Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Grey and complex pop from Broken Bells

Last week, I wrote up an album by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse. In the course of researching that album, I discovered that Danger Mouse had released a project in March of 2010 that I missed when it came out. It was supposedly a rock band called Broken Bells. I’m a big fan of Danger Mouse, so I ordered it right away. It came the other day and before I got halfway through the first track, I recognized the lead singer. It turns out their self-titled album, “Broken Bells.” is a collaboration between Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and James Mercer of The Shins. They bring other musicians with them on the road, but I have read it is just the two of them in the studio.

Broken Bells? Well, it's better than Mouse Shins, or even Broken Shins...

I am really excited about this musical marriage. Or musical fling, at any rate. Mercer has a flair for picking out pleasing pop melodies, but his songs are almost always sunny and his sound is often simple. Burton, on the other hand, writes good melodies, but his darkness occasionally ranges into the melodramatic. The partnership between these two seems to have taken the best elements of both. Mercer’s bright melodies are darkened a little bit under Burton’s influence and Burton’s outstanding production skills add an entirely new layer of complexity and interest to Mercer’s songs. This album really catches me, and though I’ve only been through it twice, I think it will hold up to repeated listens. Check these out.

  • The High Road – This single is relaxed and shuffling but engaging.  They made a video. I had never seen James Mercer before. I pictured someone more fresh-faced and innocent looking, though I don’t know why. Instead, he’s got kind of a young Kevin Spacey thing going on.
  • Vaporize – We get the pleasing acoustic tune we expect from Mercer, but the big keyboards and cool pop production we expect from Burton.
  • Your Head Is on Fire – Elements of this song sound like something we might get from Animal Collective, with layered Beach Boys-esque harmony vocals in the intro and outtro. The middle of this song features a lovely strings and keyboards bridge.
  • Sailing to Nowhere – Oozy retro verses are broken up by oddly disparate synthesizer and piano passages. The song hardly settles down, and keeps changing throughout.
  • Trap Doors – This sounds more like it was written by Burton than Mercer to me. It’s a relaxed groove and has steady melody that doesn’t meander the way Mercer’s melodies often do. This is a really appealing head-bobber of a track.
  • Citizen – The strings and lilting melody would make this song right at home on Beck’s “Sea Change.” This is another slow plodding song, but the chord progression has an uplifting quality.
  • The Mall & Misery – They close the disc with another strong song. The intro is gorgeous. Once the song gets going, the guitar and keyboard lines are complimentary and the vocal melody is a brilliant.

I loved this partnership and apparently Mercer and Burton did too, since I understand they have already announced their intention to write more music together. Woo hoo!



August 25, 2010 - Posted by | Popular, Rock

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