There’s plenty of Christmas music to choose from (with more added to the canon each year thanks to artists’ mid-career slumps), but what about Halloween? There’s a definite shortage of Halloween music, and since artists can’t get the message that we’re finally ready for the Halloween version of Bing Crosby (unless that’s just Björk? Or maybe Marilyn Manson?), we’ll just have to figure out what makes a song truly scary for ourselves. If you’re bored with “Monster Mash,” “Thriller” and even “Heads Will Roll” and need tunes for this year’s Halloween shindig, reach for one of these vibey indie classics instead.
Listen to our indie Halloween playlist on Spotify right here.
1. Caroline Polachek: Pang
Pang has only been in the world a few weeks, but the witchy energy on Caroline Polachek’s solo debut is off the charts. Dark and sparkly, Pang is a pop album that was soaked in slime then rolled in glitter. Plus, album highlight “New Normal,” what sounds like a country song fueled by tropicalia funk, literally features the lyric: “What is this / Club closing early / The fog machines / And lasers swirling / It’s Halloween / I’m sorry for screaming / But I’m afraid / I scare you completely.” That raises the question: What’s scarier, Halloween or long-term commitment? Ahh!
2. Sturgill Simpson: Sound & Fury
Rock critic Steven Hyden wrote that Sound & Fury, Sturgill Simpson’s new album and a companion piece to a new Netflix anime special, is the “curmudgeon’s Golden Hour.” Another way of describing this chopped-up, fuzzed-out country masterpiece would be “the astrologist’s party playlist.” In it, Simpson turns off “all the TVs” and fantasizes about celestial careers on “Best Clockmaker On Mars,” lives a Scorpio’s dream life on “Make Art Not Friends” and blames his troubles on the planets on “Mercury In Retrograde.” And what better time to listen to a tune called “Mercury In Retrograde” than on Halloween 2019, when Mercury will very much be in retrograde, smack in the middle of the first week of Scorpio season? Prepare yourselves and your feelings accordingly.
3. Various Artists: Day of the Dead
For some reason, 50 indie and rock artists singing Grateful Dead songs on a covers album called Day of the Dead feels like the perfect album for Halloween. It’s especially appropriate because it’s long enough to get you into the actual Day of the Dead (Nov. 1, aka All Souls/Saints Day). So when you’re hungover at work on Friday morning after a night of spooking the town, just forget the discomfort while Jenny Lewis and Phosphorescent groove to “Sugaree” and Mumford & Sons befriend the “Devil.”
4. Wolf Alice: Visions Of a Life
Look to the cloudy moonlit sky with British rockers Wolf Alice on their excellent 2017 album Visions of a Life, which features haunting songs like the sludgy “Space & Time,” creepy “Heavenward” and spoken-word scare “Sky Musings.” Halloween is the only night of the year when it’s acceptable to literally howl at the moon, and Visions Of a Life is music for a starry night.
5. Mitski: Be The Cowboy
Halloween is about characters. It’s a time to be someone else for a night. From bored housewives to forlorn loners to love-struck dancers, Mitski sports a variety of costumes on her all-consuming 2018 album Be the Cowboy. So grab your cowboy hat (or swim cap, or string of pearls) and dance the night away to Mitski’s indie classic.
6. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes’ 2008 debut takes us to the foggy foothills of the “Blue Ridge Mountains” and transports us to “Quiet Houses,” but it also plays us one of the best murder ballads of the millennium. At first “White Winter Hymnal” sounds like a blissful travelin’ folk tune, but pay close attention, and you’ll hear the foresaken tales of a “pack” who are shot down, their blood turning the “white snow red as strawberries in the summertime.” Shudder.
7. Chastity Belt: No Regerts
Depending on how you plan to spend All Hallow’s Eve, you may find yourself with a serious case of the munchies (or, more likely, the alcohol-induced “drunchies”). If this sounds like you, you’ll want to queue up Chastity Belt’s “Nip Slip,” the official anthem of munchers. “I’m so drunk, I just want, some chips and dip,” Julia Shapiro deadpan sings, while actual crunching happens in the background. There’s also a song called “Evil” on No Regerts, which is just thematically appropriate for Oct. 31. So whether you’re planning to ring in Halloween with queso and beer or the blood of your enemies, there’s something to skeleton-dance to on No Regerts, also arguably one of the best rock debuts of the decade.
8. Superorganism: Superorganism
One of the kookiest, most wonderful indie acts to emerge in recent years, Superorganism escape to the neon-lit, slime-infused regions of their wildest imaginations on their 2018 self-titled debut. There are few albums out there that are as Halloween-appropriate as this one from front to back. You’ll want to dress as your favorite celebrity for “Everybody Wants To Be Famous,” then change into a ghoul for the driving, sticky “Nighttime,” a trick-or-treat anthem for the ages. Do not smell my feet after I finish dancing to these marvelously silly songs.
9. Choir Boy: Passive With Desire
Passive With Desire is one of the most purely sad-yet-creepy synth-pop albums I’ve ever heard, and that’s saying something. If the floating heads from Haunted Mansion got a hold of some synths and ascended to a studio after the movie ended, the resulting album may have sounded a little something like this. Musicians Adam Klopp and Chaz Costello appear on the album cover dressed as vampires, blood dripping ominously from their mouths. Retreat to a “Dark Room,” gaze upon the “Blood Moon” and experience the costumed Choir Boys themselves in the campy, creepy music video for the simmering “Hellmouth,” below.
10. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser…
may be the closest thing we have to a real-life witch, and she’s at her most spellbinding on 2012’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser…. She fights off pain in her “second skeleton” on twinkly opener “Every Single Night,” dances with the “Daredevil” and “likens” a hairy ex-lover to a “Werewolf,” while still admitting her part in supplying the “full moon.” Listen to one of the best albums of the 2010s, unless you’re Lil Nas X, then make sure you give Fiona back her money, you cute little guy.
Listen to our indie Halloween playlist on Spotify right here.