The ubiquitous Danger Mouse has moved on from producer extraordinaire to auteur musician / songwriter by carving himself a cozy niche in a series of baffling yet brilliant collaborations (Cee-Lo, MF Doom, Sparklehorse to name a few). His latest pairing is just as unexpected and equally as glorious. James Mercer took time from being the new Crowded House long enough to join forces with Danger Mouse to create Broken Bells. After announcing their plans in September of 2009, their first official email blast on December 14th 2009 listed a cryptic string of numbers, binary for “The High Road is Hard to Find.” This linked to the Broken Bells site for downloads of their first song, “The High Road is Hard to Find.” Simultaneously, ads ran on various music blogs displaying the URL, www.ebbelkslorn.com or an anagram for Broken Bells. This link led to another site, similarly themed with three instrumental demos from the album. Clever indeed. The official release date for the album is March 2010. It leaked in December and so here I am.
One hurdle this duo faces is overcoming James Mercer’s unmistakable voice and making Broken Bells sound like something other than a continuation of The Shins. It definitely sounds like Mercer, but it definitely doesn’t sound like The Shins. BB comes together to create unique tracks of lush indie electro pop. Some of the yearning and veiled sadness of The Shins lingers among Danger’s production and instrumentation, but it comes across a bit darker and edgier. It’s like The Dandy Warhols meet Beck’s Sea Change minus the overwhelming melancholy. Songs like “Vaporize” and “Citizen” feel like a more musical Flaming Lips while “The Ghost Inside” mixes James’ extra high falsetto and DM’s four-on-the-floor beat with a driving bass line, waves of synth, and some piano to create delicious dance pop. The layered guitar and organ of “Trap Door” and symphonic intro to the catchy and masterful “The Mall and the Misery” round out a smart collaboration. The word is that Broken Bells is not another one-off Danger Mouse endeavor, but something that both artists are dedicated to, and why not with a first effort this solid?
Article originally appeared in REAX Online, January 18th, 2010