Dead Man's Bones

Dead Man's Bones

ANTI- Records, 2009

REVIEW BY: Scott Hill


Hey, kids! Did you know that Ryan Gosling once made a Halloween album with a children's choir and a guy who once dated Rachel McAdam's sister? Well, it's true. Acclaimed actor, on-screen Ken doll and fountain of memes Ryan Gosling once made an honest-to-goodness Halloween album.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, in hindsight, even before Gosling starred with Emma Stone in La La Land, he established that he's got a golden throat as a young adolescent when he came from the same batch of Mickey Mouse Club players that gave us Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. And when one also considers that he soon thereafter starred as a young lad in spooky episodes of both Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps, his fascination with the eerie holiday of Halloween clicks into place.

Meanwhile, Gosling's music partner here, Zach Shields, though less famous than his "Hey girl..." counterpart, is still no slouch, either. A frequent collaborator with film director Michael Dougherty, Shields has served a writer and producer on Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the film that made Christmas creepy again, Krampus. In addition, he produced one of two follow-up shorts to Dougherty's Halloween film classic, Trick 'r Treat, and then personally wrote and directed the other.

Meeting each other when Gosling was dating his The Notebook costar Rachel McAdams and Shields was dating her sister, the two quickly bonded over their childhood fascinations with ghosts, graveyards and other spooky things. They eventually decided to write a musical together and made self-imposed limitations to exclude click tracks or electric guitar, record every performance in only three takes, and play all the instruments themselves, even if they hadn't played them before. Finally, to give the album an air of those haunting Langley Schools Music Project albums from the ’70s, they recruited a children's choir from the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a non-profit organization created by the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ very own bassist Flea.

So with the duo's eerie musical bona fides in place, just how good is the album they made? Well, dear reader... I trick you not, this album is a treat.
Okay, sure. That was a groaner. But, hey, what is Halloween, if not a commitment to the hoarier, chintzier parts of society's frightful collective imagination? In this regard, the pair acquit themselves nicely: the album sounds from top to bottom like a long-lost, classic LP from before the ’80s made holiday music sound so... corporate.
Beginning with howling winds and a solemn intonation in the appropriately mood-setting "Intro," things quickly settle into the spare, minimalist build-up of "Dead Hearts," which gathers steam into a bombastic fervor before once again ebbing into an introspective, disquieting outro. If your attention isn't grabbed by this song's end, the sudden jamming of an electric organ in the bopping "In The Room Where You Sleep" will certainly make you nod your head. And that's the best part of this little album: not only do the songs play well individually, but they all flow perfectly one into the other, as a solid album should. Next up is the ineffably haunting "Buried In Water," which uses echo-y piano and unmannerly whistling to good effect. Lest you feel drowned by the ballad's succulent oppression, the album switches into the excellently-named "My Body's A Zombie For You." Channeling doo-wop romance, the song's smooth crooning from Gosling would already be enough to put it in heavy rotation in anyone's All Hallowed playlist, but the fevered children's choir pushes it over the edge into aching poignancy.

The whole album is like this. Every song a keeper, my dear gremlins. Every one a great soundtrack for carving pumpkins or getting dressed up in your costume. Some might be put off by the White Stripes-esque, lofi production value, but to me, it adds to the charm. Halloween is all about do-it-yourself, after all. From the whimsical "Paper Ships" to the propulsive toe-tapper "Lose Your Soul," the ghostly vibes drift into the proceedings with not only an assured playfulness, but also a subtlety that Halloween stores could take more note of. Even comparatively staid songs like "Werewolf Heart" and "Flowers Grow Out Of My Grave” manage to suffuse their initial tinkling into palpable vigor by the end, werewolf howls punctuating the swirl of sounds in the former and a laughing campfire vibe punctuating the latter.

Nowhere, though, is this prankish experimentalism better-served than in the titular song on this titular album by this titular band, "Dead Man's Bones." With deep bass "oh-oh-oh"s sounding like they're from a 1930s cartoon depicting Hell, its thumping and rattling would make Danny Elfman proud. The fact that it has not yet achieved the ubiquity of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is a crime against society.

In writing this review, I have listened to this album three times on loop, and I could easily listen to it dozens more without getting tired of it. It's a must-have, boils and ghouls. Shields and Gosling have made for Halloween what the Carpenters made for Christmas, and I sure as hell know which one I'd rather listen to.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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