CDs don't need screams for effective Halloween haunts
There are a couple avenues you can pursue when looking for the right music to add a dash of mood to tomorrow's fright feast holiday. There are plenty of albums of haunted house sound effects and collections of novelty singles like "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater." If you want modern music, you could turn up the speakers and grind to the angry black anthems of industrial acts like Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy and Meat Beat Manifesto. Or you could pull out the death metal discs of Cannibal Corpse for obscenely disgusting lyrics and abrasive sound.
But if you want to have something a little more subtle, something to set a mood rather than set your hair on end, there are scores of albums that, while not meant as Halloween scores, can certainly be used as such. My personal longtime favorites (noted more than once in this column) come from the mid-'80s output of England's 4AD label. The Cocteau Twins' early releases were filled with unintelligible coos and cries and chiming, warped guitar lines. Often beautiful as well as mysterious, albums like Victorialand and the aptly named Treasure are excellent choices to set a slightly haunted Halloween mood. The Twins' Elizabeth Fraser uses her voice as an instrument for emotion rather than as a conduit for rhyming lyrics, and the result is an ethereal, otherworldly string of albums by this English trio.
Also on the 4AD label is Dead Can Dance, the duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, who continue to record exotic albums for that label (their most recent was last year's Spiritchaser). In the mid-'80s, they incorporated medieval chants and Eastern vocal twinings into their sometimes dirgelike, othertimes darkly rhythmic musical creations. Albums like Dead Can Dance, The Serpent's Egg, Aion, or Rykodisc's 1991 compilation A Passage In Time are good additions to your melancholic music collection.
Three of the finest albums for beautifully dark music come from members of both Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance. 4AD pulled together a number of its artists in the '80s for collaborations under the band monicker This Mortal Coil. The shifting lineup included Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance as well as members of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Modern English, The Breeders and more. They utilized solemn strings and heavy pianos and looping dark sound effects to create three albums of mystery and melancholia titled It'll End in Tears, Filigree and Shadow and Blood. In 1993, 4AD released a boxed set with all three of these albums as well as a disc with the original artist versions of the many cover songs This Mortal Coil took and twisted into new otherworldly sonics.
But what of today? Of current albums? All of the ones I've mentioned are well worth of seeking out, but you may truly have to do some seeking to find them.There have been some great recent dark releases as well.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have offered two albums over the past couple years with wildly different impacts. Murder Ballads (1996) found Cave's sinister growlingly deep vocals exploring a host of songs about the dark act, generally from the evildoer's point of view. And this year's The Boatman's Call finds Cave toning down the wicked glee of Murder Ballads for songs about the dark depths of love.
On The Boatman's Call, the Seeds play somber dirges as Cave speak-sings stanza after stanza of bittersweet story.
Another recent choice is a bit more uplifting, but still oddly ethereal enough to qualify as mood music for Halloween. It's this week's feature review:
(Astor Place Recordings)
An entrancing combination of operatic vocals with ambient dance music, Aria is a strangely beautiful album of power and grace. While not a "dark" album per se, the high lilting female vocals (the singer is not credited) add an ethereal, haunting quality to the instrumental mix of drums and strings created by Paul Schwartz and Mario Grigorov, composers who have worked with rock and orchestra in the past.
Aria excerpts some of opera's more powerful moments for its bizarrely effective melting pot: bits of Carmen, The Magic Flute, Madam Butterfly and Dido And Aeneas turn up amid the washes of synthesizer and twists of bass. But the ultimate effect is not to create a disco-ized greatest opera hits (I must admit, none of these themes sounded familiar to me). Rather, Aria is a seamless melding of rhythm, beat and emotion that transports the listener to a space far from the everyday world.
"Pace Pace"'s monastery-like chants take the listener inside the classical marble hall strains of a requiem. And the sweeping calls and cries of "Willow" can be heard as either haunted house eerie, or as the lulling, dangerous siren's lure. This is a great record for setting the mood on this otherworldly weekend. Seek this one out — and you'll find your ear haunted by its power all year long.