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January 29th, 2014 MARK STOCK | Album Reviews
 

Album Review: Broken Bells

After the Disco (Columbia)

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[VINTAGE POP] By the fourth song on Broken Bells’ sophomore album, After the Disco, you get the sense that, at some point during the recording process, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton told his Portland-based bandmate, James Mercer, to sing from his heart. The Shins leader cues up his indie-darling falsetto well before then—see the grandiose 6½-minute opener “Perfect World” and the ghostly single “Holding On for Life”—but it’s during the relatively sparse “Leave It Alone” that Mercer becomes believably soulful. Pleading from the depths like a gospel leader, shadowed by little more than an eerie choir, steady guitar and organ, it is in that moment when Mercer’s voices mingles most memorably with Burton’s vintage musical approach.

Danger Mouse is a serial collaborator, but Broken Bells might make the most sense. Mercer has always had pop awareness and faith in his own voice, pliable traits in the custody of a producer always looking to bring music back to its fundamentals. While the group’s debut worked, as the Billboard charts testify, this record is much more thoughtful and engaging.

The attention to depth and detail is especially evident in tracks like “Control” and “Medicine,” each offering Cure-like guitar effects and a richness of sound. Sure, some songs seem phoned-in (“The Angel and the Fool”), while others, like the title track, are overcooked. Danger Mouse, of course, is most at home in the studio, and this is very much a studio album. And while that doesn’t work with all artists—see the last Portugal the Man record—it does here. After The Disco is savvy, nostalgic and agreeable.


HEAR IT: After the Disco is out Tuesday, Feb. 4.

 
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