If Ed Harcourt, Brendan Benson, Morcheeba and Nightmares On Wax all fell into the machine from the film The Fly, Broken Bells would be what comes out.
This is the pairing of the most unlikely bedfellows. James Mercer front man and lead strummer for The Shins has pitched in with Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton. Danger Mouse is the dancy super-producer who has worked with Beck and Gorillaz, been nominated for a Grammy Award for producer of the year, and is the full time ‘other half’ of Gnarls Barkley.
But how do they get on together? The outcome is not what you’d expect.
Techno specialist beats are brewed for just the right amount of time in boiling rocky strummy guitar, but the beats come from real drums which have been very pleasingly preferred to the easier option of letting the computer in. I was expecting there to be a stronger foot in the dance/electo camp from which Danger Mouse has had so much success, but the computer is largely left gathering dust as the album is driven by ‘real’ instruments, wavy vocals, haunting lyrics, and plenty of catchy melody lines.
Vocals, guitars, bass, drums, organs, piano and synthesizers. Played with class, style, and often a refreshing simplicity.
There are a few unexpected but welcome twists that are laced into the mix with mariachi trumpets, sweeping strings and Wurlitzer-style keys, just a few notable high points that pepper the 10 tracks. This is a short album, 37 minutes in length, you do want more, but what you get is hugely fulfilling.
The album surfs its way through intricate melodies with a sometime nod to the Beach Boys and even some chord progressions that sound so stripped down and delightfully simple that John Mellencamp could have penned them.
It’s hard to say exactly where the right place to experience this album is. It is maybe not a car-in-traffic listen as it is too delicate at times and Mercer’s occasionally fragile falsetto vocals command a more intent listen. Headphones bask in the mix and overall I’d call this album a surreal fusion of dreamy meets poppy catchy.
I should make one thing clear. I think this is a terrific album, and it is astonishingly difficult to translate the experience of listening to it into the written word. From the opening track The High Road, I knew I was going to have fun with this album. The different journeys the remaining nine tracks invite you on are all worth the ticket.