The debut record of the Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) / James Mercer duo, dubbed Broken Bells, is a fascinating piece of music. I’m not especially familiar with Burton’s work, other than the occasional Gnarles Barkley single, but I do own the past two Shins records, and so I approached it from that vantage.
There’s definitely evidence of the Shins characteristic lethargy, (‘Trap Doors’, ‘Your Head Is On Fire’) which is perhaps the bit I care for the least. Not to say that I don’t appreciate a good slow song, it’s just that when it drifts into Mercer’s typical flavor of ethereal musical wandering, it’s difficult for me to stay engaged. This is in stark contrast to tracks with heavier beats (‘Vaporize’, ‘The Ghost Inside‘) which are where the record really shines. Additionally, the choice of ‘The High Road’ was a good one for the single.
As far as structure is concerned, the first five tracks are very well balanced. As for the latter half, the ‘Trap Doors’/’Citizen’ combo lags just a bit too long, but if you stick it out, the final three songs are one of the best-structured closing sets I’ve heard in a while. ‘Mongrel Heart’ is almost elegant in how simply it accomplishes its goal of being an urgent, yet disillusioned penultimate track, but more perfect than that is the segue into ‘The Mall & Misery‘.
I’m not sure what it is about this song, but it might be best the track on the album. The guitar is more present than on the preceding tracks, and the vocal harmonies swell and fade at all the right times, but there’s more of an overall feel to it that just does a great job closing out the record.
One of the better records I’ve heard this year, and it’s quite unique to boot, Broken Bells is worth the time.