The Music of Halloween

I love the month of October. Utah is beautiful, you can pull out your old sweaters, and of course Halloween. Aside from the jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and candy, the sounds of this season are amazing. Hearing creaking doors, howling wolfs, or whispering winds can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Music is the greatest thing to create a mood, and the music inspired by Halloween does just that.

During the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, people would light fires and wear costumes to scare off ghosts. That night they would play dark folk music. These haunting tunes, known as souling songs, are still played in parts of Europe today. Children go out in groups singing these souling song and begging for treats.

Dark classical music is often associated with Halloween for its mysterious overtures and frightening melodies. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony number 5 in C Minor” are iconic songs recognized by many as the first Halloween songs. Dozens of other composers from Rachmaninoff to Vivaldi have taken a crack at capturing the eeriness, suspense, and gloom of this beloved time.

In recent years, horror films and their accompanying scores have been a new way to showcase scary music. Movies live and die by their soundtrack. Good horror films have soundtracks that put you on the edge of your seat and make the film enticing. Films such as Psycho, The Shining, and Saw have powerful musical themes which add to their popularity and success. Other movies like Jaws and Ghostbusters feature songs that have become so popular they stand alone. The Nightmare Before Christmas and A Clockwork Orange are two of my personal favorite horror film soundtracks.

Halloween has also made its way into the rock and pop world over the last few decades. Bobby “Boris” Picket’s “Monster Mash” was released in 1962 and was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to Halloween of that year. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was listed as the most successful music video by Guinness World Records and is in the Library of Congress. It’s safe to say that people love scary music.

Aside from the two Halloween songs that everyone knows, many other artist have been inspired by the horrors of Halloween. The Cure’s “Lullaby” from the album Disintegration (1980), is a haunting track and the one of the darkest from the gothic-rock band. They sing an ominous tale of the always hungry Spiderman.

David Bowie’s song “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” features screeching guitars and sharp piercing chimes. Bowie sings of running scared from the horrors of monsters. Other songs inspired by this holiday include The Ramones “Pet Sematary”, Morrissey’s “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”, and Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein”.

Although Halloween lacks full length albums, like Christmas, there is a wide variety of music that features themes of fear, fright, and horror. For centuries, this music has been revered by several different cultures. Today it is the music of October, the music of Halloween. It shows how music can create powerful emotions and is one of the reasons why this time is beloved by so many.

Album Review – “american dream” by LCD Soundsystem

With Arcade Fire’s attempt to capture the dance floor meeting a divisive audience this summer, it seems only right James Murphy and co. would resurrect LCD Soundsystem from the dead to remind us why they’re king. Unlike Arcade Fire, who only began to experiment with disco in full on their previous album Reflektor (which Murphy helped produce), disco has been part of LCD’s lifeblood since its inception, mixed in a potent cocktail with Murphy’s New Age influences.

But with seven years having passed since LCD’s last album, This Is Happening, you can’t blame someone for wondering if the band can still walk the walk. Rest assured, LCD’s latest release, american dream, is another step forward for the band; it may not be their most confident step forward, but contrary to Murphy’s singing on “how do you sleep”, there are no six steps back to be found on this album.

Even when LCD is taking a step forward, however, Murphy can’t help but look back. In fact, rather than back away from his influences, he doubles down on them in american dream; you’d be forgiven for thinking Robert Fripp had taken over the guitar on the track “change yr mind”, and “other voices” sounds like a discarded track from Talking Head’s Remain in Light. While these accentuated influences are a welcome addition to LCD’s sound, in the case of “other voices” and “change yr mind”, they risk overpowering the band’s own character.

While it would be a stretch to call the two tracks derivative, it’s hard not to see them as the weaker efforts on the album when LCD exceeds in the implementation of Murphy’s influences almost everywhere else. The penultimate track “emotional haircut” is the band’s best utilization of his punk influences to date, building up a raucous finale almost unmatched by any of the band’s previous work, and “call the police”, while maybe one of the best odes to David Bowie ever written (with its oblique reference to the artist’s stay in Berlin), stands on its own as a soaring anthem. “We don’t waste time with love,” Murphy bellows on the chorus, “It’s just death from above.” It’s the kind of gloomy chorus only LCD could make catchy.

When Murphy isn’t overtly looking to the past for inspiration, he pushes the band forward with some of their best music. Sitting in the middle of american dream‘s tracklisting, “how do you sleep” encapsulates LCD’s ability to do more with less. The song lurches forward, seemingly holding back the weight of its own momentum, and when the dance beat finally kicks in, it’s bliss. Equally intoxicating is “tonite”, although its hook, a wet-sounding bass, loses its immediate appeal by the end of the track.

Between tracks like “tonite” and “other voices”, there’s a considerable breadth of music on american dream (which shouldn’t be surprising given that Murphy had about seven years to write the musical ideas that inevitably came to his head). This breadth both bolsters and weakens the album. While it may not have the flow of Sound of Silver’s tracklisting, american dream rewards for demonstrating a band pushing its limits.

Pushing limits makes it hard to land on one’s feet steadily, but LCD Soundsystem, without a doubt, is back on the dance floor, taking one step forward, and two looks back at the sounds that inspire them.