Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Rating: ★★★★½

If you’ve been living in a cave for the past 10 years or so, here’s a music tip: There’s an indie rock band from New Mexico called the Shins and there’s a music producer from New York named Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton). They are both good at their respective positions and have enjoyed very lucrative careers. Well the romantic tale begins in 2004 in Denmark when Shins front-man James Mercer met with Burton and they discovered a mutual respect and fandom.  After years of playful collaboration in a secret, bunker-type studio, the result is virtually seamless.

The resources of Mercer and Mouse blend together in a way that is well thought out and intriguing as first, but it’s not life changing music. (For me, Chutes too Narrow changed my life) It is, at the least, very enjoyable. The record is no doubt a candidate for best album released so far; however just ask me about it at year’s end.  If you listen to the radio, chances are, you’ve heard the first single, ‘The High Road’.  The group also just began their tour with a stop at the Late Show with David Letterman (AKA How can anybody stand him?) performing the single live for the first time to great success. The group isn’t going to blow you away with their live performances, but no one should find that surprising.

The track ‘Your Head is on Fire’, pulls a page from Animal Collective with very Panda Bear-esque vocals and samples mixed in. This simple but effective layering technique falls away displaying some of the best of Mercer’s lyrics on the album and I find myself going back to this track in particular for repeated listens. ‘The Ghost inside’ sounds like the next Gnarls Barkley single/ Gorillaz until Mercer’s lyrics come back in about half way through. (How ironic that the Gorillaz new album was also released the same day?)

‘October’ and ‘Citizen’ are about as vintage Shins as we find on the new record, circa 2007. On both tracks we find intriguing lyrics of which Mercer is well known, though the latter, it is the only track that feels over-produced.  It’s really the only track that feels significantly different from the rest, though the final third contains wonderful musical dénouement.

‘Mongrel Heart’ with a good hearty bass line that drives the track and ‘The Mall and the Misery’ finish off the record strongly, but fall to make any real lasting impression for me. It is a smart record that holds a good tempo throughout, with each track holding an infectious beat which is becoming something of a Danger Mouse calling card. So at your next party,  if you were wondering  how to make the Broken Bells ‘cocktail’: Take one part Shins, one part Gnarls Barkley, and one part Gorrilaz, mix with ice and strain (for a smooth consistency), garnish with a little Panda Bear and serve in a high-ball glass (Nothing too classy). Repeat as needed.  Your buzz may not last as long as you’d like.

Austin gets 2 chances to catch the group at SXSW:

Wednesday March 17th @ Stubbs – NPR’s Official Showcase

Friday March 19th @ Lustre Pearl – Dickie’s/Filter Party


Download: Broken Bells – The High Road [MP3]

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