Isolated, often mournful voices wander through a specter-like fog of synths and reverb, suggesting ghosts and the mysterious tragedies surrounding them.
poison arrow – yeule / your favorite color – lifeformed / possession – pastel ghost / moon in aquarius – pat moon / dreams – mushy / lazy hunter – boy friend / little ghost – metal mother / ambur – demen / island of doom – agnes obel / flying dream – tamaryn w. oneohtrix point never / visiting night eyes – samantha glass / call me – gigi masin / dance ghost – helado negro / master of none (beach house cover) – toro y moi / ghost dance – be forest / annie’s box (karin dreijjer version) – the knifew. planningtorock & mt. sims / crystalfilm – little dragon / patterns – suse millemann / no matter what – ioanna gika / into the light (siouxsie and the banshees cover) – darkswoon / vernal limb – camp counselors / vulnerable now – low city rain
Sequencing this one was difficult for some reason. Here’s some songs I would include in different iterations of this idea:
Tamaryn – “You’re Adored” (2019)
Black Marble – “A Different Arrangement” (2012), “It’s Conditional” (2016)
RIYL – early Cocteau Twins, 4AD, post-punk guitars, Chelsea Wolfe, Tamaryn, Them Are Us Too
Be Forest have a truly haunted and forlorn guitar sound that smolders over their songs like embers and fireflies. It sounds like an update or even the ghost of the usual eighties guitar twang. They manage to call on classic post-punk while finding their own ground within it.
Earthbeat is my favorite BF album since it doesn’t lose itself in the fuzz like Cold. or a bland, formless void like Knocturne. Earthbeat leaves some room for true songs and melodies to unravel. They merge gentle acoustics and thorned, distorted edges for an ideal autumn-campfire mood piece. Erica’s organic rhythms are the wooden logs and trees, Costanza’s bass lines are wolves and old memories lurking in the distance; their singers hum quietly like they’re telling you a secret about their past. In classic dream pop fashion, they create strong images and feelings without clear lyrics.
Earthbeat is one of the most evocative albums I’ve heard in this decade’s post-punk scene. Be sure to check out “NTR” from their debut too.
With The Banshees as my biggest gateway into my serious musical interests, I’ve had a fascination for gothic themes for many years now. As picky as I get with the goth rock/darkwave scenes, they generated and influenced several of my all-time favorite albums.
To coincide with this Halloween, I’ve decided to look back on five of my most formative gothic, autumnal and/or ‘spooky’ favorites. This is more about representing than building an exact top-5, so check out this related list and my Halloween mixes if you want more!
Lene Lovich – Shadows And Dust, 2005
Lene Lovich is new wave’s wacky witch of the west. Anyone familiar with her distinctive polka-dotted voice will know this already. Shadows And Dust is the lesser-known piece to the puzzle. Despite coming fifteen years after March, Lene sounds more witchy than ever. She tributes the Wicked One herself with all the right gleeful kitsch on track 9.
Mixing non-forced cabaret drama with speculative themes, SAD is a goth-pop wonderland. SAD plays like a natural step from where she left off, unfazed by time. It never lacks a new trick to show off, be it wispy synth bells (“Ghost Story”), viking-like backing vocals, a grim synth-string intro (“Remember”) or an elaborate Dracula narrative (“Insect Eater”). Altogether, it brings me back to Siouxsie’s Peepshow. With a bold sing-along and mutant arrangement, “Shapeshifter” makes a worthy “Peek-A-Boo” sequel.
Lene sings like she’s stirring a cauldron. Her voice wears a bit on louder sections, but I love her enthusiasm. Her wild-but-warm spirit hasn’t faded a bit, and her deeper, richer tone matches her themes. The sheer thrill she takes in voicing Reinfield on “Insect Eater” is nearly contagious. Sweeter moments like “Remember” show her knack for romance isn’t gone either.
Even beyond her ‘prime’, Lene had so much more to offer than “Lucky Number”. SAD is a major reason why; the limited release has me wishing more fans got to hear it.
Grimes – Halfaxa, 2010
Claire Boucher packed so many fresh creative instincts into such limited means early on. On oft-ridiculed Halfaxa, she channeled haunted cathedrals and medieval heirlooms from what many critics dismiss as the lowest dregs in music-making: Garageband. Albums like this make me question that dismissal.
It’s these same technical constraints that help make these songs so surreal and intriguing. Like many albums in this formative time for bedroom e-music, she’s alone with her thoughts here. As expected with a creative musical mind, it’s easy for me to get lost in them.
The songs create unique emotional portraits, both vague and pointed. “Devon”, for one, is a raw, rejected love song all the way, but with other highlights like ”Dream Fortress”, I detect so many different feelings at once. It’s sad nostalgia for that once-beautiful abandoned heirloom one minute and an erupting ghostly horror the next.
Halfaxa is a mind, a universe and a huge antique house. It thrives in surrealism and history’s shadows, but as other reviews have pointed out, you find very human feelings inside. Her devotion to Mariah Carey helped; she stated Halfaxa was her attempt to capture the spacious, haunting effects of group church singing. I know well these vocals can be a bit much with the echoes and caterwauls everywhere, but I would argue the cowgirl-punk approach on Art Angels is it’s own acquired taste.
Halfaxa is ethereal wave’s digital-age niece; any fan should try it.
Bauhaus – The Sky’s Gone Out, 1982
Bauhaus’ messiness was the main reason I was a ‘casual fan’ rather than obsessive. With that said, Sky’s Gone Out struck me as a glorious, thrilling mess if anything. Beyond “Exquisite Corpse”, the songs don’t lose their footing in shouty jam-outs. They had more ambitious ideas and the experience to pull them off by now. They were maturing though not leaving the captivating, surreal sense of darkness behind.
Sky’s Gone Out stands out further as the one Bauhaus album where they could pull a true ‘scare’ on me. For all the hammy drama leftover from Mask, this album allows itself to build a stronger atmosphere, one that belongs in bizarre nightmares out of an arthouse film. Sky’s Gone Out has it’s own black-and-white, surrealist world like the cover art.
Complete with piano and sax from a haunted house, “Spirit” isn’t punk as much as a wild, dancing chorus of ghosts. The “Three Shadows” trio is a journey in itself, going from quiet goth-tar disturbance to an underworld’s fairground waltz.
Despite everything, the album ends on a quiet, solemn note with “All We Ever Wanted”. It’s the gentlest song to the Bauhaus name. Peter’s fittingly spectral highs toward the end whirled around my head for years. Fun as songs like “Spirit” and “Bela Lugosi” get, it makes me wish Peter Murphy showed this vulnerable side more often.
Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels, 1983
Head Over Heels takes place in the mountains and towering caves of your mind. As the first ’normal’ Cocteau album, this invented ethereal wave as we know it and pioneered the 4AD sound. I’d argue shoegaze’s whole color-wash approach began around here too.
HOH is a thrilling display for Cocteau’s leftover goth roots in the more elemental context that would become their trademark. Liz Fraser’s voice settles a bit, sounding freer than ever as she belts, quivers and hums with equal strength. Her usual non-lyrics add to the enigma but her tone posesses incredible warmth and nobility here. The boldness in her delivery is surprising knowing her famous self-deprecation.
The spacious fuzz-guitar draws curiosity but insists to lurk in shadows. It’s a long, long gaze into said caves, where water drips quietly and huge sun rays peer inside. This is the moody, bewitching edge of nature in it’s full glory. It can be “Sugar Hiccup”’s candyland dream sequence or an intimidating divine beast emerging from it’s lair. What never fails to cast a spell on me is “Tinderbox Of A Heart”, a tie with “Fifty Fifty Clown” for my favorite CT song. it works like a travelogue for HOH’s world, where this mountain-cave turns out huge from the outside and all you can do is glare in awe.
Siouxsie And The Banshees – Peepshow, 1988
As the 33 1/3 book stresses, Peepshow emphasized SATB’s art-film interests. At this point, they were more a ‘goth pop’ group. Far from Juju’s raw impact, then, but resuming the moody elegance that graced Dreamhouse and Tinderbox. For each guitar you have ”Carousel”’s haunted circus organ, “Rhapsody”s chilly operatics and “Peek-A-Boo”‘s reversed orchestral blasts.
Martin McCarrick is the one who took the Banshees (further) beyond rock. Adding cello, accordion and other new flavors, he’s one of their most unique members. The result is the band’s last goth album, being a few years before “Kiss Them For Me”. As if predicting this change, they went all-out with it. Peepshow has all the thrill, variety and surrealism of the best goth music. Q gave this apt summary: ‘Peepshow takes place in some distorted fairground of the mind where weird and wonderful shapes loom’. In a parallel to Goldfrapp’s debut made in a cottage, they recorded these songs in a 17th century mansion. Siouxsie sounds like the suave and secretive ringleader in a freakshow. Songs like “Scarecrow” and “Rhapsody” showcase her refining flair for drama.
A sequel to my first Halloween mix from four (!) years ago. Expect urgent and thrilling vocals from new wave/goth icons and a cross of grim, sinister atmosphere with pulpy fun.
love bites + devil in my life – GRACE JONES / el diablo anda suelto – ALASKA Y DINARAMA / face to face [batman returns soundtrack] + the double life – SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES / out on my own – ROMEO VOID / heads will roll + isis – YEAH YEAH YEAHS / whirlpool – DEAD OR ALIVE / spirit – BAUHAUS / obsolete – TOYAH / nosferatu – MIRO MIROE / vampires – BAT FOR LASHES / to get over heartbreak – THE BEDROOM WITCH / astrid – THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS / love crime – SIOUXSIE
‘A racket that mixed up Blondie with Siouxsie And The Banshees’; said one critic on Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Who were the Banshees?, I thought eight (!) years ago. Soon I found “Into The Light” on my sister’s iTunes by fluke and it blew my mind within seconds. I knew nothing about the new wave scene and the endless creativity within yet, so you could imagine my awe.
The song resembled a campfire with Siouxsie as the enigmatic storyteller. The guitar sizzled over Budgie’s drums like wood covered in flames. With this band, guitar worked more as the portal to their surreal worlds than a tool for beefy riffs. John McGeoch’s ‘Gizmo’ effect pedal played a big part in this. “Into The Light” has a raw instinct for sure, but they didn’t look past melody; it’s an agitated beast. Likewise, something vulnerable lies in Siouxsie’s defiant voice. Her lyrics insist on rhymes with ‘light’:
Our hearts entwine / a new horizon
Remember when / bleached into white
Your time again / kept out of sight
Standing in the light
I never wanted to be right
Now I’m attracted by the light
And blinded by the sight
What is this light? ‘I never wanted to be right’; it’s confessing something, it sounds defeated. Genius suggests a light-before-death scene, fitting the cosmic images though not confirmed. Either way, I couldn’t ask for a stronger delivery.
Key to Juju’s impact was how it found Siouxsie between her punk roots and later refinement. She reached a raw desperation (especially live) that wasn’t quite the same with earlier and later periods. As it took one jam-based take to record with improvised lyrics, this song came from pure impulse. It told me that spontaneous bursts can birth the best inspiration.
Go here for my Siouxsie gateway playlist if you’re unfamiliar.
Opposing Moon’s lighter pop sound, “Yogen” resembles Akina Nakamori’s gothic cult favorite Fushigi. Matching the eye-catching cover, this song chooses to dwell in mystery; the sense of void and landscape is strong. “Yogen” channels a lost cave with the moon as the one light source. Yuki’s voice is a whispered warning shrouded in fog, going from hypnotic hums to a nervous drift. Forming this fog are slick, spacious guitars and a murky fretless bass.
As mush as I adore synths, my #1 band didn’t actually use them much. Superstition was the one Banshees album to use them beyond cameos. Guitars were their clear specialty, but I do wonder where more keyboard would have led them.
This metaphysical b-side is one in few exceptions. Beyond Siouxsie and one quiet guitar, it’s all misty fairy synths. Believe it or not, “Sea Of Light” sounds like new age Banshee-style. An uneasy mood sneaks in even so via Siouxsie’s vocal as she sings of near-death experiences. The effects on her voice resemble a distant call for help or gathering wind. This results in a unique middle ground between peace and danger.
Originally written in Polish for Jan’s new music blog Anielskie Jajo. This is the first guest post I’ve featured here! I’m not sure how common this will be, but I’ll be open to more in the future.
About the guest author:
Jan (~shores on Rateyourmusic) is a musician and dedicated listener from Poland. We ‘met’ by chance in January when I answered his thread asking for recs in 80s new age. We had an immediate connection from there as we happened to share close opinions on several more genres like ambient, folk, pop and darkwave. Listen to Jan’s music here and here.
I. What is Ethereal Wave?
Ethereal Wave, or Ethereal Goth, or just Ethereal, is a music genre that is a variation on gothic rock and darkwave, transcending the dark imagery of said genre into denser, dreamier environments.
What’s more, you can say some bands playing “ethereal” sounding music who aren’t a part of goth scene could be called ethereal wave. Commonly the genre is applied to music that is related to gothic rock, but still a bit different. Lots of ethereal wave bands don’t play goth rock with female vocals (there’s a misconception that all goth rock bands with female vocals are ethereal), but uses certain means of expression that make the genre stand out from the goth scene – such as sparse, delicate guitar layers with lots of effects, soaring vocals (some using glossolalia), drum machines, and sometimes synths or keyboards.
II. Short history of genre
While lots of bands not affiliated with the goth scene today could be classified as ethereal, the style was born on goth rock and darkwave influences. The first half of the 80s brought us classic bands such as The Cure, The Banshees and Bauhaus. We could say that ethereal wave was born as a reaction to the murky and suffocating atmosphere exhibited in music of those bands (not to say it’s a reaction to ONLY those bands, just the scene at the time).
4AD was the primary powerhouse that made the genre happen – with bands like early Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, the genre had a nice headstart. But it didn’t have a name yet, and it wasn’t established yet – music press just tried to classify the music played by those bands, and “ethereal” was probably the closest, and it possibly stuck. It was rather an unspoken artistic movement.
The second half of the 80s brought fame to the genre: Cocteau Twins had indie hits with singles like “Carolyn’s Fingers” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas”, while This Mortal Coil became somewhat legendary with “Song To The Siren” and released highly acclaimed albums. But it was Dead Can Dance who actually migrated to neoclassical and regional music-inspired sounds with goth undertones, today known as neoclassical darkwave (Genre Primers post soon!).
That was the ethereal wave scene in the UK. In United States, the genre was popularised by Projekt Records – a bit of an American version of 4AD, but they had their own aesthetic and credo. Bands such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Love Spirals Downwards, or Lycia were the most popular pupils of said label.
In the end of the 80s and the early 90s, the genre regained some popularity, and several new bands were formed. Unfortunately, the genre went out of fashion rather quickly after that – it could be said that Cocteau Twins’ last album (1996) in marks the end of the genre’s popularity. Yet still: bands affiliated with the scene were experimenting with the sound and expanding it’s influences, sometimes incorporating electronics into their work – notably Chandeen and Love Spirals Downwards.
Today the genre has a small yet faithful fanbase, and – what is really nice to see for me – there are more bands appearing who play in such style.
Finally, this is how the ‘official’ EW looks. ‘Unofficial’ ethereal wave can be found in early 80s new age records and some non-goth artists, but it’s up to you if you feel it’s okay to call non-goth artists ethereal wave or not.
feathers oar-blades – cocteau twins / ocean – dead can dance / rains on me – heavenly bodies / cranes fly – black rose / birds of passage – bel canto / wish – soulswirlingsomewhere / scatter january – love spirals downwards / sparks – faith and the muse / mr. somewhere – this mortal coil / beneath the leaves – requiem in white / drifting – lycia / ecdisis – wind atlas / floor – them are us too / feral love – chelsea wolfe
Siouxsie is my favorite musician and it’s because of her albums that I legitimately became interested in music in the first place. I think this occasion makes for a good time to start listening to her music for those still unfamiliar.
So, I’ve tried to assemble a playlist of a song for every Banshees and Creatures album, including Siouxsie’s lone solo album Mantaray to somewhat give a taste of all the major releases. I tried to keep it mostly accessible and not entirely made up of obvious hits (as great as those songs are). I also left out B-sides because there’s just too many good ones to fit in there for now – but I hope to make a proper playlist out of those in the near-future as well.
I am LIVING for Tamaryn’s current aesthetic – glowing, pastel colors, moons (I mean hey, it’s my namesake here) and elegant gothic wardrobe + make-up. It’s like the good parts of the excellent Cranekiss album’s visual style but more colorful and ambitious.
I don’t love the song quite as much to be honest. I think it’s a big improvement from “Fits of Rage”, where she tried a little too hard to be Gritty and Angry in her delivery, but this song too has a few awkward vocal elements, albeit not as severe. I do think the backing music itself has a lot of potential. Hoping it will grow on me. UPDATE: Sure enough it did, and it didn’t take long to do so! Very blissful and catchy.