Forget ‘Monster Mash,’ Ryan Gosling Made the Perfect Halloween Album Already
Given that Ryan Gosling got his start on The All New Mickey Mouse club back in the early ‘90s, his career could have followed the “double threat” trajectory of his singing castmates Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (listed in descending order of acting ambition). But Gosling achieved “serious actor” status by 2003 with The United States of Leland, and though he never dropped a pop album, he did become a singer. In 2009 — after he was a household name, but before those “hey girl” memes reached fever pitch in late 2010/early 2011 — he had a band. And that band, Dead Man’s Bones, is ready to soundtrack your Halloween.
Albums made by actors are often dismissed as an ill-advised vanity project, unless we’ve been primed at the outset with knowledge of their musical talents (think Jennifer Lopez, whom many first met when she played a deceased singer in the Selena biopic). Sometimes this knee-jerk derision is deserved — the world’s thrift stores are full of dust-gathering Bruce Willis records — but just as often, fame’s double-edged sword can level the potential audience for an otherwise worthy endeavor. No one describes Michael Cera as “actor and indie singer-songwriter Michael Cera,” but that would be a fair and accurate description. Leighton Meester’s underrated Heartstrings album earned backhanded “it’s actually good!” reviews last year, but after debuting at No. 139 on the Hot 200 it fell into relative obscurity a week later. As with evaluating any piece of music, the question that separates the wheat from the chaff is, “Would you listen to this even if the musician wasn’t famous?” As a casual-at-best Gosling fan, my answer would be yes. You should listen too.
Deadman’s Bones is comprised of Gosling and bandmate Zach Shields, who plays drums and shares vocal and guitar duties. According to Anti-, the division of Epitaph Records records that released their only album, the two met in 2005 when Ryan was dating The Notebook co-star Rachel McAdams and Zach was seeing Rachel’s sister. On one of their sister-mandated double dates, the two discovered a shared fascination with graveyards, zombies and all things spooky: Zach’s childhood obsession with ghosts landed him in therapy, and Ryan’s family believed in them to the point where they once moved out of a house they deemed haunted. In an apparent urge to explore their inner Tim Burton(s), Ryan and Zach decided to write a “theatrical monster ghost love story for the stage” —but after writing some songs, they realized staging a musical’s a hugely expensive undertaking and they should probably just be a band.
The duo's 2009 debut album sticks to their original spooky intentions, mining the eerier aspects of old doo-wop, blues rock and moody, occasionally-fuzzy indie. Their cited (and evident) influences range from the Shangri-Las to the Cure and Joy Division, vintage pop crooner Bobby Vinton, and Disney World's Haunted Mansion ride. But two production choices elevate the album from “adequate DIY effort” to out-and-out inspired album, perfect for Halloween: The use of old-timey sound effects such as “tin foil for rain, creaking doors, paper ripping for thunder, foot steps, screaming, crying, waves, werewolf howling, boat noises, crickets, etc,” and vocals from the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir.
As anyone who’s ever seen Nightmare On Elm Street /The Birds / basically any horror movie knows, a bunch of kids singing in unison instantly sets a creepy mood. It can also evoke a festive, campfire sing-along vibe. The choir does both on several Dead Man’s Bones tracks, and it turns what might’ve been a lo-fi indie album with literal bells and whistles into robust, fully-realized concept album.
“Dead Hearts,” the opening track that follows the spoken-word intro, ends with a series of steady booming sounds and a beast-has-risen roar. “In the Room Where You Sleep” is a gothic stomper, urgent in both melody and chorus (“You better run, you better hide,” a low voice warns). It’s also their best-known track, as it was included in the 2013 horror film The Conjuring.
"Buried In Water" employs the children's choir to campy Greek chorus effect, and the result sounds like Nick Cave teaching a music class at the School of Rock for Ghosts. “My Body's a Zombie For You” is a sock-hop slow dance for the undead that moves into a chanting pep rally at the end. Virtually every song — with the exception of “Pa Pa Power,” which is just a straightforward, solid indie rock jam — would be right at home on your October 31 playlist. Or your everyday playlist, if you’re like me and wish we lived in Halloweentown year-round.
Stars Dress Up For Halloween