After The Disco
is Broken Bells' attempt at making an album that, while still exhibiting a dash of the duo's musical ingenuity, is more centered around instant accessibility than dazzling artistry. James Mercer's pensive lyricism and Danger Mouse's ability to mold sonics and structures into catchy, abstract-pop continues to be a potent blend throughout After The Disco
, only this time, there's a sense of bristling energy and fun that wasn't really found in the emotive art-folk of their eponymous debut. Our first impressions of the album, "Holding On for Life" and "After The Disco," gave the illusion that Broken Bells had crossed into the '80s "futurism"-inspired, dance-pop of today's mainstream, and while there is some
truth to that, what Mercer and Danger Mouse are offering us here is a multifaceted album. From the themes in Mercer's lyrics, I get the sense that this album is about arriving at a crossroad in one's life-- and the feeling of one realizing they need to grow and mature as an individual. In other words, this is a coming-of-age kind of album, and so, much like in life, there's moments of pleasantness and melancholy to be found here. While tracks like "Medicine" and "No Matter What You're Told" continue along on the danceable and synth-laden grooves of the album's first two singles, others like the gloomy acoustic piece "The Angel and the Fool" and the soulful "Leave it Alone" show Broken Bells occasionally slowing things down in favour of a more pensive breather.
One of After The Disco
's biggest strengths is that it shows a greater balance of ideas from its two masterminds. Where Broken Bells
tended to lean far too closely to Mercer's folk-rock roots, and Meyrin Fields
' genre-morphing spree sounded like Danger Mouse experimenting with sonic alchemy, After The Disco
displays a sense of focus that feels like the two musicians finally coming together as a band-- although, unfortunately, the album is not quite as sonically diverse as one might hope. One of the many reasons that made both Broken Bells
and Meyrin Fields
such enthralling listens was the duo's sense of adventure. And while I do consider After The Disco
's catering of wistful dance-folk tunes a success, Broken Bells were always most exciting when they were challenging themselves artistically. I suppose that's why I personally enjoyed "Perfect World" so much. To me, "Perfect World" shows a rare balance of art and appeal that is lost in most of the other tracks. It transcends beyond the typical pop paradigm, and amalgamates '80s new wave and cosmic psychedelia with stunning eloquence. Nevertheless, After The Disco
's simpler dynamic -- despite my own personal disagreements with it -- is what in the end makes it Broken Bells' most infectious album to date. It might not be as adventurous as its predecessors, but it's still one of the 'smarter' pop albums out there. This is the kind of pop album that not only keeps your head nodding to the rhythm of the music, but has your mind pondering the lyrical message in every track as well. I would have loved to hear the duo continue along the creative paths set out by previous tracks like "Mongrel Heart", "Your Head on Fire" and "Heartless Empire," the type of compositions that indulge in surreal ideas, but I suppose After The Disco
's cohesive amalgamation of pop, folk, and ambience better increases the duo's possibility to convert the nonbelievers that their prior efforts weren't able to convince.