Did anyone ever wonder, “What if instead of Cee-Lo, Gnarls Barkley was Danger Mouse and one of the whitest people I can think of?” Well the question is clearly addressed by the new group Broken Bells. After 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, the public has been left waiting for another release from The Shins, but no one guessed that front man James Mercer’s next endeavor would be a collaborative effort with Danger Mouse. The group has been in headlines for months with the first single, “The High Road,” being released in late 2009.
The album opens with said single, which isn’t an uncomfortable departure for fans of The Shins. It might be deemed what would happen if The Shins were produced by Danger Mouse. Mercer’s signature vocal/melodic and lyrical styles are still present and driving throughout the song. The big difference is in the production of the song; and this is a trend that continues throughout the album. Danger Mouse’s control and auteur style is impossible to look past.
To call the album “experimental” might be an overstatement, but there is definitely some experimentation present throughout the tracks, and all ten songs explore something different. Of course some of the tracks still sound like a good old fashion indie-pop song by Mercer’s primary band, such as “October.” But the variation is mostly seen in the instrumentation of the album. Through more electronic arrangements and use of synthesizers than has ever been present on a record by The Shins, Danger Mouse finds a great way to work with Mercer’s vocals and songwriting that is fresh and entertaining. This album is more than just another album of guitar-driven music. There are charming streams, electronic beats, and plenty of keyboards presenting themselves constantly throughout each of the songs.
The best part about it is that this all feels completely natural, nothing really feels like it came completely out of left field. The songs are still pop pleasing to listen to pop songs. The truth is not that Broken Bells’ self-titled debut is a revolutionary collaborative achievement in popular music. It is, however, an album that warrants many listens; it is, in the end, an entertaining and charming collection of songs. Danger Mouse and James Mercer have crafted an album of creative music, and at the end of the day that is what everyone in their field is trying to do.
Key Tracks: “The High Road”, “The Ghost Inside You”, “The Mall and The Misery”
Recommended if you like: The Shins, Local Natives, and Yeasayer.
WPGU Music Staff Rating: W-P-G
W = Poor
W-P = OK
W-P-G = Good
W-P-G-U = Great!