Album Review

Dead Mans Bones

Dead Mans Bones

by Dead Mans Bones

7 / 10
4th November 2009

Reviewed by Courtney Sanders

The cover of Dead Man’s Bones looks like an awkward family photograph would; all smiles for the camera, with obvious dynamics going down that the people within said image would rather you didn’t know. Well, Dead Man’s Bones is sort of like this. You’ve got all these people on the cover who look super happy and comfortable together, but a) the adult component of this record write desperate lyrics to morose music and b) the youth component – The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir – only enhances the Adams Family Factor with their naive accompaniment to such depressive themes. Together however, these disparate elements ironically produce an atmospheric and emotionally optimistic album albeit with a dark and gruesome subtext. Maybe this extreme emotional countenance has something to do with the fact that this is Ryan Gosling’s band?

I guess kids rule at making the best out of situations right? And their inclusion in Dead Man’s Bone’s provides the ambient happiness required to balance Halloween inspired-and-Horrors appropriated gothic rock. With phrases like “I looked in your coffin” on ‘Paper Ships’ accompanied by some serious organ hammering, the choiral element relieves any irony that could easily be heaped without such an inclusion. Atmospheric as hell, this is probably most accentuated when Gosling sings “the wolves they’re in the clothing of a sheep” a nod to a well-known children’s fable in his surprisingly apt Scott Walker baritone, only to have those (living dead?) children (and the cover only perpetuates this vision) chanting along behind him. Creep.

Musically it’s the Adams Family, no holds barred. Staccato piano chords and brushed drums with little else in many of the tracks gives way to the aforementioned lurch-like vocal arrangement, and tambourine is shaken into action so is Chuck Berry and The Jesus and Mary Chain, simultaneously as the checkpoints of 1950’s rock ‘n roll and the grandiosity and moroseness of English post-punk are realised.

Overall, that old nut of darkness and light works brilliantly on this album. Both between the optimistic chants of a children’s choir (“we won’t let you destroy him”) and the lacklustre desperation of a self-aware adult (“broken hearts, broken glass, p-p-power, p-p-power”), and between said adult and the optimistic crooner that is sometimes immortalized on this record. I guess this only goes to show while adults may have the smarts and the neurosis to write sacrificial love songs, it’s kids who bring all that emotional back down to earth.

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