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Broken Bells Import
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The word "psychedelic" is one of those phrases – like "genius", "edgy" and "Pete Doherty arrested" – which has become somewhat devalued by over-use. Yet it certainly suits this collaboration between The Shins frontman James Mercer and studio maverick Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton – a short (barely 37 minutes), sweet’n’sour and head-spinningly trippy affair.
Since first seizing our attention with The Grey Album in 2004 – an inspired, irreverent shotgun marriage of Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatles’ White Album – Danger Mouse has been the hardest working whiz kid in show business, collaborating with everyone from Gorillaz to Beck between holding down a day job as one half of Gnarls Barkley. You might imagine he was spreading himself a bit thin, but hooking up with Mercer seems to have unlocked new stores of creativity.
Ears are pricked from the first bars of opener The High Road. Toytown melodica forms some delightfully incongruous icing on a sumptuous melodic layer cake, built on a bed of lilting acoustic guitar chords and then covered in warm creamy harmonies, finished with a lullaby sing-along.
Mercer’s gently off-beam pop songs are lit up colourfully by the duo’s choice of arrangements. Vaporize lulls you into a sweet reverie with mariachi horns and hypnotic backing vocals, while the uneasy urgency of Mongrel Heart eases off into a giddy carousel of Wurlitzer-style organ. And just as you’re getting comfortable, the lyrical barbs appear: “Don’t laugh, we’ve been through this / If you want to f*** with me, you should know…”
Your Head Is on Fire sounds like it has resurrected lost snippets from The Beach Boys’ Smile sessions, before waves of wah-wah-ing keyboards and whispering mantras softly lap at your ears. It’s intoxicating stuff. And the songs also hold up in different stylistic clothing: The Ghost Inside’s falsetto vocals, simple four-chord chorus and shimmying pop groove has echoes of unlikely bedfellows such as The Dandy Warhols.
The vibe is a dreamy one throughout, but prickly undercurrents keep reappearing, as on Citizen when a disembodied voice sings: “This is a day without a trace of reason… the innocent are bound to the damned.” Rarely have such brooding sentiments sounded so alluring. In summary, then: we’ll have what they’re having. --Johnny Sharp
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Top Customer Reviews
I was pleasantly surprised to find a gently engaging collection of melodic songs. The album is deceptively complex. At first listen, it sounds nice enough, but repeat listenings reveal subtleties in the both the music and vocals.
I might have dismissed this as accessible, unchallenging indie, but there is more to this album than meets the eye (ear?).
Not one to love, but I like it plenty.
If I had to classify it I'd place it somewhere between synth-pop and what most people would consider to be 'indie'. Production values are top notch and there are certainly some catchy tracks in there, particularly track 8. Personally I don't think it's a knock-out first album but it's still worth looking into if you think you like one or more of the genres it moves between.
4 stars, because while I might not be bowled over it is very well produced and I can see how others might like it.
On first listening to this album I am struck how accessible it is. They use an eclectic mix of musical influences. I can hear The Beatles (Vaporize, The High Road), Bowie (Citizen), 60's folk rock (Your Head is on Fire) and 70's rock (Sailing to Nowhere). There are little snatches of Gorillaz (The Ghost Inside) and Fleet Foxes (Vaporize) as well.
As might be expected, the album is really well-produced and I love the singer's voice which at times reminds me of the Fleet Foxes lead singer. The instrumentation is really interesting at times.
The outstanding tracks for me are: The Mall and Misery, The High Road and October.
I enjoyed this album but it didn't really grab me as I like to be grabbed by music. I think that the fact that there were so many different obvious styles (even within one song) irritated me a little. I don't want them to sound the same but I want to know where they are coming from. Maybe the next one will improve. I don't discount them yet.
If you like the work of the Shins, then this is definitely going to work for you as in truth Broken Bells are not a million miles away from the work of the Shins. There's plenty of shiny pop, well sun, brilliantly produced, but with an indie edge to keep it out of the mainstream consciousness.
I guess what it lacks is much in the way of variety and depth, but in truth what is here is well worth a spin. I'd say that perhaps, if you do want something that Dangermouse has done of late that really works and has the frailty and depth that the indie middle aged want, then check out the new Sparklehorse album, it's fantastic.
In conclusion, this album does get better with repeated plays and the fact that it's been on my ipod for months is testament to its staying power, but in truth, I've found it works better on random play when the odd track sits in amongst some other tracks of my liking.
But at £3.99, it really does mean you have to buy this record, it's way too good value not to!
Any praise of Broken Bells is bound to lead to a comparison with The National and Arcade Fire, both of whom would seem to be many people's choice for album of the year (with High Violet and The Suburbs, respectively) - and deservedly so, both these albums are indeed very, very good - but as I say, to each their own: personally, I find High Violet a little tiresome and predictable; I much prefer The Suburbs, but even then I don't find it particularly inspiring on any level.
If you're a fan of The Shins, as has already been suggested here, you'll no doubt like this album...but believe me, it's so much more than just another Shins record. It's beautifully crafted - the writing, vocals, instrumentation, and production is excellent - but more than that, it brings a smile to my face every time I press 'play' on my stereo and for that reason alone it deserves my title of album of the year.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Best album and band in years.... definite must buy for anyone with great taste like me :PPublished 11 months ago by iskri
Music that can be listened to closely or left to create an ambience in the background. Yet to find someone who doesn't love it.Published on 6 Jun. 2014 by Damien J. Plant
I can understand the criticism leveled at this album.
Throughout there is a persistent feeling of playing it safe. Read more
Great CD, delivered on time. I've had no problems with it but maybe I would have liked to find a digipack version of the same item at the same pricePublished on 14 July 2013 by Silvia Guarino
I love this album, but it definitely demands at least four or five listens before you can properly appreciate it. Read morePublished on 23 Mar. 2013 by BoatDrinks
This a Broken Bells album, band composed of Brian Burton ( Danger Mouse) and James Mercer, the lead vocalist and guitarist for the indie rock band The Shins. Read morePublished on 20 Jun. 2012 by Gumer Gonzalez
Quite dull, grey indie pop music, despite the presence of the (vastly overrated) Danger Mouse. The impression of diminishing returns from James Mercer is unavoidable: the first... Read morePublished on 24 May 2012 by Ted Maul
Just as the title says, amazing, this album took me on a journey. I would happily sit and listen to James Mercer's voice all day.Published on 18 Feb. 2012 by Tara H-H