Broken Bells brings back the disco
BY: HARRY LEVIN
Broken Bells' "After the Disco," the second album between the Shins' James Mercer and super producer Danger Mouse, attempts to revive classic '80s dance club music while maintaining the signature Broken Bells indie-rock sound. There are a few bumps in the road along the way, but overall it is a very fun ride.
Like the first, this album represents each member's individual as well as collaborative talent. Mercer demonstrates his control over his voice with resonant lows and soaring highs.
The metronomic drums and the funky bass line of the title track “After the Disco,” create danceable rhythms, leaving aural space for Mercer’s joyful falsetto vocals to describe what it was like in those grimy clubs:
“How did I get in this winding maze of love?/And there’s something wrong it’s sending you/round and round till we go nowhere.”
On “Holding On For Life,” Mercer allows his voice to blend into the flowerbed of space pop Mouse has strung together. Then a distorted rock guitar blasts through and Mercer enters a deeper range, making his switch back to falsetto for the chorus more impressive and exciting.
Alluding to his early trip hop productions, Danger Mouse keeps “The Angel and The Fool,” especially bare and deep. Cymbal-less drums allow subtle booms and clicks to push forward while the descending pattern repeated by a cello and a Spaghetti Western acoustic create a very pensive, almost harrowing mood. Mercer holds notes as long as possible and inserts soulful vocal runs into the ends of phrases to emphasize the lyrics describing emotional confusion.
“She found herself in a world full of men / Watching them slowly destroy all her plans / Cause all the love she won't allow / Herself to even dream about”
A whistle solo that is just as vibrant as an orchestral flute closes the song in a ambiguously profound manner.
Neither Mercer nor Mouse have ever sacrificed their vision to appease today's music scene, but there are moments on “After the Disco” where songs that started out sounding unique, end up being monotonous, even boring.
“The Changing Lights,” begins with an active electro line that’s begging for another disco groove. Instead, the opening idea disappears in seconds, and a beat consisting solely of toms coupled with droning synths transforms the song into just another indie-pop track.
“No Matter What You’re Told,” follows the same formula. The first statement is a rock rhythm reminiscent of Mouse’s work with The Black Keys, but the entrance of the least authentic sounding horn section and a piercingly high vocal line in the next bar remove all the enthusiasm from the track.
Had Mercer and Mouse followed their creative instincts all the way through with “After the Disco,” there would be few albums in 2014 that could challenge it, despite the fact that it is early February.However, many of the songs are some of the grooviest and most innovative in recent years.
Maybe it’s time for disco to make a comeback.