The last time I mentioned the band Dead Man's Bones was in this post. I'd not really heard much news from them of late, but knew their album was coming out this month. Well, I was just skimming Spotify earlier this week and discovered that the album is up there already (it came out yesterday) so I listened and enjoyed it enough to want to blog about here.
If you want the short version, it's really a very good record and worth your pennies, or at least a listen on Spotify (you'll have to search for Dead Man Bones, since spotify seems to have a grammatical disaster on the name), or Myspace; it's streaming on their page I believe. If you want the long version, read on.
How best to describe what they do? Well I came to the album armed with the knowledge that there's is an oscar nominated actor in the band, that the songs were originally slated for a 'horror' musical and that there was fair amount of singing from a children's choir. Pleasingly all these elements are there and they all fit really nicely, if in a rather weird way.
The record starts quite slowly, it has to be said. There's an spoken word intro followed by first song proper 'Dead Hearts'. The first line of which is 'I woke up whistling by your grave'. That kind of sets the mood nicely for the record, we aren't looking at the giddy joy of 'I'm From Barcelona' here. Anyway 'Dead Hearts' is a good mood setter, the beat in the background sounding indeed like a pumping heart, there's odd percussive crashes like breaking glass and a sound not dissimilar to The Arcade Fire. It's a good start, if for me, it drags on a little too long.
The next song 'In The Room Where You Sleep' has been available on Myspace as a demo for quite a long time. Here it sounds fairly similar, the creepy organ sound intact, but it's more polished and all the better for it. The rhythmic organ line and the repeated downbeat 'you'd better run' makes the song.
After that there's 'Buried In Water'. A slow burner, which becomes something special in the last minute of the track, when the Silverlake Children's Community Choir join in and raise it into the realms of the euphoric. Actually the children's choir are a great addition to the record. It could easily have been gimmicky, or even worse like a horror version of the Saint Winifred's Children's choir (youtube at your peril) The next track, 'My Body's a Zombie For You' being a case in point. It is the epitome of what the band are about I think. A tune that sounds like it plays endlessly on the calliope at Dr Death's Circus Of Disaster, Ryan Gosling's odd 50's vocal, and some "ooh ooh ooh" backing vocals are made even better by the giddy children calling "I'm a Z.O.M.B.I.E, ZOMBIE" at the end. It's infectious.
'Pa, Pa, Power' follows, again made lovely by the harmonious calls of the children's promise that "We won't destroy you". 'Young and Tragic' follows that and is one of the definite high points of the record for me. The sole track powered only by the childrens' choir, a rolling drum and a lovely tune make it a deeper song then the young voices might have you believed. After this comes 'Paper Ships'.
'Paper Ships' sounds like it was played in a haunted cafe some 60 years ago to zombie greasers and vampirella prom queens. It's period apeing is spot on, but it creates a little bit of magic all of it's own. The 6 tracks from 3 - 8 are so strong that the rest of the record can't quite stand up to them, which stops it being an all out outstanding record. Of the final few tracks though, the title track comes close, channelling the same well of darkness that Nick Cave has mined so successfully for so long.
In closing then, as I said at the beginning it's a damn fine record. It's understandable if you've read through that review, and alarm bells are ringing in your head whilst your brain shouts "gimmick" but it's really not. Yeah, a children's choir and songs which were intended for some horroresque musical performed by an actor sounds like a gimmick, but the songs stand up for themselves. Is a gimmick needed when they could probably shift records on the strength of Ryan Gosling's name alone, I don't think so. It comes down to this. Fill a cauldron with some 50's doo wop, a pinch of Arcade Fire, a large dash of Langley Schools Music Project, elements of Beck, Beirut, and a whole dollop of weirdness, bring to the boil and then filter through a cone of evil and you might just get this record.
It's catchy, it's strange, it shouldn't really work, and yet somehow Dead Man's Bones have managed to make one of the best records I think I've heard this year. If it sounds like your kind of thing, you should definitely make time to hear it.