8 Songs That Are Hauntingly Beautiful

Image courtesy of Shadow Mill Productions

Halloween is only a week away.  Many people would say that it is a haunting time of year.  Haunting is defined as “poignant and evocative; difficult to ignore or forget.”  In that spirit, here are eight songs that are haunting in some or many aspects, but at the same time leave you in awe of their beauty; a different kind of Halloween song.

(Note: Many songs in this list contain profanities)

1. “Retrograde” by James Blake

Beginning with a vocal crooning of a nonsense minor-key “oooo” that is looped throughout the song to provide the instrumental basis for the track, and continuing with minimal, repeated lyrics, the song just plain sounds unsettling.  Then an organ playing a sustained minor chord hits with a swell in volume, and a whole new aural experience begins before giving way to the same vocal syllables to close.  Very ethereal, very beautiful.

2. “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails

While Johnny Cash’s cover has greater notoriety, Trent Reznor’s original arrangement mixes the perfect amount of dissonance and dynamic contrast to create a disconcerting aural experience.

3. “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens

A song about losing a girlfriend to bone cancer and a concurrent struggle with religious beliefs in the face of this conflict.  It is haunting, sad, and yet has an amazingly beautiful arrangement.

4. “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez

The folk crooner composed this song about her ex, the famous Bob Dylan.  A beautiful, haunting fingerpicked pattern is repeated as lyrics of saddened nostalgia are sang.  Images of full moons and ghosts just add to the idea of sad memories growing sadder with time.

5. “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz

While this song is a bit more upbeat than the other ones listed, it is no less disorienting.  Damon Albarn’s partially sung, partially spoken chorus layers over a minor repeated bassline, giving way to a rap from Del Tha Funkee Homosapien in-character as a ghost and layered melodica dissonance.  The chorus’s beginning of “I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad” begs the question of whether a feeling is real or an act, a particularly uneasy one for listeners.

6. “Landfill” by Daughter

This track from Daughter’s His Young Heart EP is masterful in its use of dynamics to leave the listener feeling emotionally drained from the content of the lyrics—a relationship that has become emotionally abusive and the conflicting feelings that result.  It leaves one disconcerted, wondering if relationships in their lives might be of similar ilk.

7. “Oh Comely” by Neutral Milk Hotel

This 8-minute epic starts as a simple acoustic guitar and vocals track dealing with the death of a friend and lover, recounting all of the difficulties in her life.  As it moves toward its conclusion, horns are layered in with Jeff Mangum’s voice and guitar, creating a powerful, sorrowful climax that leaves the listener in a state of awe and worry.

8. “People II: The Reckoning” by Andrew Jackson Jihad

This song involves a banjo riff that seems to be slightly out of tune with everything else, creating a upsetting feeling for the whole song.  Lyrically, it’s accusatory—“there’s a bad man in everyone,” we’re told before the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” are twisted to say that no one person is especially important.  It is one that will definitely leave you feeling uneasy at its conclusion.

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