Austin’s status as “weird city” extends beyond its colorful characters, it also frequently encompasses its music. Since the ’60s, Austin musicians have created music perfectly matched for Halloween, from the glammy horror rock of Roky Erickson to the moody synths of S U R V I V E. We’ve singled out nine of our favorites for inclusion on any Halloween mixes you’re preparing for your festivities.
Roky Erickson “I Walked with a Zombie”
No Austin Halloween party can be complete without a dose of Roky Erickson. The 13th Floor Elevators frontman channeled his horrifying state hospital experiences into monster-filled solo material in the ’70s and early ’80s, culminating in the cult classic The Evil One. That album has an abundance of Halloween ready songs but “I Walked with a Zombie” is perhaps its finest moment, the “Be My Baby” beat and glam guitars giving a melodramatic flair to Erickson’s gruff snarl. The title may suggest campiness, but Erickson and his band are as serious as a heart attack, making for a timeless classic that doesn’t have to stay relegated to Halloween parties.
The Hex Dispensers “My Love is a Bat”
Like some secret sibling of the Misfits and the Ramones, the Hex Dispensers make irresistible horror tinged pop punk with a Universal monsters aesthetic. “My Love is a Bat” is the band at its haunting best, providing a head stomping beat and blitzkrieg guitars while lyrically exploring everyone’s worst fear: that their lover is a monster in disguise, hungry for their blood.
Big Bill “Last Meal”
There are any number of freaky songs in Big Bill’s ouevre, but the one that best fits the Halloween spirit of embracing the macabre is their recent single “Last Meal.” A cowpunk barnstormer concerning a demented deathrow inmate’s final request, “Last Meal” is sinister and cheeky, the shitkicking instrumentation emphasizing the playful danger lurking behind Eric Bill’s vocals at every turn. For bonus points, have this one cued up for when the pizza arrives.
It’s hard to say exactly who or what is haunting Troller on “Nothing,” but the video indicates that creatures from other worlds are responsible. Like the bulk of Troller’s material, “Nothing” combines bass-heavy darkwave beats with ethereal synths, boosting Amber Star-Goers already otherworldly cooing into hypnotic cult indoctrination territory. The end result is a musical representation of what it must be like to surrender your mind and body to Eldritch horrors.
Ghostland Observatory “Dancing On My Grave”
The title of Ghostland Observatory’s “Dancing On My Grave” probably isn’t meant to be taken literally but it nonetheless makes for a solid choice to encourage people to head to the dance floor between more obviously “spooky, scary” songs. Featuring buzzing organs and a theatrical vocal, “Dancing On My Grave” is the right kind of melodramatic, embracing its inherent campiness while it deals with assholes from beyond the grave.
Daniel Johnston “Casper the Friendly Ghost”
Not all paranormal creatures are out to get you, as Daniel Johnston reminds us on “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” a ramshackle anthem for the quintessential good spirit. Even so, Johnston’s lyrics paint a tragic picture of Casper’s origin, indicating he was in “his own personal hell” when he “dropped his last dime down a wishing well” and then after looking too close he fell. Casper is a stand in of sorts for Johnston himself, battling malicious spirits of his own while trying to cheer people up with sweet yet tragic music.
David Liebe Hart with Jad Fair and Jason Willett “Haunted by Frankenstein”
Frequent Daniel Johnston collaborator Jad Fair recently teamed up with Tim and Eric veteran David Liebe Hart and Jason Willett for a delightfully kooky album of weirdo anthems, the catchiest of which is “Haunted by Frankenstein.” An outsider art twist on Roky Erickson’s monster mashes, “Haunted by Frankenstein” has Hart speak singing his affection for Frankenstein while also admitting he’s afraid of raising Frankenstein’s ire by talking to his women, all as a bizarre electro-pop instrumental creeps through the background.
Butthole Surfers “Who Was in My Room Last Night”
Pretty much every Butthole Surfers song is freaky as all fuck, but in terms of a Butthole Surfers track that is a) creepy while also b) not likely to offend everyone at your party and c) fun to listen to, “Who Was in My Room Last Night” is your best bet. A frenzied machine grind blast of distortion and tortured howling, “Who Was in My Room Last Night” is the most enjoyable recounting of a NSFW paranormal visitation you’ll ever encounter. Just don’t blame us if your guests want to know why they’re covered in ectoplasm the next morning.
Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of S U R V I V E “Stranger Things Theme”
Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein‘s theme for Stranger Things may be instrumental but for many listeners it has come to be the modern definition of the sound of Halloween. The duo have been making appropriately uncanny songs for years in S U R V I V E but it was Stranger Things that tuned global audiences into them and it’s no wonder why: their music established the sinister yet nostalgic mood of the show even before audiences saw much of its world. And now it’s inseparable from Halloween for anyone who watched even a single episode. And thankfully, it’s not a novelty, it’s a passionate and refreshing take on eerie synth horror scores, pulling from the monumental work of John Carpenter without being overly beholden to it.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover