You get two kinds of people in this world – those that hear music and those that listen to music.
About 80% of the world hears music. It’s something that plays in the background of their lives between dancing from one club to another, falling in love with one person after the other and popping out one kid after the other.
Those people, they don’t care about the stories behind the music they listen to. They will hear a band like Broken Bells and they’ll love it and a week later they’ll completely forget they ever heard it and move on to the next band.
Which, I guess, is a testament to how fucking incredible this band is.
Remember The Shins? Two of their tracks featured on the Garden State soundtrack back in 2004 after which they enjoyed a brief stint in the limelight before people got bored and promptly forgot they ever existed.
Well, Broken Bells is made up of The Shins’ frontman and guitarist James Mercer and one Brian Burton, or Danger Mouse as he is more widely known.
Danger whothefuck? I hear you ask. Danger Mouse, the guy who produced Gnarls Barkley’s albums St. Elsewhere (2006) and The Odd Couple (2008) as well as the phenomenal Gorillaz album Demon Days (2005) and the highly underrated Beck album Modern Guilt (2008).
Tie all those albums up together, throw in Mercer’s best vocals I’ve ever heard on an album, add a whole heap of great hooks, free flowing melodies and laid-back beats and you’ll start to get an idea of what Broken Bells sounds like.
What we’re talking about here is an album you can put on the next time your buddies and their respective girlfriends come over for a few drinks, and it will play from beginning to end without anyone getting up to change it.
The marriage of Mercer’s folksy guitar riffs and Burton’s synth soundscapes is so damn perfect you’d swear they’d done at least three or more albums together to reach the musical pinnacle that is Broken Bells.
There is not one sound on this album that is unnecessary. Musically, it’s as tight as they come, Burton knows exactly what to do and when to do it and the result is an album that is multilayered without being cluttered and claustrophobic, is chilled out without making you nod off halfway through and is poppy without being mindless and puerile.
What also impressed me is how far Mercer has pushed his vocals on this album. He experiments with vocal registers that I thought were far beyond his reach and nails them almost effortlessly and his lyrics on songs like ‘The Mall And Misery’ (‘Oh she lies half burning / From the battling crows… There’s a new world / Somewhere a good girl / Lives and breathes’) are as carefully written as the subtle melodies Burton weaves around them.
Sure, ‘The Ghost Inside’ has undertones of the Gnarls Barkley hit ‘Crazy’ and ‘Your Head Is On Fire’ could pass as an MGMT track on valium, and yes, musically you aren’t going to hear anything on this album that hasn’t already been done before, but the point is, Broken Bells do it fucking well.
Somewhere between trip hop, psychedelia, folk rock and eccentric pop you’ll find this album and if you’re a fan of any of those genres, it will be one of the best albums you’ll hear this year.
You don’t have to be a music aficionado to appreciate this album, which is why I would recommend it, very highly, to just about anyone.
Final Verdict: 8/10