When I first came up with the title for my latest playlist – “18 Songs For Haunted Souls (And The Ghosts That Haunt Them)” – there was an aching feeling that the theme was approximately one month too late. Ghosts were so last season! Snowflakes, reindeer and oh-so-festive red cups swooped in to replace all the scary Halloween decorations. Before I had a chance to utter a single “boo” about this mix, we had officially entered the time of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. What business did I have hooting and hollering about haunted souls as the holidays descended upon us?
That’s when it hit me – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most popular ghost stories of all time. This realization led to a non-stop avalanche of inspiration. The artwork for this collection instantly popped into my head, and even better, the music itself started to make more sense. The sequencing came together without a second thought, because somewhere along the way, I convinced myself I was curating Music from and Inspired By Mickey’s Christmas Carol – a live-action gender-swapped remake of my favorite childhood movie starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Scrooge McDuck.
If this description somehow sounds intriguing, you can listen here or hit the play button below:
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the adjective “haunting” has been overused to death by everyone who’s ever written about music, but if you want to drag me onto an episode of Cliché Court, I’m more than willing to make my case that the description fits these eighteen selections. While this isn’t quite the equivalent of a modern-day Danse Macabre, this collection comes equipped with distorted vocals, hypnotic instrumentals and at least three blatant lyrical references to the theme at hand.
In what proved to be an exhausting exercise, I once again decided to kick it old school and jotted down a few random notes for each song. Advance apologies are offered for the point when I got sleepy and stopped attempting to talk about the actual music.
1. BILAL – Spiraling: The initial draft of this playlist was heavily inspired by Bilal’s (bizarrely overlooked) June 2015 album In Another Life. With every single song on the project, his vocals weave in and out of the swirling, jazzy live instrumentation, giving you chills whether he’s singing about spiraling out of control or being the “tool to make your body lose control“.
2. SIR SLY – You Haunt Me (Amtrac Remix): Kentucky artist Amtrac gives a makeover to Sir Sly’s “You Haunt Me” that’s far more fitting for the song’s title than the peppy original production. The vocals are slowed down to meet the pace of the new track as it trudges along, emphasizing the creepier aspects of the lyrics. (Note: Those sirens you hear are part of the song, in case you happen to put this on while you’re driving.)
3. KYLA LA GRANGE – Skin: Perhaps it’s just because she has her own song called “Skin“, but this song is giving me heavy Rihanna vibes. It wouldn’t have been out of place on Rated R, Unapologetic or any of the other two albums between those eras, and yet it still manages to sound like a natural continuation of Kyla La Grange’s excellent (and bizarrely overlooked) 2014 album Cut Your Teeth.
4. ALLIE X – Good: After bouncing around at least two or three other playlists prior to this, “Good” is finally having its moment to shine. Allie X described the inspiration for the song in an interview earlier this year, stating that she had a strong visual in her head when she wrote this song – “from the POV of someone sitting in the back of a cab, who has self-Xiled themselves from their life and everyone who they have ever loved”. Her debut EP CollXtion I is highly recommended for fans of CHVRCHES or Charli XCX, if said fans have not already heard it.
5. YOUNG GALAXY – We’re No Good: For me, this song is ten times more emotionally devastating than Adele’s “Hello“. At any given point, it sounds like Catherine McCandless’ vocal chords are going to break into a million pieces and melt into a puddle of tears. The melody of the chorus reminds me of the adult contemporary hits that used to blare at the bagel shop I worked in as a teenager, albeit with a very sparse instrumental that gives you room to process all your (terrible) feelings.
6. RAURY & RZA – CPU: That high note! I can’t resist turning up the volume whenever the chorus hits, just so I can sing along in my best falsetto (which is not very good at all). More importantly, I love RZA’s dorky rap at the end where he says “I can’t be through, it’s like a feet with no shoe” and finds himself haunted by the cancellation of the late-1970s sitcom What’s Happening!!
7. EL PERRO DEL MAR – In The Woods: For some reason, El Perro del Mar’s breakout, self-titled album was reissued this year with eleven bonus tracks, including the unreleased demo “In The Woods”. The piano line on this song consistently puts me into a trance, to the point where I’d follow any spirit, good or evil, into the depths of a dark forest.
8. SEVDALIZA – That Other Girl: There’s so much going on here. An eerie introduction leads into an R&B verse from outer space. The refrain’s fueled by a twirling flute (?) that joins the punctuated drum beat, and then all of a sudden, it’s like someone invited Death Grips or Yeezus to the party. Throw in the (bizarrely bizarre) video, and it’s no wondering how this song wound up on this particular playlist.
9. SPAZZKID & NEON BUNNY – Daytime Disco (starRo Remix): I don’t know much about Los Angeles producer starRo, but I do know that I enjoy this remix and his take on Gavin Turek’s “Don’t Fight It“. If more of his remixes happen to reach my ears in the near future, I would not be mad about it! Nope, not at all.
10. ASTRONAUTS, ETC. – See You: The first sixteen seconds of this song sound like a Muzak version of Pitbull and Jussie Smollett’s collaboration from Empire? I don’t know my audience enough to know whether that’s a good or bad selling point, but Astronauts, Etc. has got the whole unhip adult contemporary soul thing down, if you’re into that sort of thing.
11. BANOFFEE – With Her: With her, her, her! With her, her, her! With her, her, her! With her, her, herrrrr! If you listen to this song enough times, you will start frantically singing this to inanimate objects (or your cats) while pointing at them… Or maybe that’s just me?
12. VÖK – Before: Admittedly, certain songs on this playlist don’t “go” anywhere. This is one of the major exceptions. Icelandic band Vök start things off on the quiet side, until you’re eventually fist-bumping with the horns and shouting along, “CAN YOU TELL ME WHY? CAN YOU TELL ME HOW? WHAT YOU TOLD ME MILLION TIMES BEFORE, MILLION TIMES BEFORE!”
13. ETTA BOND – 18 (Chris Loco Remix): Those of you who actually listen to my playlists on a regular basis (aka none of you) might remember Etta Bond from 16 Songs For Sweaters (And The People Wearing Them). Like the other two remixes featured here, the Chris Loco remix to her track “18” slows things down, making it a perfect companion to Kate Tempest’s (not so bizarrely excellent) “Bad Place For A Good Time“… Oh, and fun coincidence! This song title matches the number of songs on this playlist.
14. LONTALIUS – All I Wanna Say: Like El Perro del Mar’s “In The Woods”, this song puts me into a melancholy trance. With a vague sense of detachment, Lontalius delivers hopeless lyrics over a multi-layered electronic production. Get ready to feel worthless! Because if all you have to offer is your love, it’s not enough.
15. MURA MASA & SHURA – Love For That: New York’s hottest club is TITANIC, where you are only allowed to move your body to dance songs with flutes and strings. Shura was last heard on my “Best of April 2015“, for those of you keeping score at home (aka none of you).
16. SARAH JAFFE – Don’t Disconnect: Devastating. That is the only word to describe the title track of Sarah Jaffe’s 2014 album Don’t Disconnect. While other songs on this playlist put me into a trance, this one nearly throws me into an existential crisis.
17. HANA – Avalanche: This is mostly a palate cleanser after “Don’t Disconnect”. HANA has been endorsed by both Grimes and Lana Del Rey, so if endorsements like that mean anything to you, then maybe you should listen to her latest single “Avalanche”?
18. STARSYSTEM – So Bad: Here’s my attempt at an uplifting conclusion! “So Bad” appeared on Starsystem’s 2013 EP Pleasure District, and after listening to snippets of the other five songs, I am not even sure it was written and performed by the same band.