Monthly Archives: March 2010
Broken Bells – Broken Bells
As much as he would like to hide it, The Shins is essentially a solo project for James Mercer backed by musicians so it appears to be a collaborative band. They play his songs under his direction. His firing of drummer Jesse Sandoval and keyboardist Marty Crandall only furthered this notion as well as the notion that Mercer was becoming bored with The Shins, at least for the time being. So, it doesn’t come as much surprise that Mercer formed Broken Bells with Danger Mouse (billed here by his real name Brian Burton) who specializes in productions with darker musical shades that don’t often characterize Mercer’s day job.
Burton’s previous excursions with rock musicians (Beck, The Black Keys, The Good, The Bad & The Queen) often explore murky atmospheres that darken the palette of an artist’s sound, and one may expect Broken Bells to follow suit. However, Burton’s production is closer in spirit to his work with Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz, favoring big beats, soulful keyboards, and a heavier desire to experiment. This of course, is somewhat grounded by Mercer’s acoustic guitar and typically melodic vocals, which keeps the music rooted firmly in rock and not electronica.
This combination looks good on paper, and often enough, it works. “The High Road”‘s ascending chorus and “The Mall And Misery”‘s hip-hop infused pop are among the greatest successes here. Elsewhere, “You Head Is On Fire” takes the album in a different direction, tripping on spacey psychedelia to a greater extent than either of the pair has done before. There is no doubt the record sounds good, and it never is anything less than delightful while it’s playing. But much of the album is much too transient with only a few songs distinguishing themselves from Broken Bells‘ mellow melancholy. Because of this, it ends up being somewhat of a let down because Mercer and Burton, it seems, had the potential to create something really great and not just good. That’s splitting hairs though because that’s exactly what this is: a good album, and fans of either musician will not hesitate to eat it up.
MGMT – Congratulations
During the sessions for Oracular Spectacular, MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser tossed around Congratulations as the title of their second album as a joke: a sarcastic reference to the fame they didn’t think they would garner after their début. Hell, even their first single “Time To Pretend” laughed at the idea of the rock and roll lifestyle as just a ridiculous fantasy of theirs. A funny thing happened to these Connecticut boys though. Through the use of their singles in movies, television, and video games, as well as a fairly high rotation of their visually stunning music videos, MGMT found themselves with everything from spots opening for Beck, Radiohead, and Paul McCartney to a lawsuit with French president Nicolas Sarkozy. If Congratulations as a title no longer seems ironic, it still isn’t really sincere. The album deals with their fame and success, and it doesn’t exactly sound like it is all islands, cocaine, and elegant cars.
The title track’s biting commentary acts as the flip side of “Time To Pretend,” offering the pitfalls of fortune: “But I’ve got someone to make reports/that tell me how my money’s spent/to book my stays and draw my blinds/so I can’t see what’s really there.” In fact, the album seems like a reaction against the success they didn’t expect to have. The band stated that there will be no officially released singles and none of the songs even approach the immediacy of “Electric Feel” or “Kids.” Instead, MGMT has elaborated on the darker, weirder second half of Oracular Spectacular. This isn’t to say, however, that Congratulations perversely avoids melody and hooks. Instead, songs like “It’s Working” and “Flash Delirium” slowly open themselves up after repeated listens, the latter being a cathartic anthem that is among the best songs the band has ever penned. Ultimately, Congratulations is MGMT’s bid to be taken seriously as musicians and not just a fleeting indie phenomenon, something more than abundant nowadays. Sure, some of the songs here like the 12 minute epic “Siberian Breaks” will be a deal-breaker for listeners expecting something a bit more user-friendly, and “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” is a toss-away instrumental not nearly as interesting as it thinks it is. However, those willing to invest their time into Congratulations will be thoroughly rewarded.