Four months ago I wrote an article about an up and coming band, lead by none other than Oscar-nominated Canadian actor Ryan Gosling. Dead Man’s Bones is a collaboration between Gosling and his best friend Zach Shields. Released on October 6th, 2009, their self titled debut album has made quite the impression.
Shields and Gosling originally conceived of Dead Man’s Bones as a horror-themed musical, but kept the songs they had written when they realized putting on a stage production would be too expensive. Despite the high concept, Dead Man’s Bones is pretty far from a vanity project – if anything, they’re the opposite, with Gosling and Shields stretching far from their comfort zones at almost every turn. They played instruments they’d never touched before making the album, and brought in the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir to add young voices to their virtually untrained ones. They also set rules for themselves while recording: no electric guitars or click tracks were allowed, and they could only do three takes for any given part.
With this minimal production, there are visible mistakes, and the tracks are often left running a few seconds too long. But that raw, in-the-moment sensibility is one of the things that makes this album so good. It shows that Gosling and Shields created these songs because they enjoyed doing so.
By embracing their amateurism so completely, the guys have turned any weaknesses into strengths, and while influences ranging from The Arcade Fire to Roy Orbison to Disneyland‘s Haunted Mansion ride can be heard, the way Dead Man’s Bones combine them is unique.
Overall, I’m as surprised as you are with Dead Man’s Bones. So many ways for it to go wrong, but instead is has thrived. It is a unique, catchy and lovably weird record, with songs that could hold their own with the best indie singles of the year.
Dead Man’s Bones isn’t perfect, but it’s facinating and charming–and Shields and Gosling wouldn’t have had it any other way.