Broken Bells return with their long-awaited 2nd record. The reviews have ranged from over the top accolades to mediocre, based on a perceived over saturation of all things related to Danger Mouse, 1/2 of Broken Bells. Broken Bells are an indie super group, or is it super duo? Princess Padmé may have told J.D. in the movie Garden State that The Shins would change his life, but I’ve always been partial to this side project of The Shins lead singer James Mercer and Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse also moonlights as 1/2 of Gnarls Barkley and producer extraordinaire. James Mercer leads The Shins who started out as Flake Music, releasing 1 album under that moniker before The Shins released the album that changed the life of Princess Padmé. The new record leans more towards what we’ve heard from Danger Mouse, with impassioned vocals from Mr. Mercer.
The first thing we’ll have to get out of the way – on initial listens, it would seem that After the Disco is front loaded with the strongest tracks. The first few tracks hit you in the emotional core, grabbing hold of your ear. After that, the record loosens its grip and reveals its beauty on subsequent spins (or plays, for those of us in the digital realm). At first I found this mildly disconcerting, but after 20 spins or so I am firmly of the belief that this is a stronger record than the debut, and stronger than the last records by The Shins or Gnarls Barkley. Electronic on the surface, it also features nods towards 80’s new wave, post punk, 70’s folk rock, and spaghetti westerns (Danger Mouse’s work with Daniele Luppi has served him well).
holding on for love (highlights)
The album starts off with an epic number, by way of Perfect World. Reminding me of the electronic masterpieces that populated the great Air record, 10,000 Hz Legend, it shimmers with a warmth that is layered with sing-a-long phrases. Propulsive beat and the catchiest synths this side of Kraftwerk, it is perfect. If you’ve ever faced tough circumstances in life (and who hasn’t) you might love this line as much as I do “I’ve got nothing left, it’s kind of wonderful / Cause there’s nothing they can take away”. “After the Disco” is a nice follow-up to that opener, and it is anchored by bass and a…disco type sound. James Mercer delivers passionate vocals, something he does throughout the record. “Holding On For Life” was the 1st single, with the video featuring Kate Mara from the show everyone is watching this weekend, House of Cards. Slight nod to The Cure’s Japanese Whispers phase, medium tempo during the verses, vocals in and out of falsetto. That chorus, my god. It is perfect, haunting, timeless. No Matter What You’re Told is sequenced towards the end of the record and is another winner. Reminds me a bit of The Cars or The Rentals with the way it has upbeat synths and an explosive chorus with backup vocals. The Remains of Rock & Roll closes out the record with a track that is epic in scope and sound. Swooping strings, post-punk bass, and soulful vocals. What a perfect closer. This might be the perfect use of falsetto in a song, as far as I can tell. I liked this lyric “Is something wrong / You don’t look like you’re having fun / The road is long / Gotta let go of the things you’ve done”
You can pick up the record just about anywhere and I highly recommend that you do. Danger Mouse became famous due in part to his mix tape The Grey Album, which mixed Jay-Z’s The Black Album with The Beatles The White Album. Last week was a celebration of all things related to The Beatles, and it seems that it has come full circle for Danger Mouse. Broken Bells performed a stunning cover of And I Love Her, which is included below. Check it out.
Verdict: It’s Kind of Wonderful
For Fans of: The Shins, Air, Gnarls Barkley, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, The Beatles, Of Montreal
- Perfect World
- After The Disco
- Holding On For Life
- Leave It Alone
- The Changing Lights
- Lazy Wonderland
- No Matter What You’re Told
- The Angel and The Fool
- The Remains Of Rock & Roll