Dead Man’s Bones
Dead Man’s Bones
October 6, 2009
By Melissa Traynor
This album, more likely than not, will complete its intent – delivering a fresh, creepy and overall enjoyable approach to an over-saturated market of holiday music. Dead Man’s Bones’ self-titled debut and the band itself, the duo Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) and Zach Shields, has so many noteworthy pieces and back-stories that they almost take away from production.
The record, 12 tracks of mostly gimmick-free fun, is two parts graveyard music and odes to dead lovers mixed with danceable anthems, one part eerie vocal stylings of Gosling and another two parts of children noises. The fact that none before have capitalized on the potential of a children’s choir in producing spooky-themed music is astonishing. In this case, Dead Man’s Bones looks to the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir to give most of the songs the inherently unearthly sounds of children (against music), who usually sing back-up, but sometimes laugh and chant, and make other inexplicably creepy sounds that only children make.
Much praised “My Body’s a Zombie for You” is a new take on Halloween-flavored songs from the past. It takes the joyful familiarity of “Monster Mash” and twists it into something a little darker, but still somehow very listenable. The same can be said for the title track, though the former gets the point across more clearly.
“My Body’s A Zombie for You” highlights the choir in their whimpering “oh-oh-aoh-ohs” and chorus yelling as the song progresses. The track begins with light bass drum thumps, tambourine rattles and faint background humming like a barbershop quartet as the children’s and Gosling’s vocals come in. He does a thoroughly swell job if he intends to imitate Elvis Presley’s baritone with tendencies like Devendra Banhart’s voice; Gosling’s is soft and soothing to provide a nice contrast to the shrill of children. He doesn’t reach too high, but hits lovely lower notes.
Doo-wop piano shows up shortly after and the song blends in familiar, charming guitar chords. But then, once the chorus hits, the kids scream out “My body’s a zombie for you!” adding extra stress on “youuu” in a kind of whiny plea. A little alarming at first, it becomes a natural transition into the following refrain of a snare drum and maybe a wind instrument.
The single and the record’s other stand-out track is “In the Room Where You Sleep,” which has two very different, but equally pleasant versions. The first one I encountered was a video posted on the band’s MySpace. It’s footage of a dressed up Goslin hunched over a piano with the choir in their Halloween gear in the background. The video resembles the aforementioned “Zombie for You” much more closely than other version of itself from the record. This one is piano- driven and very organized, despite the fact that it looks like the band and the kids decided to record it spur-of-the-moment, and it’s a lot more fun. The children’s choir brings in the old-school this time, which manifests itself in the choruses in a very Martha & the Vandellas kind of way.
The cut off the album features more dance-y, soft synth and galloping percussion, perfect on any Halloween party playlist. Without the choir, the band relies on fuzzy vocals from Gosling, who growls breathy commands in between the verses. The song would also do well if you dubbed it over the Scooby-Doo intro clip.
Dead Man’s Bones also serves up movie-quality eerie tracks, like the dark “Buried in Water or “Paper Ships” that can both stand alone. The record closes with “Flowers Grow out of My Grave,” which unites the upbeat voices of children and the somber utterings of Goslin in the beginning. It then evolves into something also happy, and a like a camp sing-a-long.
Considering the subject – creepy things “touching your head in the room where you sleep,” watery graves and undead hearts – the record actually benefits when it captures the slips and faulty tracks. The tracks are especially long because they kept recording when the song finished and the kids just erupt with laughter, or sometimes continued to sing. They embrace their own amateurish ways. At the same time, that obvious inexperience makes the record all the more honest and original.