Broken Bells Album Review

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Broken Bells, made up of producer-extraordinaire Danger Mouse and Shins songwriter/leading man James Mercer, return with a new album After the Disco, which improves on the sound of their 2010 self-titled collaboration. The album makes better use of Danger Mouse’s slick production and Mercer’s knack for catchy vocal lines, in a way that wasn’t quite settled on the first.

Starting with a synth-heavy number that serves as a great welcoming party for the listening experience, the chorus to “Perfect World” has more hook in it than a sunny being reeled in off the dock. Okay. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Wiigy, the song is over six minutes long! That’s not how pop music works!’ Shut up. I just used a fishing metaphor. Do you think I care that you can’t get down to that Alan Parsons Project-esque intro and that very danceable outro?

In all seriousness, I do think this album is a lot smoother listening experience than its predecessor, finding a mix of grit and polish that was becoming more evident on their Meyrin Fields EP.

The big hit off the album, “Holding On For Life,” exhibits the flare for an after-the-disco shine (the strut-worthy chorus) while holding onto the remains of rock and roll (that stank-face inducing bridge section). It’s clear that the kinks James Mercer and Danger Mouse had on the debut resulting from a feeling, which I will describe as the ‘we’re known musicians making an album together for the first time, so we’ll have to feel this out a little bit’ feeling, are less apparent with the increased experience in their working relationship.

One aspect of the album that I think helped it stand out for me was the quartet of backing vocalist that appears on most of the tracks, led by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Elizabeth Berg of the Like. Along with the Angel City String Orchestra, they really add to the retro-futuristic sound James and Danger exhibit. Look no further than the chorus of “The Changing Lights” (my personal favorite) and their contributions on the spacey “Lazy Wonderland” (a track that makes me wish the Mummers were still going strong) to hear what I’m talking about.

Lastly, I’ll say that I thought the album did a great job of carrying momentum over onto the B-side. The last three songs on the album are solid like concrete. “No Matter What You’re Told” will make your head bop like a night at the Roxbury and After the Disco’s final track, “The Remains of Rock and Roll,” is like My Morning Jacket’s “Black Metal” in its music-not-matching-what-the-lyrics-are-glorifying-but still-awesome-nonetheless quality.

I could go on, but I feel like listening to the album will do you better. At the very least, you should go stare at the album cover for a few minutes.

-Eric Wiig