Album of the Year: 2009

January 4, 2010

As this is the first review of the new year (and first I have written in years) I thought it appropriate to review my top album of last year: Dead Man’s Bones (Featuring the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir): Dead Man’s Bones (available at Rough Trade with exclusive bonus DVD)

Dead Man’s Bones is one of those albums where the front cover intrigued me so much I just bought it. This is something I did quite often as a young’un back in the days before the internet made buying music so easy. To be honest this tactic did not pay off very often and as such there are many records in my collection condemned to the fate of being unwrapped, listened to once, filed and then forgotten about until I move house. This album makes all those wasted pounds worth it.

If I had read anything about this album before I saw it winking at me from the record shop’s shelf I probably would not have picked it up. It is a concept album (hmm), based on the supernatural (hmmm), with a gothic theme (hmmmm), features a childrens choir (hmmmmm), is a collaboration between two actors (hmmmmmm) and was going to be a stage musical (and that’s enough, I’m off). Thank goodness for my ignorance.

The album is a collaboration between Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling (yes that Ryan Gosling, the one who plays the smacked up teacher in Half Nelson) born from their shared, unhealthy obsession with the supernatural. In fact Zach was so obsessed with ghosts as a kid he was put into therapy. The album handles its themes of death, ghosts, graveyards, werewolves and zombies surprisingly well, it’s gothic but not goth and manages to be genuinely eerie without being cheesy: kids singing about being Zombies has more than a bit of the Omen about it. The experience that Zach and Ryan have had as actors is well reflected in the music, it is all very cinematic – conjuring up visions of old-fashioned horror films and atmospheric sounds are interspersed as if they have their own foley department working on the rain, creaking doors, thunder, foot steps, screaming, crying and werewolf howling FX used. Although this is not the case because the duo played everything on the album (including instruments they had never used before) as part of a set of rules for making the album that resemble Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 vow of chastity other rules included banning click tracks and electric guitars and only ever recording three takes of a track no matter how bad the outcome.

I get the impression that they recorded everything they played as lots of mistakes and hiccups have been captured and weaved into the tracks giving the album a great ramshackle quality which is incredibly charming. Zach and Ryan’s vocals will not win any Saturday night TV shows and the choir is not be best you will ever hear but it all comes together perfectly . My Body’s A Zombie For You (in the player below) is perfect example, the song sounds like a track from a schools Halloween performance the kids choir pretty much shout the refrain and at it’s end the song descends into the kids shouting, clapping their hands and stomping their feet. Eventually this breaks down into what I am sure was initially an out-take as you can hear their teacher asking them all to sit down and some kids starting their vocal warm ups in the background. I love it! The whole album just oozes character and a freakish, idiosyncratic zeal which has made my decision to crown Dead Man’s Bones my favorite album of 2009 a very easy one.

As mentioned earlier The Dead Man’s Bones project was originally planned as a stage show however, as they started to make the music it dawned on them just how much time and money the show would need investing to get it off the ground and decided to stick to the music. Initially the fact that this could have been a musical put me off, now I urge you to do your duty go buy the CD so Zach and Ryan have enough cash to fulfill their dream. You only need to check out these videos to see that they would make something very special indeed.


One Response to “Album of the Year: 2009”

  1. Ive got to say the visuals are doing a lot more for me than the music. I can see how the tunes could be some peoples cup of tea but then Ive never been a Nick Cave fan either 😛

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