Broken Bells
Broken Bells



by clavichordwolf USER (4 Reviews)
March 13th, 2010 | 6 replies

Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Superficial art pop that fails to leave anything in the way of an impact, "Broken Bells" is forty minutes of sonic tedium.

Over the past several years, Danger Mouse has transcended the boundaries of hip-hop and electronica, and established himself as a true musical chameleon. Case in point: last year's Dark Night of the Soul. Curated by David Lynch and co-produced with the recently-deceased Mark Linkous, Dark Night was a collection of songs--mostly about sadness, paranoia and insanity--featuring a revolving cast of vocalists. Among its most memorable performances were a predictably rabid appearance from Frank Black (“Angel's Harp”), a beautiful duet between Linkous and the Cardigans' Nina Persson (“Daddy's Gone”), and a delightfully gruesome turn from folk-rock demigod Vic Chesnutt (“Grim Augury”). However, the album's most surprising moment came from the James Mercer collaboration “Insane Lullaby.” “Lullaby” contained no traces of the wistful indie-pop that has characterized most of his output with The Shins; rather, it was a twinkling chamber-pop song purged in machinery, sounding The Beatles' “Good Night” if it had been mangled in a turbine. It was beautifully cacophonous and exemplified the themes of Dark Night better than any other track on the album. It also gave me a little more respect for Mercer, leader of one of the most painfully anemic bands working today.

Still, I was far from excited when I heard that Mouse and Mercer would be collaborating on a full-length album. Mouse's best collaborators--specifically Damon Albarn, Cee-Lo Green and Beck Hansen--were musical chameleons themselves (see 13, Soul Machine and Odelay respectively), and whether you like The Shins or not, you have to admit that they're a niche band. They've been performing sugary mid-tempo pop music since their inception, and the only thing that's changed is the amount of money that goes into their recordings. I doubted that Mouse and Mercer would have the same rapport as the artists I mentioned, and after listening to first single “The High Road,” a plain indie-pop song with a faint pulse, I lost whatever hope I had that the album would be a stylistic departure in the way of “Lullaby.”

The good news is that Broken Bells isn't horrible. If you're a fan of either artist (Mercer particularly), then it'll probably be right up your alley: it's concise, hook-filled and glossed to quasi-perfection. The bad news is that it isn't particularly worth listening to either. While Mouse's arrangements are consistently stellar, there's nothing here that he hasn't done already. “Vaporize,” with its stuttering beat, funk guitars and organ drone, sounds like a leftover from the Modern Guilt sessions, while “The Ghost Inside” comes off as a blue-eyed Gnarls Barkley track. “Sailing to Nowhere” tries to work game show synthesizers, sea-green pianos and oceanic noise into a miniature psych-pop opus and falls completely short of its goals. Other tracks like “Your Head is on Fire,” “Trap Doors” and “Citizen” meld sleepy guitars to colorful synths and/or mid-tempo dance beats, and suffer from the same melodic blandness that afflicts most of the Shins' output.

Mercer is also on cruise control for most of the album. He experiments with a falsetto register on “The Ghost Inside,” but otherwise, it's the same feathery mewling and lyrical impenetrability (i.e. writing about nothing) that he's been practicing since Oh, Inverted World. He doesn't really add or take away to any of these songs; he's just sort floats around like a cloud of banality. The same could be said for this album as a whole, honestly. Superficial art pop that fails to leave anything in the way of an impact, Broken Bells is forty minutes of sonic tedium.

user ratings (542)
other reviews of this album
kingsoby1 EMERITUS (4.5)
Buy this. Buy the vinyl. Buy ten....

Violinist (3.5)
Mercer finds someone new to play with, and the result is well worth your time......

thepaintedalice (4.5)
Beautiful, invigorating, addictive. A must have....

ShadowAmI (3.5)
Broken Bells release an extremely solid first effort....

Comments:Add a Comment 
March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 3.0

good review, really good album. our views on it differ greatly but whatever, this was still very well written.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

great review, i really like the album too though.

March 13th 2010


Dude c'mon this album is fuckin great.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 2.5

I figured I'd be in a minority with this album. Oh well, different strokes. Appreciate the comments guys.

March 17th 2010


This is more or less how I feel about the album so far. I'm halfway in and I just don't feel like anything has happened.

March 24th 2010


Album Rating: 2.5

Completely agree.

This is probably one of the least interesting albums I've heard in quite some time.

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