The Beat Reviews: ‘Broken Bells’

By on April 12, 2010

By Billy S. Garland

It was once said that there is nothing new under the sun. In today’s music industry, this concept is a continuing problem. Whether it be the young teenage girl pretending her crush is Romeo, the grainy-voiced rock star lamenting the one that got away, or the rapper bragging about all his money and hos, it is hard today to turn on the radio without hearing the same old stuff. However, all hope is not lost.
Perhaps the most refreshing record release so far this year has come in the form of a very unlikely duo. Industry mainstay producer Brian Burton – a.k.a. Danger Mouse – recently teamed up with The Shins vocalist and songwriter James Mercer to put out a self-titled album under the band name Broken Bells.
Burton has spent his career defining his work based on associations with misfit musicians. Musical icons like indie musician Beck and the blues-infused Black Keys owe a large part of their success to Burton. Undoubtedly his greatest achievement thus far came when he turned dirty south rapper Cee-Lo Green into a soul singer with a falsetto in the group Gnarls Barkley. So it should have come as no surprise when he gleefully teamed up with the somewhat reclusive Mercer, a member of one of the most defining bands from the indie movement.
On the album, Mercer’s liltingly sweet vocals swing in and out of falsetto, mixing with the electronic instrumentals and carrying the listener to a place where, for a moment, all that exists is the melody and the movement of the music. With electronically-syncopated drum beats, methodic bass lines and frequent use of phase shifts, Burton’s influence on the group’s musical style is undeniable. Still, this is not to take away from the quality of Mercer’s lyrics.
Admittedly, the majority of the lyrics on the record would be rather depressing if heard without the supporting music.
“Cause they know, and so do I. The high road is hard to find,” sings Mercer in the chorus of the opening track. “A detour to your new life. Tell all of your friends goodbye.”
Even the track titles sound like something off the cover of an emo kid’s notebook. “Your Head Is on Fire,” “Sailing to Nowhere” and “The Mall and Misery” are just a few.
Even though the song titles seem to be, this record is not depressing in any way until you realize it is over. The 10 track CD is only a little over half an hour long, and it seems even shorter because of the quality. Broken Bells is a must-have CD for all music fans who are frustrated with the redundancy of their current playlist.

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