“Dead Man’s Bones”

Few things are less appealing than the idea of a concept album, that’s a vanity project for a Hollywood heartthrob, and which uses a children’s choir as its musical backdrop. Like taking your seat on a flight and being welcomed aboard by your Captain Charlie Sheen, it’s pretty much the last thing you ever want to hear. Remarkably, the result is pleasingly seductive.

Made by Ryan Gosling, seen recently in the justly lauded Blue Valentine, and Zach Shields, seen recently watching it, Dead Man’s Bones was released to coincide with Halloween 2009, which is the concept bit. But it’s much more substantial than that suggests. Somehow, its disparate ingredients combine to produce a work that both engages and intrigues, as dreamy melodies are offset by ominous atmospherics. The music is undermined by the lyrics, and the melodies by the arrangements in much the same way that our moral universe is undercut by the lighting in a film noir, and obfuscation triumphs over illumination.

My Body’s A Zombie For You is both typical of the album as a whole and one of its stronger tracks. It sounds like the kind of thing Chris Isaak might have recorded if, instead of having his usual smoke before going into the recording booth, he’d decided to do a couple of lines instead, just to see what might happen. The gentle lyricism of the 50s piano riff, freely borrowed from Kitty Lester, is rudely awoken by the violence of the chorus as it’s fired at him by the school choir.

It’s this balance between the weird and off-kilter and those ethereal melodies that give the album its cohesion. There’s an intuitive understanding that melodies need contrast to give them form and substance. So that, unlike the dreary use of the Belgian girls choir by the Scala & Kolacny Brothers in their shapeless cover of Radiohead’s Creep, the school choir in the above track is used to bark out the chorus with unexpected aggression. And what could have been predictable becomes instead refreshing.

Amazingly, this juggling of the jagged and the silk extends across the whole album. So whether cruising down the highway, or lounging louchely on the couch, put your feet up and let your hair down to a soundtrack to lose your soul to.

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