[CW: This article discusses suicide and selfharm.]
Halloween is not just an event that happens for one night; it is a lifestyle in which I partake for one whole month. Aristotle thought that the power of tragedy was in the cathartic release it delivers to the audience. I think that, for those of us in this modern moment, fear is the only emotion that can deliver this sort of catharsis. I could go more into my thoughts on the sublime and how it affects our life, but I’ve already brought up one philosopher, and that is way too many for this article.
But the point still stands. Fear isn’t just something that’s kitschy or cool because it’s different from what everyone else enjoys—you never really enjoy being scared. Rather, it’s worth experiencing because the feelings you take from it are unlike anything else. The messages fear delivers to us aren’t something that can be replicated with any other emotion. And fear comes in all shapes and sizes as well; It is its own language.
This is why I think that Halloween can be such an important time, more than just an excuse to get absolutely zoinked while wearing a costume one weekend. I always feel much better about myself after Oct. 31 because I feel like I’ve gotten something off of my chest. So, in the spirit of universal companionship with the readers of this article, I want to recommend albums that are perfect for this Halloween season to help you understand what I am talking about. I’ll start from least terrifying and go to most terrifying.
Björk’s “Homogenic” is an unsettling album, and it identifies exactly the feeling I am talking about. This album is the musical equivalent of those old computer-generated movies that came out in the early 2000s. The movies were great, but there was something about the artificiality of them that always threw me off. If you’ve seen the movie “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” you know the animation quality that I am talking about. There’s something about the presence of technology that blends with the more normal aspects of the movie to create a unique tone.
“Homogenic” is this interesting tone in album form, if you are looking for it. This record is a masterpiece on so many levels, but I think the use of fearful feelings is one of its least talked-about aspects. I’ll keep my example short and let the music speak for itself: Go to this album on YouTube and listen to the last two songs, “Pluto” and “All is Full of Love.” “Pluto” is a song about Ragnarök, the battle at the end of the world in Norse Mythology, and it feels earth-shattering. Björk’s howls over a glitchy, sputtering rave beat are sublime in every sense of the word. This is exactly the song that would play if the very world began to shatter and nature descended into a storm.
Then comes “All is Full of Love.” If you listen to these songs one after the other (or just the album as a whole), you will feel the catharsis I am talking about. Your headspace will be thrown off by what has come before, you will be reeling from the outof-sorts music that came before and you will be comforted by one of the most beautiful songs ever made. This track will hold your soul and cherish it—using the same style of electronic music that came before—but only if you’ve been broken down by the preceding fear that the album provokes.
MGMT’s “Little Dark Age” appearing on this list might surprise you if you have listened to this album before, but do not be mistaken by the pop-music coating of this album. This record is one of desperate fear that soaks every note. I won’t discuss it too much, as it involves talk of suicide, and I think that isn’t something I can or should break down.
I will say this, however: Read the lyrics to this album before you listen to it. This album is about suicide and mental illness, but the specific messages you pull from it will be your own.
This note brings me to my last album on the list. Swans’ monumental “Soundtracks for the Blind” is one of the most frightening and unsettling albums I’ve ever heard. It is also the perfect October album. There is screaming, babies crying, creepy people telling creepy stories and a viscerally dark cadence to everything.
Everything about this album is aimed towards that feeling of catharsis I mentioned earlier, and this album will try to slough off your personality through terror to deliver its messages. “Soundtracks for the Blind” is also the most experimental album as it is a drone record through and through. It’s about tones, sounds and duration more than anything else. It’s an album, and it’s also an experience.
“Soundtracks for the Blind” is two-and-a-half hours of cavernous drones filled with ghostly voices. Tracks like “The Beautiful Days,” “Her Mouth is Filled with Honey” and “I was a Prisoner in Your Skull” are all drenched in a weighty, oppressive mood. “The Beautiful Days” is wildingly unsettling in its decaying guitar strumming, backed only by the vocals of a child singing an inscrutable song.
I especially recommend the track, “Helpless Child.” This 15-minute masterpiece is a journey through the darkest corners of our emotions. It is brooding with passion for its first half, a passion that gets unleashed in an alluring way at the end. Again the catharsis, and again the fear that came before.