Aimee Mann, B.A. Johnston, Bee Bee Sea, Clovis Roblaine, Justin Roberts, kiwi jr, Look Park, Pseudonym, Surf School Dropouts, The Amplifier Heads, The Freddie Steady 5, The John Carpenter's The Things, The Orion Experience, Timmy Sean, Vista Blue
Given the everyday horror of the past few years – war, pandemic, the political right – it’s getting hard for a humble, candy-fueled monster holiday to compete. Luckily we still have the music. This post celebrates fright night with a set list of seasonally appropriate tunes covering a good range of monster diversity.
Justin Roberts gets called a kids songster but I think his tunes are for everyone who’s not quite finished growing up. He’s fun and whimsical and not afraid to be silly. And his songs will get stuck in your head like that gum on the underside of your chair at assembly. His “Trick or Treat” captures all the action of the nighttime candy run from a kid’s point of view and thus is an appropriate opening to our proceedings. The Freddie Steady 5 also strike just the right seasonal mood with their spirited cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Halloween Mary.” They take the tune out its original folk rock register to deliver a more pub rock easy-going party feel. Let the party begin!
Alright kids, we know you’re mostly here for the candy but deep down you’re also up for a bit of fright. Time to bring in the monsters. Don’t worry, we’ll ease you in with the pleasant Byrdsian psychedelic vibes of Pseudonym on “Before the Monsters Came.” Then the elusive and mysterious Clovis Roblaine sounds like he’s cooped up in his castle on a hill at the start of his “Monster Love.” But as he gets going we’re transported to what sounds like a 1970s riff on all those old cartoony drive-in movie monster encounters. Like Rocky Horror but without all the cross-dressing. Then there’s Timmy Sean’s “She’s a Monster” from his poprock musical A Tale From the Other Side where the creature sounds very 50 foot women-ish put through a serious ELO soundtrack filter. So far the monsters are pretty low on terror but come with popcorn.
One band reliably up for a holiday musical tribute is Vista Blue. “Boy Beast” is the flip side to their Halloween single release “Victor Crowley” and I liked this b-side just a bit more for its imagery and pulsing energy. The band also appear on Radiant Radish’s timely, pumpkin-approved collection Time of the Season. The whole album is great, it’s free, and it also includes a band called The John Carpenter’s The Things doing a mad rush of a song called “Here’s The Thing.” It’s poppy and punky with some great early 1980s synth background runs holding everything together. Aimee Mann’s “Frankenstein” is obviously on point for our theme. Do I really need much of an excuse to include anything by Mann? No. But listen to the sophisticated lyrics here amid a layering in of so many interesting musical adornments. Talent bleeds out of this gal like an open wound. Indie darlings Kiwi Jr. serve up some “Wicked Witches” because it can’t be All Hallow’s Eve without some serious sorcery.
Now if we really want to move into more scary territory we’ve got to get to the zombie and vampire portion of our programming. Modern horror definitely leans on these two players to up the terror quotient. Sal Baglio uses his band The Amplifier Heads to bring The Band back from the dead with his spot-on Band-like reincarnation of their sound on “Zombie Moon.” Warning, things get a bit hairy near the end (as they should). During a zombie apocalypse it’s all too easy to forget your partner’s many co-dependent observations about your shortcomings. Luckily we have B.A. Johnston to keep us focused with “You Will Miss Me When the Zombies Come.” Not that you’ll remember. Ok, on to vampires with The Orion Experience’s disco poprock vamp of a tune “Vampire.” The ‘ooh ooh’s so remind of those creepy Tommy Lee Jones photo shoot scenes from The Eyes of Laura Mars. Tired of those impersonal representations of vampires? Italy’s Bee Bee Sea give them some personality on the rollicking “Vampire George.” I love the Together Pangea vibe on this performance, combining swing with hooks and just a touch of punky swagger.
Our last stop on the fright night scare tour is ghost city, just so the mood will linger. Copenhagen’s Surf School Dropouts are such a curious outfit. Are beaches in Denmark much like California? Because they’ve got the California beach sound down. And just how hard is surf school anyway? Whatever. “Attack of the Ghost Hot Rods!” takes us back into the fun zone of this holiday with goofy lyrics, sound effects, and killer guitar licks. By contrast, Look Park’s “I’m Going to Haunt This Place” is more mellow, a bit maudlin. Haunting really.
Well kids I hope the candy was worth it. Because soon the frights won’t end when the monsters take off the mask. They’ll just be starting.