For anyone who loves to get into the spirit of the holidays, particularly one as delightful as Halloween, it can be a challenge to find music that goes beyond "Monster Mash" or the extra long version of "Thriller." Below are a few unconventionally creepy music picks for your every Halloween need, be it dancing in your kitchen in your wildest Halloween costume on a Halloween night in or soundtracking your friend group's spooky Zoom party.
For the Pop Lovers: Kim Petras, Turn Off the Light (2019) – First on this list is a delightful, thriller-themed album by pop princess Kim Petras, an expansion on her shorter 2018 release Turn Off the Light Vol. 1. Though she's known for sugary-sweet, angst-ridden love and lust-filled material girl ballads, on this album she applies her knack for melodrama to riffs on horror tropes, and references to films like Final Destination ("Wrong Turn"), as well as the occult and its ghastly creatures ("Close Your Eyes"). A base of creepy synths nod to horror movie scores, while shadowy disco beats vampirize the early millennium disco of Justice ("Bloody Valentine"). The pun of "Massacre" scoops the melody right up from "Carol of the Bells," and it's still Petras all over. There's even a feature from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, providing a Haunted House-esque voiceover on the title track. Instrumentals like "Purgatory," "o m e n," "TRANSylvania" and "Boo! Bitch!" help keep the 2010s cinematic feel, while Petras delivers Jennifer's Body-level sexiness in lyrical tracks like "Death By Sex"—a song which actually lines up well with Petras' previous work, including the amazingly explicit track "Do Me" from her other full-length, Clarity. Besides standing well on its own outside Halloween, the way that Petras finds a home within the sexy, bloody, romanticized, sacrificial atmosphere of horror cinema on this album is interestingly not that different from the way she writes pop songs about love. Stream it on Spotify.
For the Goths: Cocteau Twins, Garlands (1982) – Fans of classic goth might think they know all the best dark post-punk that was coming out of the '80s and early '90s from bands like The Cure, Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees and Bauahus, but one of their contemporaries is often overlooked. Cocteau Twins, though most famous for their seminal 1990 dream pop album Heaven Or Las Vegas, actually debuted as more of a post-punk act. While they'd later apply their sweeping, melodramatic style to more heavenly themes, earlier work was rooted in gothic themes, particularly on 1983's Head Over Heels (also worth checking out) and on their debut, Garlands. Sometimes bemoaned by fans of their later work for its relative simplicity, Garlands is actually excellently cohesive, comparable to the likes of The Cure's Pornography. Garlands sounds like it was made by goblins well-acquainted with guitars and reverb pedals, but not with drums; the shivering, glinting guitars that are introduced first on opener "Blood Bitch" are punctuated by the stark beats of a drum machine. This is also Fraser at her creepiest, her undulating, fae-like vocals trembling with bizarre throat warbles that are leagues away from her blitzed-out angel voice on later albums. It's hard to pick highlights on an album where each song is a darkly groovy post-punk treat, but the wild "But I'm Not" and the bass-driven "Shallow Then Halo" are favorites. Though not the first pick of most Cocteau Twins fans, this deliciously creepy album is worth visiting if you haven't, and especially around a time like Halloween. Find it on Spotify.
For the Spookiest Atmosphere: Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks, Halloween is Here (2013) and Ghost Ballads (2013) – The Southern Gothic and folk meanderings of Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks are an easy go-to pick for any on-theme music, because their name doesn't lie. The group specializes in a gentler version on murder balladry, telling bumpity tales of woe with a patina of phantasma. That's true for most of their music, but particularly for their 2013 releases, the separate albums Ghost Ballads and Halloween is Here. If you had to guess which one was genuinely scarier, you'd probably gravitate towards the latter's tone of delightful doom, but you'd be wrong. Ghost Ballads is the more serious storytelling effort, rife with spindly songs referencing graves 'n' bodies, a "Haunted Jamboree," poltergeists and even ghost ships. It almost feels like their other 2013 album, Halloween is Here, is an out-take album, considering that it came out a few months after Ghost Ballads in October of that year. It's a grab bag of Halloween fun, or rather maybe one of those Halloween carnival jack-o-lanterns you blindly reach into to guess what "body part" is inside. Stylistically, it lives in the whimsical realm where steampunk and gothic country have laughs together, or tell goofy, spoken word ghost stories ("Ghost Thief") besides absolutely kooky tracks featuring tinkling xylophone, ghoulish singing and wailing creatures ("S-K-E-L-E-T-O-N"). It's Nightmare Before Christmas with no stops, and while perfect for basic mood-setting, has enough humorous meat to sub in for your usual podcast while you go about your chores—dishes, laundry, carving your pumpkins. Both albums are available on Spotify—just don't get too scared while listening.