Under Review: Broken Bells, ‘After the Disco’

brokenbells

Broken Bells, ‘After the Disco’
(Columbia)
Available now
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)

James Mercer’s best quality as a songwriter is that he knows how to write a great pop song. With his indie rock band, The Shins, those songs are masked in shimmering guitar and folk rock sounds.

With Broken Bells, you get much of the same, but with incredibly lush productino courtesy of Mercer’s collaborator, producer Danger Mouse (real name Brian Burton).

Unfortunately, the band’s first album focused a little too much on the production and we ended up with an album that was enjoyable, but a little too spaced out. Broken Bells knew it wanted to do something, but it didn’t know what exactly.

This time around, Burton and Mercer again take on almost all of the instrumentation. And they do it in a much more cohesive manner, creating a solid base for Mercer’s desperate and lonely lyrics instead of overshadowing them with disparate space-rock arrangements.

“After the Disco” includes a host of horns (including an appearance by Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott) on songs such as “No Matter What You’re Told” and strings on half the album — the best being the slow-moving “Lazy Wonderland.”

Amid all the lushness “The Angel and the Fool” stands out for its sparsely picked guitar melody, light synth sounds and slowly ebbing strings.

It’s songs such as “Medicine” that really capture the feel of the album: A song swelling like a rising tide that really magnifies Mercer’s lyrics about being alone and getting hurt.

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