Review Summary: The best way to describe this album is a straight-edge college student with a 3.75+ GPA and an impressive job resume but has never once done anything worth getting into jail for - making him only semi-interesting.
You have James Mercer, the lead singer of the indie-adored The Shins, and Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse, one of the most prominent producers of the now, coming together to form Broken Bells - the offspring of two of the most successful people in their own respective musical genres They came into formation in 2010 with their eponymous debut album - stylized by its groovy melodies, its psych-pop instrumentation, and catchy choruses. It was overall a light-hearted, eclectic, fun, and moderately thrilling project for the two musicians. It was even successful enough to be nominated for “Best Alternative Music Album" at the 53rd Grammy Awards only to be beaten by Brothers by The Black Keys (which, incidentally and humorously enough, is an album that Danger Mouse actually helped produce). So based off of the success that Mercer and Burton have garnered over one studio album, it’s safe to say that their collaboration became less of a musical outlet and more of a stand-alone band. They're much like The Postal Service in that aspect except Broken Bells did end up releasing a sophomore LP - After the Disco.
After the Disco is at its best a polished, precise, clean, and well-produced album. At its worst? A polished, precise, clean, and well-produced album. Yes. Its own advantage is its own downfall. It’s a double edged sword. Let’s take things into perspective: A major reason why Broken Bell’s self-titled debut was successful the way it was is do to its ability to capture the very essence of both the accessibility that comes with Pop and the stain of blandness that’s wiped away for the better when being ambitious. It was the entrancing pop-hooks and melodies coupled along with the band’s psychedelic-space oddities that made their debut album so memorable. Was it imperfect? Yes - but it was at least daring.
Broken Bells on After the Disco come back in 2014 with a more consistent, but sadly, safer sound. While I don’t think they are deserving of being labeled as having “The Sophomore Slump”, I do think this new sonic exploration of theirs, or rather, lack-there-of a sonic exploration isn't as fun or as energetic as their last efforts. But for what is available on After the Disco may just be enough to satisfy some listeners.
For the most part, the sprinklage of instrumentation is pleasant and enjoyable. The translucence between different sections of each song are easily notable and have the capabilities of keeping anyone engaged, throughout. The quirky drum beats of Lazy Wonderland, the whistling in The Angel and the Fool, the brass at the end of Control, the guitar solo and strings in The Remains of Rock & Roll, the trans-formative sounds in A Perfect World and After the Disco - all amazingly strong new features founded under the “Shins-like” folk-acoustic stylings/vocals of James Mercer and the smooth pellucid production of Danger Mouse. To say that this album features absolutely nothing new from what Broken Bells, The Shins, and Danger Mouse has done before is doing this band an injustice. There’s no doubt in my mind that Mercer and Burton did do their best to mix-and-match things up. But what is an injustice is that they took these fresh new ideas and pushed them forward with very little sense of direction. Hardly were there ever dynamic changes. Hardly were there any patient moments. Hardly were there ever any true exciting moments throughout the whole album. It pierced the bodies surface, but never did it once stab the living *** out of it and mutilate its organs with their once-harnessed power of lushness and magnitude.
The best way to describe this album is a straight-edge college student with a 3.75+ GPA and an impressive job resume but has never once done anything worth getting into jail for - making him only semi-interesting. He’ll get the job and do great at it, but he might not get invited to the office parties.