"Broken Bells" by Broken Bells

Broken Bells
Broken Bells

Columbia Records
2010

Review

If you have even a passing interesting in either Danger Mouse or James Mercer, do yourself a favor and click over to NPR to stream this entire record for free. In short, these two collaborators managed to bring the best out of each other and have managed to create a great little Alternative Rock record that fans of Danger Mouse and/or The Shins will love. Click on through for the long version of that.

I have no idea how Danger Mouse goes about choosing what to work on next. I won't say that his selection of bandmates is completely random, but I will say that it does seem a bit eclectic (David Lynch?). He's gone from working with Jemini the Gifted One (What happened to him, by the way? I wonder if he's still waiting for DM to return his phone calls or something) to famously remixing Jay-Z's "Black Album" with a bit of the Beatles, to his chart making turn with Ce-Lo as "Gnarls Barkley" and with Damon Albarn's Gorillaz. More recently he's worked with Beck and The Black Keys (not to mention his work with late, great Mark Linkous (RIP) on Dark Night Of The Soul) and now here is his with James Mercer, frontman for indy faves The Shins. I think it's not really a secret that I'm a huge fan of Danger Mouse's production. In fact, I would go so far as to say that each project he's been a part of has been my favorite album to come from his collaborator. This time is no different.

Personally - and I know this is going to sound blasphemous to many - I have never really managed to get into "The Shins". I saw them live at a KCRW show and thought that they were ok if not a bit sleepy and so I guess I never really noticed how great a singer James Mercer is. On this album his voice is front and center and it is really what makes the album work as great as it does. Danger Mouse may be a bit subdued here, but he still manages to keep things funky. Normally I think of a Danger Mouse song to lead with "The Funk" and a whole bunch of amped up complex layers (think " Strange Times" from Attack and Release or "Go-Go Gadget Gospel" from St. Elsewhere). Here the motif is less of outright craziness for more of a restrained playfulness in the form of ever-shifting melodies. Through it all is James Mercer's voice really selling the hell out of each song.

In fact, the best moments on the album all play out in this way; with a playful restrained version of Danger Mouse setting the stage and James Mercer singing his ass off. The lead single "Giving Up The Ghost" is a good example of this.

There's a reason this is the lead single as it demonstrates the brilliance of DM's driving funk tempered with some indy rock accouterments. I feel like DM and James both really came together to collaborate. This doesn't feel like it was the product of just one of the guys and when the chemistry is evident things just work out perfectly for the listener. Moments such as "The High Road" (a melancholy soundscape with just enough of Danger Mouse's funk touches), "The Ghost Inside", and the two tracks that close the album "Mongrel Heart" and "The Mall and Misery" really manage to draw you in - and again, it's the chemistry that sells it.

There are a few moments where the songs lose that trademark DM playfulness and veer a bit too close to generic shoe-gazer song territory that unfortunately I'm just not really into. Compare the sort of bland"Citizen" to the far more interesting "October" to see what I am referring to. Again, these moments aren't terrible. I just found them to be less interesting than some of the other tracks on the album.

This is a very good Alternative Rock record that fans of Danger Mouse's more Rock side will love and that fans of "The Shins" will find a bit peppier than the average Shins record. I felt that these two brought the best out of each other and hopefully, this collaboration isn't a simple one-off. But see for yourself. Since you can stream the whole thing for free, there's no reason for you not to.

4.100 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. The High Road (03:52) 5
2. Vaporize (03:29) 4
3. Your Head Is on Fire (03:04) 3
4. The Ghost Inside (03:18) 5
5. Sailing to Nowhere (03:46) 2
6. Trap Doors (03:19) 3
7. Citizen (04:29) 4
8. October (03:39) 5
9. Mongrel Heart (04:23) 5
10. The Mall and Misery (04:06) 5