You know, I’ve always kind of liked Ryan Gosling as an actor. He’s always kind of bucked the mainstream with his choices, and doesn’t rely on his looks to get by. In fact, it’s often used as a counter point to the weird and disturbed characters he plays. There’s a quiet weirdness about the guy, and the directors that utilize this natural oddness seem to get the best results(A good example of this would be the work he’s done with Nicolas Winding Refn.). I always thought of him as weird character actor, rather than straight forward leading man, and I think that’s what people seem to react to. He’s presented as a “hunky” leading man, so, I guess you can’t really blame folks all that much. Even though, nothing he’s really done would indicate that he works in that capacity, but marketing, eh?
So, the other day I was sitting at my computer, as I am one to do, and my fiancee, a self proclaimed Ryan Gosling fan(What makes this fascinating is that she exists in this state simultaneously ironically, and sincere. I know, I think it’s weird too.), was sitting on the other side of our room painting. I was sifting through various film soundtracks to listen to while I was writing, and then came a “suggestion,” although the way she said it clearly indicated that it was more of a demand, that I put on Dead Man’s Bones. I had never heard of this group, and was curious, as sometimes she introduces me to new things that I grow to like. She then told me it was “Ryan Gosling’s band,” and I immediately kind of lost interest. Unfair, I know, but my experience with listening to music made by successful actors hasn’t been all that positive, and sometimes even makes me think less of them. It’s probably because the music usually isn’t very good, from bad to mediocre most of the time, and reeks of “vanity project.” Keep in mind this is coming from someone that actually like this guy as an actor, and has even gone to bat for him in a few movie nerd conversations. Anyways, she kept insisting, and I like getting laid, so, I put it on(True story.).
The album starts with a reading of something I didn’t recognize, probably because I’m kind of a troglodyte, and then a soft spoken song about being soft and sad begins. Complete with words like “sad,” and “nightmares.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just a dick, but it kind of seemed a little artificial to me. It reminded me of a lot of things I’ve heard before, but in all honesty I couldn’t really put my finger on it. It’s part of that “old school” revivalist indie stuff. It sounded like something that was created by people that listened to a lot of this kind of music, knew how to construct songs in this style, but didn’t understand sincerity, and how that shaped how those songs sounded. The way the first song sounds, doesn’t feel like it “comes from them,” and sounds more like fans making a homage.
As the album continued I heard a lot of familiar sounding things. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are fans of The Doors, as it often invokes a “dark carnival” type of sound, with a lot of organ usage. Obviously, I’m speaking of the instrument “the organ,” and not the parts of the body. If anything, they would use the bones of dead men to make music,as the name of their band implies.
As songs went on, I did actually find myself kind of enjoying it. It was certainly more interesting than other actor driven bands than I’ve heard in the past. There was a consistent through-line in the music and themes present, which is saying a lot for a group that is making music as a hobby. I mean, yeah, it does sound like music that has been produced by a 16 year old whose obsessed with Neutral Milk Hotel, and Tim Burton, but, eh, it’s not all that bad. There’s even a few times when I thought they were going to break into the ‘Monster mash,’ but alas, they did not. There were a few times that I was sincerely enjoying parts of it, and totally forgot that I was only listening to it out of curiosity, more than actually expecting anything.
There’s only one song that I really “hated” on this album. It’s called ‘Pa Pa Power,’ and it seems to want to be some type of pop song, but just ends up being completely grating and ineffectual. The worst part about this song is that it purports pathos without really understanding what pathos is. Using shocking imagery, with little to no context, does not make the song deep. It’s one of the few times that the album completely lost me, and I wanted to just shut it off. But as the bard said, “And the day quaked to look on,” so I let it quake on.
It has a very “open room” feel to the recordings. At one point, I even joked that it sounded like it was recorded at the bottom of a well, in a graveyard(A graveyard of their hearts, yo. Deep, deep sheeeit!) somewhere is Gosling’s back yard. Yes, I assume that Ryan Gosling has a graveyard at the back of his home. Get over it. I mean, have you heard Dead Man’s Bones? Yeah, thought so! Anyways, there is a reason for the “open room” recording sound, and that is because it seems like a lot of it was probably recorded in an open room with The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir, because that’s usually how you record choirs. What was “cool” about how they did it is that it seems they actually recorded themselves with the choir, which gives the music an immediacy and energy that I wasn’t expecting. So, good on you Dead Man’s Bones. The moments with the children s choir are definitely the high points of the album, and are even beautiful in spots.
The lyrics are pretty “immature,” I guess you could say. It reminded me of poetry I used to write when I was a teenager. I had discovered things like Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Frost. So, I would basically steal concepts from them, and it all ended up being histrionically tinged poems about my “doom and gloom” feelings on life, and the existential crisis of having to do chores. I don’t know, that’s what it seemed like to me anyways.
Well, what about “The Gos-Man’s” vocals? Can the dude sing? Ummm, yeah, it would seem he can. He definitely has a range, and kind of sounds like a sad version of Roy Orbison, but he can carry a tune. It totally works for the type of sounds that it matched up with. I always find things like that to be pretty subjective. Well, all the “arts” are somewhat subjective, and are relative to an audiences taste to determine quality, but you know what I mean.
So, at the end of the day, Dead Man’s Bones left me pleasantly surprised. It’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, but it’s worth a listen. In a weird way, it sounds exactly what you would think a “Ryan Gosling joint” would sound like. Childish, slightly distant, and weird. It kind of dovetails nicely with some of his more off kilter acting choices. It was definitely only recorded because of his involvement, but, eh, it was recorded, so why not?