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Music Review: Broken Bells crack the code

Des Delgadillo
Copy Chief

“After the Disco,” the second collaborative effort from indie hallmarks Broken Bells, Shins frontman James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, sheds the skin of the duo’s self-titled debut and evolves into a gorgeously produced 11-track meeting of the minds.

Born out of mutual admiration in 2008, Broken Bells felt like the obligatory rebound for Mercer after a split from Shins band mates Jesse Sandoval and Marty Crandall that same year, resulting in a debut LP wrought with misery, songs about loss and pretty much nothing else.

But one Broken Bells EP and Shins album later, perhaps this thing between Mercer and Burton is more than just a rebound; maybe it is love after all.

“After the Disco” has a cohesiveness that the duo’s first LP sorely missed. Broken Bells’ debut effort felt, for all intents and purposes, like Burton and Mercer decided to tip toe around each other and not embrace what the other brought to the dance.

Going back to my relationship analogy, it felt like the honeymoon period, where Girl is too inarticulate to verbalize what she wants out of the relationship, and Boy is too dumbfounded with Girl to ask. Mercer’s vocals felt entirely too distant and unconnected with Burton’s music, his words floating undisturbed atop an overproduced beat.

With the release of “After the Disco,” to say Mercer and Burton are on the same page would be a gross understatement. Burton’s beats feel like they’re guiding the record, Mercer’s vocals by extension, finally fleshing out the middle ground of vocal precision and musical acuity over four years in the making.

“A Perfect World,” the six minute and change opening track on the LP, reintroduces the production values for which Burton, has come to be known, masterfully interweaving layers upon layers of melodies that took this writer several rotations to appreciate.

But if Burton shines on the opening cut, Mercer takes center stage on the title track, tying an irresistible falsetto hook to a patented Danger Mouse groove, setting the theme for the entire LP: interplay between the musicians.

The title track is also indicative of the duo’s departure from their previous ambient, atmospheric sound, in deference to a sound geared more for the dance floor. Truly, “After the Disco” was a record built for radio.

The LP proves to be so much more than an assortment of groove and synth, although those are probably the most fun.

For instance, on songs like “Leave it Alone,” Mercer channels The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach in his vocal performance, while Burton provides the dreamy texture from virtually every My Morning Jacket song you’ve ever heard.

And if you ever wondered what The Shins would sound like covering Bowie, “Lazy Wonderland” answers that question. Complete with random whooshes and overindulgent choruses, the track plays like the quintessential Bowie homage.

The duo’s second full-length offering gives listeners insight into what their first LP could have been with a little more communication.

But as the popular turn of phrase goes: It takes two to make a thing go right.

Des Delgadillo can be reached at desmond.delgadillo@laverne.edu.

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