Spooky Track Series 6: Shadowplay Uses You

Joy Division is one of those bands that I could choose many songs for spooky track series 6. But, the one that fits my bill the most is Shadowplay. From the opening bass riff, to the haunting smattering of the drums, this song oozes atmosphere. And let me tell you, that atmosphere is one of pain, fear, and isolation. The whole affair is very lo-fi, which really helps to bring about the creepiness factor in this song. It’s that bass that really does it. It drives the song, aurally assaulting the listener, creating stress and unease.

The image shows the cover to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, which has the spooky track series 6 song Shadowplay on it.

When the vocals enter, things go to a whole new level. Ian Curtis‘s lyrics are byzantine and nearly impenetrable, offering up impressions with some vivid images. We have a man in search of something, or at least one who’s waiting for someone. He goes to the center of the city and the bottom of the ocean where all hopes sank. And if that isn’t a harrowing line, I don’t know what is. In a single line, we know that there is death and pain in this song, as well as confusion, so much confusion.

But wait, this spooky track series 6 gets even shadier and creepier:

In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more,
As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor,
And with cold steel, odor on their bodies made a move to connect,
But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left.

What does the above mean? I don’t know, but it’s got death, assassins, and cold steel. Whatever it means, it’s not describing anything happy or hopeful.

To conclude, the whole ambiance of this spooky track series 6 is one of oppression, danger, and fear. What do you think?

Spooky Track Series 5: Whole Day Off Is A Wild Ride

Welcome to spooky track series 5 brings you Whole Day off by Oingo Boingo. Boingo has tons of spine tingling songs to choose from, and I might discuss another one at a future date. However, today I am talking about Whole Day Off because it hits all the cylinders.

Seriously, the opening heaviness of the bass, then the addition of the xylophone(?) and saxophone really gets the fear flowing. Using these instruments in this fashion sets the stage for the listener, informing them they are about to enter a strange and wild world. There’s almost a circus feeling to music, or at least some kind of twisted carnival.

Later in the song, when the 80s’ synth comes in, that feeling of being at some kind of reject carnival from Something Wicked This Way Comes shifts to a more industrial feeling. Instead of imagining a circus and all that weirdness, my mind calls forth a nightclub. Someplace seedy, with lots of smoke and mirrors. So sure, still a carnival, just a different kind.

But the music is only part what places this on the spooky track series 5 train. The lyrics are the other part, and howdy are they some weird and wild stuff. Elfman comes in on the vocals with his signature high pitched voice, providing a haunting melody. But then, when you listen to what he’s saying, your mind goes aghast at the images.

First, he’s singing about his lost girlfriend, asking if anyone’s seen her. He then tells us she lives in a pigpen and that he thinks maybe she’s hiding under a blade of grass. Then he just wants to take the whole day off because really, all of this is too much. And who can blame him?

Spooky Track Series 5 Whole Day Off Lyrics are terrifying nonsense

On the surface, the lyrics seem like nonsense. Or like they were written by someone who’d done too much acid and saw some shit. And who knows? Maybe they are nonsense words written by a drug addled mind. Or, maybe they speak to the near universal sensation of feeling overwhelmed. The narrator in the song goes through a litany of weird and terrifying situations. He is often confused, but like a carnival barker is always asking if people have seen something. Have you seen my girlfriend? My garden? My new house that looks like a dog house?

These are weird questions to ask listeners, which adds a sharp edge to the freaky nature of the song. This edge gets freakier when he starts describing the things he’s looking for. His girlfriend, as noted above, lives in a pigpen an can apparently hide under a blade of grass. Unsettling, this mental image is, even as it makes me smile at its absurdity. But I think that’s kind of the point of the song, and what really makes the terror sing in this spooky track series 5 entry.

And the absurdity continues. His house walks into the ocean and someone describes it as an ivory boat. It’s easy to read these as lyrical nonsense, word salad, jumbled. However, I still think they serve the purpose of presenting us with a stress addled man. Here is a person who seems to be slowly losing his mind because of one bad day. Nothing has gone right for him, and he just wants to take the whole day off. The refrain of taking the day off speaks to needing downtime, a reset of sorts, but he’s never going to get it.

Searching For Things That Don’t Exist Drives You Mad

This song, as ridiculous at the things described in it, bares forth a horrible truth. The modern life is killing us, and we can drive ourselves mad if we go searching for things that don’t exist. It’s an existential style of horror and its insidious.

This is evident in the bridge section when he describes his day. In this segment of the song, which is when the music leans hard into the synth styling of its time, we hear a man unraveling. He wonders if this is a bad dream but he knows it isn’t. Then he goes to a payphone on a bathroom wall but forgets who he wanted to call. It’s okay, buddy. Happens to us all.

The image shows a line of three payphones, which is what the narrator of Whole Day Off sings about in spooky track series 5

Then we finally get to the garden, and some real horror. Of the monster variety, not the oppression of the universe kind. See, his garden is a fucked up place. It has thing that grow in it, but they don’t look like plants, and he can hear their voices.

That is creepy stuff. Change my mind.

So that’s it for spooky track series entry 5. What did you think of the song? Of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments if you feel like chiming in and suggesting a song. Stay happy and healthy out there, dear readers. All three of you.

Spooky Track Series 4: Who Can It Be Now

For spooky track series 4, I have chosen Who can it be Now? Written by Men at work, and released in 1981, this song is a paranoid fever dream. The low bass and the saxophone set the tone for this look into a frightened man’s mind. Colin Hay’s vocals are low and subdued, almost sardonic, which act as a nice contrast to the subject matter.

The image shows the Australian cover to Who Can It Be Now, the track featured for the spooky track series 4 in this post.

So, right off the bat because of the sax and the vocals, listeners know we have entered an odd world. Perhaps, one that is two inches to the left of normality (whatever that is.) And sure, this song may not be creepy and haunting like Joan Crawford, but it’s still creepy.

This spooky track series 4 song gives us a glimpse of the paranoia of the 80s. More than that, however, it transcends its time, and is applicable to today’s world. We’re all a bit more paranoid now. Presenting the thought processes of someone who wants to be left alone adds a dimension to what could have just been a banging pop song. However, by adding this elements of agoraphobic paranoia, Men at Work treat us to morbidly funny tune that can still make our minds squirm with psychological fear.

Again, I realize this is probably an odd choice for a spooky track series 4, but at the same time I think it works. The lyrics are vivid and address one man’s fear of society. And that is what a lot of horror is: fear of the world around us. Rarely has there been a song that captures that thought with such a fun and upbeat soundtrack.

What do you think? Does this song deserve a listing on the spooky track series 4, or am I off my rocker? Let me know in comments.

Spooky Track Series 3: Joan Crawford is a Zombie

For spooky track series entry 3, I have chosen Joan Crawford by Blue Oyster Cult. This is one freaky song, and not just because of the allusion to the Phantom of the Opera.

Now, what makes this song a worthy spooky track Series 3 installment is the horror Eric Bloom describes. Here we see a world where junkies in Brooklyn go crazy and laugh like dogs, while policemen hide behind the skirts of little girls. These first images set the stage for the rest of the song, and let the listener know all is not well.

The image shows the cover of Blue Oyster Cult's Fire of Unknown Origin which spooky track series 3, Joan Crawford comes from

To be fair, and to repeat myself, the intro piano sets the stage for the fear to come. But then the drums, guitar and bass kick in, thumping and thudding. Finally, the vocals start, and they are full of the whining plea of someone who has seen horrors beyond imagination. Throughout the song the drums and bass keep a refrain that almost feels like the jerky movements of a zombie. This is fitting, as the song is about Joan Crawford’s return from the grave. And really, that’s what makes this song so unsettling. The driving percussion of the band helps us visualize Joan’s rotting corpse, moving twisted and jagged as she searches for her daughter.

As for the lyrics, schoolgirls throw away their mascara and chain themselves to big Mac trucks. This is not rational behavior, further solidifying the creepy factor of the song. Near the end, there is a cacophony of noise that threatens to overwhelm the senses, before that thrumming bass beat returns. And with that bass beat comes the gravelly whisper: “Christina, Mother’s home. Come to mother.”

Guaranteed to give you goosebumps. I hope this spooky track series 3 selection surprised you. Let me know what you thought. Leave a comment.

Spooky Track Series 2: Prince and Old Lady Shade

Today’s installment, spooky track series 2, brings you The Prince and Old Lady Shade. This Peter Murphy song may not be one you’d expect to be on my list of songs to make you poop your pants, but here it is. Sure, there were other more obvious choices, such as Bela Lugosi’s Dead. However, that one is too obvious and expected. And while there will be some predictable songs in this series, I’m trying to keep things fresh.

Today's Spooky track series 2 song is from Peter Murphy's album, Ninth, which the image shows the cover of.

So, what makes The Prince and Old Lady Shade worthy of a spot on my spooky track series 2? First, that violin introduction. It gives a promise of something upbeat, but also off. To me, it evokes a haunted wood, or a fairy land. In fact, the violin transitions from a soft, rising melody into heavy bass and guitar. The haunting and lovely strings take us from the land of humans and into the world of the fairies.

The heavy beat and the driving force of the rock instruments become oppressive and overwhelming. Couple this feeling with Murphy’s low and subdued vocals and a vivid picture comes into view. Such a picture includes Princes being birds and Old Lady Shade turning into a bat. None of this is odd in fairy tales, but it’s still pretty creepy. Enhancing the creep factor is the line: “She has a fair eye/She takes her fair share of the city’s mid day/ That lunch lady’s glare.”

What does the above mean? I don’t know, but it calls forth an image of giant vampire bat feasting on a small English village. It’s a terrifying image, and I love it.

So that’s today’s entry for spooky track series 2. What do you think? Any other suggestions for songs to discuss? Leave your thoughts in the comments, please.

Spooky Track Series 1: Is There Anybody Out There?

With Halloween approaching, I’ve decided to make a spooky track series of posts. “What is that?” you ask. Well simply, I will write about a scary song a day for 31 days, and give my reasons why it’s creepy. Is it an original idea? No. Do I care? also no. I’m trying to bring a little joy to myself as well as to anyone who reads this. And I am talking about people readers, not the bots.

The image shows Pink Floyd's the Wall, the album which this first spooky series track is from

Without further ado, my spooky track series kicks off with Pink Floyd’s “Is There Anybody Out There?” from their album The Wall. At first glance, this might seem like an odd choice for this series. Especially, when one considers it’s a song from a commercial band. How can it possibly be unnerving?

From the very beginning it is easy to hear why this song deserves a spot on my list, even if you don’t know its context on the album. It opens with a click and some chatter from a television. Then, gradually, an oppressive bass cloud rises and holds while the vocals come in with the title lyrics. These vocals do not screech or scream, but rather come off as sedate., at least on the ‘Is there anybody” portion. However, when vocalist Waters hits the “out there” is voice rises. Which, sure, it’s a question, and questions tend to raise the inflection of our voice. Additionally, though, this uptick at the end illustrates fear and uncertainty.

Spooky Track Series Is There Anybody Out There Is an Unheard Cry for Help

This man is obviously in trouble and needs help. He’s calling for help from anyone who might be out there? Out where? Where is this man that he is calling for people who are out of his sight? Is he in a box, a dungeon, holed up in the walls like some victim of Poe’s devising? Why else would he repeat the same refrain over and over, wondering if someone will save him?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, (well we do if we’ve listened to the album) and that makes it scarier. All we know is that the vocalist is somewhere that seems dark, damp, and oppressive. Enhancing the oppressive mood of this entry into the spooky track series is the music. It starts with that heavy sound, and continues to drag the listener to the ground. When the guitar enters with a flighty bit of chord progression, there is a moment of short lived optimism. But, by the end of the song, the oppressive noise returns, crushing that little ray of hopeful guitar.

And it’s that oppression and the trap of isolation that makes this a scary song. It’s an existential crisis in 2:41.

So there’s the first entry of my 31 day spooky track series. Let me know what you think, and if you have any suggestions for the series, let me know that, too.

Johnny Lawrence Is Not Cool Rather He’s a Total Dick

Cobra Kai is on Netflix and it is awesome, but I have to say Johnny Lawrence is not cool. The show goes to great pains to paint Johnny as a true blue asshole. However, it also paradoxically attempts to make him sympathetic. Now, this latter point is understandable. After all, his is the main viewpoint of the show.

If you haven’t seen Cobra Kai, rectify that as soon as you’re done reading this post. It’s an excellent show, but I am not going to go into details about it. Suffice to say, it tells the story of Johnny and Daniel 30+ years later.

The Image shows Johnny Lawrence, who is not cool with the words Cobra Kai printed across them.

Since the show came to Netflix, I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter about how cool Johnny Lawrence is, but he is not. He’s a toxic man with toxic behavior. Johnny lives in the past, is it’s prisoner in fact. And his story is a tragic one, but that doesn’t give him an excuse. It might help make viewers sympathetic toward him a bit, but he’s still an unrepentant asshole.

“He tells it like it is,” I hear people say. “Johnny’s no pussy, he calls pussies what they are,” is something else I hear. This embrace of the worst qualities of Johnny indicates the sad obsession people have with dickheads. Look no further than the current POTUS of the US. People who support him say they like him because he tells it like it is. They like him because he helps them ‘own the libs.’ He comes off as strong, but is ultimately weak and cowardly.

Johnny Lawrence is not cool, and it may be unfair for me to compare him to Trump. However, the fact that some people give for liking Johnny are the same given for liking Trump.

What do you think?

Watch Cobra Kai!

Lovecraft Country Novel is a Good Spooky Yarn

I started the Lovecraft Country novel, written by Matt Ruff after watching the first episode of the new HBO series. I stopped watching the series and started the book. As such, I won’t be comparing the book to the show because I am not in a position to do so.

The image shows the cover of Lovecraft country novel, a house sits atop a hill that looks like an octopus with tentacles.

The Lovecraft Country novel does what the best horror does: uses the fear of the unknown to explore humanity. And what’s even more clever about this book is the use of racism to really drive the horror home. Without the racism that permeates the book, both in large and small ways, this would still be a good book. However, by placing the racism Atticus, George, Letittia, and the other characters face, this book really grounds the reader in reality. This is important when dealing with otherworldly forces because it gives readers something to grasp onto. And in this book especially, because of H.P. Lovecraft’s awful racism, the hate and bigotry take on an even more sinister notion.

Now, the idea that the real monsters are humans is nothing new in the annals of horror entertainment. But in this book, that adage takes on a deeper meaning. The characters are never safe in this book, even when it seems like they are. They are not safe from the cosmic threats they face, nor are they safe from cultists who would control those threats. And of course, they aren’t safe from racist attitudes and people, even in the North.

The combination of the racism and the existential horrors facing the characters makes the Lovecraft Country novel stressful to read. It’s a harrowing look at the persistence, permeation, and persistence of racism.

Racism is the Real Horror of Lovecraft Country Novel

Yes, bulging fleshy blobs that will kill you are scary. But, what’s even more terrifying is the everyday horror of bigotry the characters face daily. Reading this book gives readers some insight into what BIPOC face on a regular basis, and while fictionalized, we can’t ignore the lessons. Sure, the racism might feel too extreme or cartoonish, but that’s just not the case. I don’t think it is possible for creators to present racism as over exaggerated or too extreme. I know there are some people who do, but that’s silly, especially when Tulsa happened, the Red summer happened, Emmet Till, and countless other examples.

By focusing on the racist aspects of the world, and Lovecraft himself, the book forces the reader to confront US history. Now, there isn’t a deep dive into the causes of racism, or all of the horrible events done under its name. However, there is enough surface exploration to evoke curiosity and the need to know more, which is one purpose of art.

I don’t want to make it sound like the Lovecraft Country novel is a drab and dour affair devoid of hope of laughs. It isn’t. Despite the dire circumstances the characters face, they still manage to laugh and smile at times. They manage to live, even in a society that takes every pain to suppress and humiliate them. For me, this is the key to the book. If it had been all racism and existential dread, it still would have been good. But, it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or effective.

Have you read it? Let me know in the comments what you thought. Thanks for reading.

The Only Good Indians is full of Revenge and Terror

The Only Good Indians, written by Steven Graham Jones, is a hell of a good book. Briefly, it tells the story of four Native American Men (Indians as they refer to themselves) who make a mistake. At first, it doesn’t seem like a mistake, but it is. And it’s a big one, as they, and we the readers, come to find out.

The image shows the head of an elk with its horns on the cover of a book titled The Only Good Indians.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot details because the story is fairly straightforward. However, the way Graham develops and unfolds the story is masterful. From the beginning, The Only Good Indians, offers a sense of dread and fear. Oh, and violence, too, of course. This book has some moments of extreme and bloody violence that are visceral and powerful. The gore and the blood and the cruelty are not gratuitous; rather, it all serves the telling of the story.

At its core, The Only Good Indians is a story of pain, suffering, revenge, and atonement. Though, to be fair, that last one is iffy as its achievement is arguable. The novel also explores the dichotomy between Indian tradition and the modern world. This theme is a common one in Graham’s writing, and he really fleshes it out here.

All four men involved in making the mistake struggle with their identity and place in the world. They may know who they are, but they don’t know why, or what to do about it. Some have dreams of leaving the reservation, while others unhappily stay there. There’s so much truth about humanity in this novel, it hurts.

The Language of The Only Good Indians Sings With Fear and Pain

Graham knows how to use language to its maximum effect, providing sparse yet vivid details of frozen landscapes, dead animals, and bloody body parts. As I read this book, I felt the pain of the characters, their fear, and the chill of winter.

Beyond,that though, I could also feel their hopes, dreams, and contrition. It is not fair to call the characters in this novel evil or bad (even the killer isn’t evil, just forlorn). They aren’t saints, either, but rather are striving to do the best they can. Of course, when we try to do what’s right, or at least what’s right for us, things can go sour quick.

The depth Graham gives the people in this book is enviable and admirable, as are his terrifying descriptions.

If you like horror stories and Native American stories, then The Only Good Indians might be right up your ally. Check it out. And if you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments.

Mexican Gothic Is a Creepy Gothic Novel

Mexican Gothic written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a spooky and disturbing novel. I loved it. Briefly, the story centers on Noemi, a debutante in Mexico City. Her father has received a letter from her cousin, Catalina. The letter is strange and compels Noemi’s father to send her to High Place, where Catalina and her husband live. Arriving at High Place, Noemi discovers her cousin is ill and bed-ridden. From there, the story takes off and the spookiness begins.

The image shows teh cover of Mexican Gothic, a woman in a red dress

This is a Gothic novel, no doubt, and that is clear from the description of High Place. Similar to many Gothic mansions, High Place has seen better days. Once, it was magnificent and full of servants and clean and bright. Now, however, it is run down, dirty, and only has a handful of servants. Also, it stands high above the nearest village up a dirty road rutted by rain. High Place suffers from dampness.

I am not going to give a plot synopsis, suffice to say that Noemi faces many challenges throughout. What I do want to focus on, though, is Garcia-Moreno’s writing. The first paragraph hooked me so strongly that I read all 305 pages in about 5 days. That may not seem like much to some of you, but I think it’s pretty good.

Moreno-Garcia does a fantastic job of evoking Noemi as a character. The young woman is believable. She likes to have fun and party and dance with the boys. She’s carefree and strong willed, but I never felt that she was the spoiled brat people called her. Maybe that is just because I like her.

Beauty is in short supply in Mexican Gothic, Noemi and Catalina being really the only examples. However, ugliness abounds. The house is ugly, the servants are ugly, Catalina’s in-laws are ugly.

The Ugliness of Mexican Gothic

Speaking of the in-laws, there are Howard (the patriarch), Virgil (the first born, he’s handsome but cruel) and Francis (not a looker, innocent). But the ugliness in Mexican Gothic is more than just physical. Its psychological and primal. This is a primal book, despite its Gothic trappings. Or maybe because of them.

At any rate, Noemi experiences first hand the ugliness of High Place and its inhabitants in a tale that sent shivers up my spine and made my heart sink more than a few times.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If you’re interested in Gothic literature, and are looking for a twist on the classic genre, check this one out.

Have you read Mexican Gothic? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments. And as always, thank you for reading.