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.