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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