Unlike the majority of songs coined “Halloween-worthy,” the songs on this list are not especially scary, nor are they kitschy. There are plenty of scary movies (i.e., these), not to mention real-world horrors, to occupy you if you’re in the mood for an actual spook, and “Monster Mash” and “Werewolves of London” are easily accessible on the gambit of Halloween YouTube playlists if you’re hosting trick-or-treaters tonight. What you may not have in your witches’ brew, however, is a playlist that’s bound to impress even the snootiest of (grownup) music fans attending your Halloween shindig. Thus, we present a collection of songs primed for, as your indie friend might say, a curated All Hallow’s Eve listening experience. Most of these tracks have nothing to do with Halloween. Rather, their titles, lyrics or moods vaguely represent some Halloween-ish symbol or idea, and they might just make for good background tuneage as you cavort about tonight with your costumed comrades. Here, you will not find Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” nor Aaron Carter’s “Candy” nor Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” Instead, you’ll find indie songs about murderers and nighttime and graves. Happy spooking!
1. Titus Andronicus: “A Letter Home”
At the beginning of the month, Titus Andronicus shared a surprise Halloween-themed EP titled Home Alone on Halloween, streaming now via Merge Records and also available on limited edition pumpkin-orange 12-inch vinyl. The 16-minute epic “A Letter Home” sees Patrick Stickles sing with dark humor in a punk snarl, “The coffin factory is packed / The factory workers break their back / They’ll buy their own ones soon / Don’t tell them yet.”
2. Superorganism: “Night Time”
One of the best and also weirdest records to come out of 2018 is pop collective Superorganism’s self-titled debut. “Night Time,” easily of one Superorganism’s most entertaining weird-pop jams, is everything you could ever want in a Halloween tune. It has oodles of bizarre sound effects (like an alarm clock), a bouncing underbelly and lyrics about things that go bump in that night. In this case, those “things” are “curious camgirls” and “cruel and kind cherry boys,” which are just as scary as ghouls or goblins.
3. The Wytches: “Gravedweller”
The Wytches are my go-to Halloween band because their garage-surf-psych is consistently ghoulish regardless of the time of year. My personal favorite track of theirs, and perhaps their most festive, is “Gravedweller.” This creepy, murky song is perfect for dumping a corpse, or better yet, joining the skeleton corpses for a sinister underground dance.
4. Odetta Hartman: “Cowboy Song”
File this one under “songs inspired by Halloween costumes.” Multi-instrumentalist Odetta Hartman crafts in “Cowboy Song” a series of rambling, dusty character studies. That description doesn’t scream “Halloween,” but the music is actually pretty spooky, too. The eerie sound of a chugging steam engine rings out before Hartman has even plucked the first banjo note, and the occasional surprise gunshot will have you clutching your cowboy hat for dear life.
5. L.A. Witch: “Haunting”
West Coast rock trio L.A. Witch are set to follow up their 2017 self-titled debut LP with a five track EP, Octubre, out Nov. 2 via Suicide Squeeze Records. While hearing their hypnotizing lead single, “Haunting,” I imagine three badass women smoking in a dusty Wild West saloon, with a glaring look in their eyes to prevent anyone from crossing them. Their alluring vocals are cloaked with warped guitars ,and though this track might not seem as overtly spooky as some of the others on this list, it’s got an eerie, venomous bite to it and just enough danger to ward off the faint of heart.
6. Neko Case: “Bad Luck”
Neko Case’s “Bad Luck,” from her recent record Hell-On, is the 2018 version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Written in the tumult after Case’s home burned down, it’s about the crazy superstitions we create, and the unavoidable “Bad Luck” that follows us no matter what. Where Wonder listed more traditional good-fortune-wreckers like ladders, 13-month old babies and broken glass, Case describes a “black fly in the cream” and a “one-legged seagull” in her round up of bad luck harbingers.
7. White Room: “Cannibal Song”
White Room’s satirical ode to cannibalism is both chilling and devilishly charismatic. Frontman Jake Smallwood takes the role of playful, mischievous instigator as he sings with a maniacal twinge, “If I said I’m a cannibal / Would you turn and run…See your fingers as caramel delight.”
8. Ryan Adams: “Haunted House”
On this Prisoner track, Adams compares his lonely, drafty home to a dilapidated haunted house. If the song is about loneliness, it’s depressing as hell (“Welcome to my haunted house,” he sings. “I live here alone, ain’t no one else here). But if it’s interpreted through a cobwebbed lens, it’s just a really spooky Halloween song, like a musical reimagining of Haunted Mansion without the humor and talking statues. You’re bound to shudder as Adams sings, “There’s a painting on the wall / I see its eyes watching me as I walk on down the hall.”
9. Bambara: “Steel Dust Ocean”
Reid Bateh, lead singer of Brooklyn post-punk trio Bambara, described their latest album Shadow On Everything as a “Western Gothic concept album,” and it certainly delivers with pitch-black, cataclysmic gloom. With grand strings, “Steel Dust Ocean” is about as darkly brooding as they come, with Bateh’s atmospheric baritone grumbling, “And I see you as a little calf / With a lasso round your neck / In the Steel Dust Ocean.”
10. Wampire: “Wizard Staff”
Portland psych-pop duo Wampire named their band after the way their German friends pronounced “vampire,” so you don’t even have to hear this song to know it’s Halloween-forward. But when you do listen, it’s positively chill-inducing. Wampire eerily assume the character of a white-haired wizard waiting in the shadows of the forest for a soul to come along and cast a “lonely spark in the breeze.” This track’s inching guitar and sly horns only add to the suspense.
11. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: “Acrid Corpse”
Australia’s chief experimental guitar wielders King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are frequently conjuring up mythical tales via their intelligent, larger than life psych. “Acrid Corpse” is a ghostly, minute-long interlude with a spoken word sample, warning of the ominous Lightning Lord (“And leaving us, not without a final clap of light / The Lightning Lord escapes as day fades into moonless night”).
12. Phoebe Bridgers: “Killer”
Before she was one-third of indie supergroup boygenius, Phoebe Bridgers released her full-length debut, Stranger in the Alps, which is home to this serial killer-inspired hymn. Bridgers name-drops Jeffrey Dahmer before asking, “Can the killer in me / tame the fire in you?” Though “Killer” is a metaphor for love and death, it’s extremely sinister in mood, allotting it a spot this Halloween-inspired mixtape.
13. The Horrors: “Ghost”
The Horrors’ latest album V saw their gothic rock and psych-pop make a Werewolf-like transformation into thick, discordant synth-pop. “Ghost” is a slice of jarring, otherworldly trip-hop as Faris Badwan’s sci-fi vocals morph while he sings, “You taste like a ghost / A cold simulation…Yeah you will never be / More than a machine.”
14. Fleet Foxes: “White Winter Hymnal”
There’s nothing like a murder ballad to get you in the Halloween spirit. Fleet Foxes take a turn for the dark on “White Winter Hymnal,” the third song on their self-titled debut from 2008 and a chilling story about a mid-winter killing spree. If you’re not paying attention to the lyrics, “White Winter Hymnal” is a toe-tapping, Appalachian-inspired folk ditty. But, take a closer look, and you’ll find that blood has been spilled, turning the “white snow red as strawberries / In the summertime.”
15. Chastity Belt: “Evil”
On Chastity Belt’s “Evil,” the narrator wants to be good, but she’s doomed. “Born without teeth” and “afraid of everything,” a “darkness has consumed” her soul. There’s no time like Halloween to let your inner evil creep through, and this Pacific Northwest rock jam is equal parts fun and scary, perfect for both dancing and spooking.
Listen to The Indie Halloween playlist on Spotify.