Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Tis the Season

Forget Christmas. It's certainly nothing against Jesus, but All Hallows Eve, aka Halloween, is my favorite holiday. It's not even close.

A big reason, of course, is because of when Halloween is. I love this time of year. Everything is dying, but it looks beautiful as it dies. It reminds me of our mortality, but also of our life after death. It makes me aware of the supernatural: of the snares of the devil, but also of the souls of the saints. It puts me in touch with my own dark side, whose existence I believe is healthy and necessary to recognize, even as I hope it never gains an upper hand on me.

Above all, this is a spiritual time of year and also a reflective one. At least it is for me.

It's also a great time for zombies and blood and splattered brains and comical looking monsters and stupid teenagers getting slaughtered and everything else the world of shlocky horror movies has to offer. Last year, Dr. Cheese ran down some of his favorite Halloween flicks.

This year, I thought I might talk about some of the dark, mopey, atmospheric music I like to listen to around this time of year. Carols for Halloween, if you will. So without further ado, here are a dozen of the best albums to put you in just the right frame of mind to get your October on:

Bauhaus - Burning from the InsideBauhaus - Burning from the Inside (1983). The original goth rockers, Bauhaus put out several albums in the late '70s and early '80s, any of which are completely appropriate for Halloween caroling. But my favorite is probably Burning from the Inside, which, apart from the title song (which is unfortunately more than nine minutes of relative suck), is flawless. Between those opening electrifying chords of "She's in Parties" to the final mellow strumming of "Hope," there's a whole lot of awesome to savor.

Bauhaus - The Sky's Gone OutBauhaus - The Sky's Gone Out (1982). If any album can take my brain off to some non-Euclidean city of basalt where ancient Cthulhu lies dreaming, it's The Sky's Gone Out, my second-favorite Bauhaus album. The bizarro mood conjured by these 10 songs is hard to pin down, but everything from the chanting of "We love our audience!" in "Spirit" to the plaintive cry of "The sky's gone out!" in the weirdly reggae-tinged "Exquisite Corpse" takes me back to City Club, the 1990s Detroit goth hangout, and I'm again flailing in a strobe light with all the tattoos, piercings, and mascara surging all around me. Peter Murphy's mispronunciation of "Oedipus" in "The Three Shadows Part II" is the best, too.

The Black Heart Procession - The SpellThe Black Heart Procession - The Spell (2006). A somewhat obscure band from San Diego, these guys don't let living in a perpetually sunny and warm paradise get in the way of their ability to put together some serious mope rock. This album tends to run together after a while, but "Tangled," the title track, and "GPS" are quite distinctively good.

Black Sabbath - Black SabbathBlack Sabbath - Black Sabbath (1970). Their first album is their greatest. The cover even says "Halloween" with the creepy cloaked figure standing in front of that old stone house. Then you start playing it, and the sound of a rainstorm greets you, with a tolling bell in the background, and... well, Sabbath may be a tired old cliche in 2008, but in 1970, there was nothing else like this!

Concrete Blonde - BloodlettingConcrete Blonde - Bloodletting (1990). I got the ways and means to New Orleans! I first noticed Concrete Blonde when this, their third album, came out, thanks to a video for the haunting single "Caroline" on MTV's 120 Minutes (wow, it's hard to remember there was a time when there was anything worth watching on MTV). Moody, dreamy, dreary, these songs made me fall in love with Johnette Napolitano's husky voice immediately... and yes, all these years later I'm still in love.

The Cure - DisintegrationThe Cure - Disintegration (1989). OK, yes, there are probably many Cure albums that could go on this list. No argument here. But if you really want to get into that everything-is-dying-or-dead-and-I-might-as-well-be-too mood, Disintegration is what you want. Yes, it includes the relatively upbeat "Love Song" and "Fascination Street" but they can't save you from the relentless bummerdom of "Pictures of You," "Closedown," "Last Dance," "The Same Deep Water As You," and, of course, the title track. And a song about a Spider Man having you for dinner? Pure Halloween, bitches.

Joy Division - CloserJoy Division - Closer (1980). Of course, Unknown Pleasures is great, but Joy Division's second and last album, following Ian Curtis's suicide, contains "Twenty Four Hours," and I'll fight anyone who says this isn't the coolest fucking Joy Division song. (Well, I'll make an exception for proponents of "Day of the Lords," because that's at least arguable.) Anyway, with other songs like "Atrocity Exhibition," "Isolation," and "The Eternal," you see there's no way this isn't on a list of Halloween albums.

Siouxsie and the Banshees - A Kiss in the DreamhouseSiouxsie and the Banshees - A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982). Right, JuJu (which actually includes a song named "Halloween") is the obvious Siouxsie choice, but OMFG, have you listened to A Kiss in the Dreamhouse? This is eccentric postpunk at its absolute pinnacle. "Cascade" alone is worth several lesser albums, whether from Siouxsie or from postpunk wannabes. Following that is awesomely bizarre track after bizarrely awesome track. I'm not sure what happened to my original copy, but I've looked in used record stores to replace it and I can never find one for sale. That should tell you something.

Siouxsie and the Banshees - PeepshowSiouxsie and the Banshees - Peepshow (1988). I'm not a big fan of this album's relatively successful single "Peek-A-Boo," but the rest of it, for no reason I can consciously pinpoint, reminds me of Ray Bradbury's best creepy short stories. Each song is like a great Uncle Ray story, terrible, wistful, beautiful, and a small piece of the mysterious mosaic that is our existence.

Sisters of Mercy - FloodlandThe Sisters of Mercy - Floodland (1987). On my first trip to my beloved Ann Arbor, a friend of a friend insisted we stop at a record store (pretty sure it was the old, departed Tower Records) so he could pick up the new album from some band called the Sisters of Mercy. Who? What? We listened to it later and all I remember was thinking the singer had a weird, deep, unpleasant voice. Fast forward a few years to when my then-girlfriend got into Andrew Eldritch and his ever-changing lineup of people who could stand to work with him, and that was when I began to appreciate the Sisters' brand of gothiness. For my money, "Flood II" and "This Corrosion" are the best songs, but the whole album is worth a listen, start to finish.

Sisters of Mercy - First and Last and AlwaysThe Sisters of Mercy - First and Last and Always (1985). If Burning from the Inside makes me think of City Club, the Sisters of Mercy's first album reminds me of 3D, a long-vanished club in Royal Oak. I think it was Tuesday nights we'd go and I'd drink one-dollar well drinks while sweating my dorky ass off on the dance floor to everything from the Sisters to Nick Cave. Again, this whole album is great, but highlights are "Black Planet," "Marian," and "Some Kind of Stranger."

Stolen Babies - There Be Squabbles AheadStolen Babies - There Be Squabbles Ahead (2006). I wrote about this album when it came out (and yeah, I mentioned Ray Bradbury, too, so what?), and while there are several songs on it I'm not too enthusiastic about, the rest of the gothy, heavy metal, cabaret tracks are so original and great as to have me still recommending this two years later. "Filistata," "A Year of Judges," "So Close," "Lifeless," "Tall Tales," and "Push Button" are all standouts.