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Album Review | ‘Broken Bells’ album fails to chime just right

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 08:02

  Broken Bells — the group composed of The Shins singer, James Mercer, and producer extraordinaire Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse) — has released an album that feels a lot like a guest who has overstayed his welcome. At first you enjoy his company, perhaps catch up on what you might have missed since you last saw each other. But then, the longer he stays, you realize why you don’t really see each other much anymore. Like the hypothetical guest, Broken Bells’ latest effort sounds great at first, but as you keep listening, there is less and less to enjoy.

There are definite high points in “After The Disco,” but they are stacked toward the front end of the album. In fact, only the first three songs are really worth listening to. These beginning tracks are pounding numbers, injected with a bit of life and soul. They carry a certain dance floor swagger which makes you want to sway your head as you listen. But by the time the three songs run their course, the album fails to go in any new or interesting direction. The beat slows down for a while as the thumping disco-influenced sounds make way for moodier and more contemplative pieces. Mercer does a good enough job singing in these songs — he is a great singer when it comes to the slow and moody — however, the production that Danger Mouse seems to put into the piece leaves a lot to be desired. There is no real freshness to any of them.

The worst offender of the bunch is “The Angel and The Fool,” which combines Mercer’s typical somber voice with a female vocalist. A tired string section tries to add a sort of spacey form of classical vibes to the song, but really only succeeds in being boring. Much of the album endeavors to incorporate some form of outer space or sci-fi texture, but instead of coming off as futuristic, the band ends up sounding out of touch and unfocused.

Both musicians seem like fish out of water. Mercer used to have the ability to use his unique voice to carry understated, soft-spoken tracks in The Shins, and Danger Mouse has been able to work with a large variety of musicians to polish their sound into forward-thinking music. The spark between the two that made Broken Bells’ eponymous first album worth listening to has disappeared.

Expectations for “After the Disco” have been high since the release of its first two singles (which comprise two of the three good tracks). The band had intrigued fans last year when they put out a rather interesting, trippy short film — starring Kate Mara of “House of Cards” (2013-present) and Anton Yelchin who appears in the new “Star Trek” films — to accompany the album. Yet Broken Bells has failed to live up to listeners’ lofty expectations. The missteps of this album, nevertheless, can serve as a good blueprint for the collaboration between these two great pioneers of pop. It will be interesting to see whether the duo will collaborate again in the near future — hopefully to make an album which more deftly incorporates the good elements from their first effort, while leaving behind the bad from “After The Disco.”

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