Despite all their apparent disparities, James Mercer and Brian Burton, aka Broken Bells, represent one of the most compatible duos in contemporary music.
In the past decade, Danger Mouse’s (that’s Burton) ‘The Grey Album’ and his CeeLo Green collaboration, Gnarls Barkley, helped anticipate the increasing receptiveness of R&B and hip-hop crossovers.
Mercer’s band The Shins, meanwhile, featured prominently in the 2004 film Garden State, breaking ground for future indie triumphs in the mainstream.
So perhaps it was fate that the pair would come together, that their paths would cross. Each has exhibited a clear talent for taking the new into the norm, and so it goes with Broken Bells: a project that combines elements of each artist’s past endeavours with tested commercial savvy.
The sound of Broken Bells, here collected on the duo’s second studio album (an eponymous set was released in 2010), is neither explicitly that of Mercer or Burton. Yet fans of either can expect to be instantly comforted. ‘After The Disco’ rarely sounds like an indie rock record, but you can still hear elements of The Shins here, Mercer’s croon instantly recognisable. Danger Mouse’s atmospheric digital soundscapes and resonant bass lines are equally distinct.
‘Holding On For Life’’s (video below) funky, mid-tempo groove recalls the album’s predominantly post-disco themes, with Mercer’s falsetto veering into Bee Gees territory, while opener ‘Perfect World’ coalesces all the trademark qualities of both artists.
The album’s central appeal is its pop sensibility and the catchiness of its choruses, but it often runs the risk of sounding formulaic – despite being the result of creative restlessness, ‘After The Disco’ never really takes us anywhere new.
By playing it safe, however, Mercer and Burton have also made it pretty difficult for fans to feel disappointed by it.
Words: Hayley Scott
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