34 PM

An extra-scary phantom playlist

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Halloween is never as scary as it should be. In spite of its reputation for being night for all the ghouls and goblins to come out, it too often serves as another excuse for people to drink too much and find a way to turn pop-culture memes into costume LOLs. Your house might get egged, you might go to a “haunted house,” but chances are you won’t be all that scared.

One way to rectify that is through a truly chilling Halloween playlist. If you go to a Halloween party this year, you’ll almost certainly hear some combination of “Thriller,” “Monster Mash” and, at the cooler parties, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” That’s all fine and good, but in order to tap into the menacing potential of All Hallow’s Eve, why not take a scary music playlist to its illogically traumatizing extreme?

Queue up these 10 songs on Halloween, and see what comes crawling out from under the floorboards.

“Intruder” by Peter Gabriel: Sometimes the creepiest sounds come from the least likely sources. I doubt most would consider Peter Gabriel all that scary, but here’s a pretty major exception. It’s loaded with strange effects, eerie screeches and a beat that lurches like the nightstalker in Gabriel’s narrative. If someone stands in front of your house with a boombox blaring this tune, I’d get the hell out of there ASAP.

“From Her to Eternity” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds:
I can probably count on one hand the number of performers who can evoke a sense of sheer terror like Nick Cave. His 1985 song “From Her to Eternity” starts with an ominous, pounding piano and the introduction “I wanna tell you about a girl.” The song goes from intense to nightmarish pretty quickly, increasingly more menacing and claustrophobic with each moment of Cave’s obsession with the girl upstairs. And as he concludes with the cryptic line, “Then that little girl would just have to go,” there’s a loud, percussive thump. Yikes!

“Facing the Wind” by Nico: Onetime Velvet Underground singer Nico sounded pretty eerie to begin with—her deep German vocals have a lot to do with that—but surround her with an erratic, fucked-up arrangement that sounds like Vlad Tepes’ house band, and she’ll turn your blood cold. “Facing the Wind” is all wheezing accordion, arrhythmic drum thumps, hauntedhouse piano and plenty of strange fade-ins and -outs. It’s enough to make you wonder if you can actually hear ghosts.

“Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle: One of the few songs I’m hesitant to listen to alone at night, simply because of the psychological terror it wreaks, “Hamburger Lady” is easily one of the most horrifying things put to tape. It doesn’t erupt or explode; rather, it moans and rumbles at a low frequency while Genesis P-Orridge gives a distorted recitation about a burn victim. The twisted electronic cries, the “what the hell is that?” drone—it’s a masterpiece of horror.

“The Backwards Music Station” by The Conet Project: This isn’t really a song; it’s a shortwave frequency captured on tape. Most likely a military broadcast. “The Backwards Music Station” is thought to be used for coded transmissions, but whatever the purpose, it just plain sounds wrong— loops of feedback coupled with radio static approximating a vortex into Hell. Brought to you (probably) by the U.S. government!

“Shook Ones Pt. II” by Mobb Deep: Gangsta rap isn’t really scary—much like outlaw country isn’t scary. But there are exceptions, like Mobb Deep’s best-known single, famed for its icy synth samples and crackly, ghost-sighting piano loop. And a threat to “stab you in your brain with your nose bone.” Good god.

“Crawling on Bruised Knees” by Pharmakon: There’s industrial music, and then there’s industrial music. I like Nine Inch Nails just fine, but Brooklyn artist Margaret Chardiet, aka Pharmakon, better captures sonic dystopia through her own unsettling electronic means. “Crawling on Bruised Knees” feels like the tail end of the endtimes, with buzzing synths that sound like helicopters and booms that approximate collapsing structures. Her own voice sounds like a pre-recorded loudspeaker message, there to remind you of society before it went up in flames.

“Clara” by Scott Walker: Pretty much any song from Scott Walker’s The Drift, except the oddly serene “A Lover Loves,” is perfect nightmare fodder. This one’s extra-special though, its 12-minute duration essentially a terrifying sound-film in miniature. Walker’s arrangement combines massive, atonal orchestration with percussive sounds that supposedly were made from Walker punching a side of beef. There are melodic, triumphant moments, too, but they’re few and far between—false security before the beast shows its face again.

“Beautiful Child” by Swans: OK, so it begins with gunshots—probably not the best thing for putting one at ease. After that, there’s an intense rush that comes to a complete halt and abruptly transforms into a militant stomp behind Jarboe’s operatic backing vocals and Michael Gira’s unhinged screams of “I am not a dangerous man! / I love a child!” That child becomes a ritual sacrifice, naturally. I’d say this is not for the faint of heart, but I’m not sure that quite covers it.

“Frankie Teardrop” by Suicide: Why not close out your Halloween playlist with a classic? That is, a 10-minute classic of drum-machine drones, a grisly murder-suicide and the most blood-curdling screams of the punk era. Or any era, really. 

Email jefft@sdcitybeat.com or follow him at @1000TimesJeff