As our staff gets into the spooky spirit of the season, we decided to compile a list of music that gives us goosebumps.
Name: Josh Gaston
Position: Malicious Intent DJ
Year: Graduate Student
Goosebump Jam: Swarth by Portal
Being a DJ on KJHK’s own extreme metal show, Malicious Intent, it wasn’t exactly hard to think of a goosebump jam. The hardest part was deciding on which one to choose. My choice is Swarth by Portal. Portal is an Australian death metal band whose lyrical subjects deal with abstract horror and Lovecraftian mythos. On Swarth, the music is buried in a murky production that makes the instruments nearly indistinguishable from one another. The guitars are down-tuned and emit strange, otherwordly noises while the drums often revert to tom-heavy plodding. The vocals come out as a cruel rasp in a cave of reverb. Lastly, when the band performs live, all of the instrumentalists wear executioner outfits with nooses hanging from their necks, while the vocalist wears a cloak with any number of head decorations (my favorite being a gigantic cuckoo clock). In short, it’s an absolutely terrifying musical experience. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m watching a horror movie – it makes me feel like I’m inside one.
Runner-Up: The Work Which Transforms God by Blut Aus Nord
If you still have not heard of the hip-hop and electronic inspired jazz quartet known as BADBADNOTGOOD, you have done yourself quite a disservice. Known to cover artists such as Tyler the Creator, Flying Lotus, and MF DOOM, BBNG has constructed a dark and gloomy vibe that could serve as a backing track to any private investigator making his way through slick, monochromatic alleyways. None of their songs fit this description better than their single, Velvet. The track opens with synthetically smudged brass that comes in clouds, possessing the texture and murkiness of purple paint dripping into still water. These clouds pull a delicate pattering keyboard and a dutiful drumline along its ebbs and flows through a space seemingly coated with molasses and treachery. Once the synthetic master blurs back into obscurity, drums and keys explore their newfound freedom, timidly at first, but soon leap into a crescendo of divergent and frenzied paths that twist, wind, and steer into imminent collision. Just as the two merge into a destruction clash…silence. Synth bleeds back into power, staggering forth with its reluctant cronies in tow resulting in a tragically foiled escape that leaves one with a chill only the popping of an overcoat collar could shield against.
Heroin may be the most poignant song I have ever heard. With just two chords, a droning viola, and rudimentary drumming, The Velvet Underground created this devastating masterpiece in 1967 for their debut LP The Velvet Underground and Nico. There is a rare sweet spot in music when experimental innovation and pop emotion come together to create something that is greater than the some of its parts. This song sets the standard for raw feeling and avante-garde originality. And the emotion this track brings is not for the faint of heart. It deals with the apathy and nihilism that one can’t help but feel when trying to make sense of this world. Everyone has felt that desire to withdraw from, as Lou says, “all the politicians making crazy sounds / and everybody putting everybody else down / and all the dead bodies piled up in mounds”. I’ve probably listened to this song hundreds of times, and I still get goosebumps when I hear it. In my opinion, this song speaks a universal truth, though it is a tough one to swallow. And it does it in the most beautiful way.
Not to be confused with its similar counterpart In the Flesh? (note the question mark), this is the answer/ sequel to the opening track on Pink Floyd’s 1980 concept album The Wall. Based off of intense feelings of alienation by some of it’s members, Pink Floyd crafts a unique and downright strange narrative about a rock star secluding himself from the outside world. While both songs begin with a truly massive guitar track that anyone who knows the album will no doubt be able to recall, something has changed this time around. Rather than go directly into spouting it’s almost theatrical vocals, instead it chooses to hang on a few harmonic notes from its lead vocalist(s) for a few bars. This gives a tragic and haunting indication that the song has changed ever so slightly. This, coupled with the vocal narrative of a racist, homophobic “surrogate” band filling in for our main character truly fills the listener with a sense of sorrow, dread, and tiredness. Considering all the maniacal, nearly insane tracks we have gone through prior in the album, only to be taken right back to where we started in a brief moment of twisted nostalgia gives me goosebumps every time. It is a track that knows what it’s listeners have been through, and it doesn’t care. It goes right on with it’s maniacal stage production that takes a glimpse into what it is like to feel alone.
This song begins with a quaint guitar and very emotionally heavy, yet cleverly intriguing lyrics. Eventually some beats break through creating instrumentals that make you feel more than alright, while simultaneously feeling thoughtful and a bit cynical due to the melancholy lyrics that carry on. The beautiful and rare way ideas are lyrically portrayed, phrased, and presented is pure goosebumps in itself. You are being carried along, jamming with the beat next to a little old school doo wop happening until the darkness is blatantly mentioned, again worded beautifully. The song slows down allowing you to feel the darkness he speaks of for just a short amount of time and following those solemn words, he speaks ‘but everybody knows, it’s alright’. Just as the word ‘alright’ is sung, the enjoyable and groovy beats come back in. Within that small segment of the song, Dr.Dog puts you into a depressing and negative mindset and then literally pulls you out of it into an alright and okay state of mind. That is what music is supposed to be and what music has the power to do to the human mind. From music like this, goosebumps forevermore.
The song continues on to sing ‘do you get dizzy’, in which the word ‘dizzy’ is my favorite sounding word in this entire song. It is a bit raspy sounding, adding that beautifully imperfect human connection while the word dizzy in general is such a oddly lovely word causing this to also be a possible place for some bumps. Continuing on, you instrumentally and vocally get to the part of the song that allows you to drift off in a strong yet delicate breeze. The deep and literal feelings, which are so geniusely represented through the different parts of this song, are a purely goosebumpy time.
Goosebump Jam: “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah”– Tracy Jordan
So let’s make one thing clear- there’s spooky music, then there is music that is 2spooky4me. This song is the latter. I mean, the lyrics go, “werewolf Bar Mitzvah, spooky scary/ Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves.”
Let’s face it, the brutal act of adolescence can shake even the strongest man to his skeleton. The voice cracks, the acne, the uncontrollable hormones. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
*My go-to spooky song is Monster Mash, but that could pass as an all-year-round classic, and this is a Halloween list.*
Goosebump Jam: “The Mercy Seat” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 1988 album, Tender Prey, was a brooding album that was produced in a hectic and dark time in the band’s period. The album’s severity in darkness is even more noticeable when you compare it with Nick Cave’s heavy move towards piano-ballads in the 1990 album, The Good Son, and beyond. When it comes to Nick Cave’s haunting style, many think his more commercially significant tracks such as “Loverman,” “Red Right Hand,” and his previous gothic rock work with The Birthday Party. However, his 1988 track, “The Mercy Seat,” is a significant piece that would foreshadow Nick Cave’s talent at combining harrowing and bleak music with chilling and insightful lyrics. “The Mercy Seat” captures the thought process of a murderer who is preparing themselves for death via the electrocution chair. While the main character professes their innocence throughout, listeners are continuously told of how subjective one’s morality is. On top of this, listeners are asked to question how subjective the enforcement of ethical standards tend to be. With repetitive lyrics (including references to religious scripture), and a noisy composition that confronts your thought process head on, “The Mercy Seat” is a truly terrorizing track that will leave you reevaluating yourself for days, if not weeks.
Goosebump Jam: “Wolves of Worcestershire” by The Dancing Did
Admittedly, I don’t know much about The Dancing Did. I first heard them and this song, the leading track off of their sole album, “And Did Those Feet,” on a bootleg copy of a John Peel show from the 1980s. (FYI: John Peel was an influential British DJ, spinning tunes for the BBC and championing lots of the bands I play on my show.) Even on a low-quality cassette from 30 years ago, this song was able to send the chills down my spine. “Wolves of Worcestershire” is a spooky song that tells the tale of some lonely campers who suddenly hear the the howling, barking, braying of the eponymous wolves. With whoops and hollering, and the deep tones of a church bell, the song sets the perfect atmosphere to bring the lyrics to life. It’s a great song to listen to on a dark and stormy night, hopefully far away from the woods.
Anyone who is familiar with Ween knows that their music can get pretty weird, especially on their second album, The Pod. The 14th track on the album, “Laura”, is generally pretty minimalistic in nature using what sounds to be only 4 or 5 tracks. With a slow tempo, the song starts with Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) utilizing vocal effects to make his voice sound very creepy and lyrically indiscernible. The vocal effects and lo-fi instrumentation make the song sound as if it’s a recording of a reclusive robot expressing its brooding pain and loneliness, which can be enough to creep most people out. Personally, what makes “Laura” give me goosebumps the most, is near the end of the song when Gene clearly says “I’ve got somethin’ for all the people in the world”. Not initially knowing what he means by this, the song then instantly melts into this blend of screechy lo-fi guitars that sends me into a state of dissociative bliss, as if my very being is falling apart at the seams. It’s dark, disturbing, beautiful, and I love it. A great tune for anyone who likes music that is lo-fi, and just plain weird.
Goosebump Jam: “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous” by Oranssi Pazuzu // “Breath and Levitation” by Akhlys
This is one of the most difficult questions I’ve had to answer in recent memory. I listen to so much “scary” music that all of it seems tame to me. Josh, fellow Malicious Intent DJ, and I were discussing which theme was better for Halloween – haunting, slow and depressive or nightmarish, chaotic and upsetting. I volleyed my options back and forth between the two categories and simply couldn’t resolve the middle ground of that question. I know I’m cheating, but I had to choose two tracks. Both of them carry attributes I was looking for in similar, yet contrasting ways. Where Oranssi Pazuzu deliver tracks that sound derived of spookiness and other-worldliness, Akhlys create terrifying soundscapes and textures that blend into a cacophony of unnerving themes. In their respective manners, each band captures abject terror and despair and that’s what we all love about Halloween, right?