Music is a wondrous, powerful medium that has the ability to elicit every possible emotion, from sadness to joy, nostalgia to arousal, rage to tranquility. It makes us move, dance, mosh, twirl, and whatever else we want to physically represent our emotions. But sometimes we listen to music and our movements aren’t a dance but a shiver, a shudder of fear and unease.
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of music. I mean, I’ve been writing about it on BD since October of 2009 and listening to it for as long as I can remember. And while I’m all for music that makes me feel elated, sometimes I want to be unsettled. That’s why this week’s discussion topic is all about those songs that creep the listener out.
Below I have several examples that I think will be right up the alley of anyone who wants to feel a dash of fear. Once you’ve checked them out, let me know some of your own favorites in the comments!
Radiohead – “How to Disappear Completely”
This is a great example of a song that mixes stunning beauty with a some seriously unsettling and eerie melodies. There is something just off about this song and I love it for that. You’ll hear the music rise triumphantly as though it’s about to crescendo into something joyous and wonderful only to suddenly come crashing down into melancholia. Then there are the plaintive calls of “I’m not here/This isn’t happening” that is goose bump-raising. Finally, towards the ending of the song, it warbles and pitch shifts up and down with no seeming pattern, creating a truly disorienting effect.
It’s a masterful song and a reminder of why Radiohead are so highly regarded.
Portishead – “Biscuit”
I remember buying Dummy and putting it on with the mindset that I was going to listen to it from beginning to end without skipping a single track. When I reached “Biscuit”, I suddenly felt very uneasy, almost as though something was watching me, breathing one ragged gasp after another on the back of my neck. Listening to this album with headphones at night suddenly seemed like a bad idea.
Ironically enough, “Biscuit” is still, to this day, one of my favorite songs from the album.
Marianne Faithfull, Angelo Badalamenti – “Generique (Who Will Take My Dreams Away)”
The City of Lost Children is easily in my Top 5 Movies of All Time and the soundtrack is a gorgeous sublime collection of music. But the beauty of the music doesn’t ignore the creepy story of the film and that message bleeds into this track, which sees the legendary and stunning Marianne Faithfull lend her vocals.
The Cure – “Lullaby”
Spiders. Fuck that. Enough said.
Bauhaus – “Spy in the Cab”
The English goth rock band definitely deserves a spot on this list with “Spy in the Cab”, which comes from their 1980 debut album In the Flat Field. On top of subtly creepy music, there’s something sinister and malevolent about these lyrics:
“Hidden in the dashboard
The unseen mechanized eye
The road is full of cats eyes
It’s sick function to pry
The spy in the cab
Coldly observing- callously reserving
A drivers time
Playing on his mind
The spy in the cab”
Devendra Banhart – “Insect Eyes”
Another song where the lyrics help to create an experience of fear and unease, one that has a wonderfully delightful folk musical backdrop.
“And one long red nail
That shots from her toe
Is tickling my blood
And shifting its flow
And each strand of her hair
Is really insect eyes
And each hole in her tongue
Is always occupied by the milk of the sun”