Matt Wilson Formulates Your Opinions About Music: Broken Bells, “Broken Bells”

Since the release of The Grey Album in 2004, Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton, has been one of the most prolific and intriguing musicians out there. He’s come a long way from mashing up Jay-Z and The Beatles, developing his own sound and going from lowly DJ to one of the most coveted producers around.

Of course, his sizable output over the last five years or so – a collaboration with MF DOOM, a Beck album, a Gorillaz record, two Gnarls Barkley discs, a Sparklehorse album, a separate collaboration with David Lynch and Sparklehorse (which may actually see a release, would you believe it), a Black Keys record, and I think a lot of what the Wiggles have done, among other things – it’s easy for his fans, like me, to pick up on some of his tricks. For instance, he likes to smash together upbeat, ’60s style songcraft with melancholic lyrics. He loves the sound of choirs in the chorus. And driving drumbeats and keyboards are his lifeblood.

Broken Bells, Burton’s new collaboration with James Mercer, the singer from The Shins and the voice that changed Zach Braff’s life, continues to fit that bill. And just like pretty much everything else Burton has done up to this point, it’s eminently catchy and listenable. It’s also pretty short; 10 tracks at a little less than 40 minutes.

It never gets more listenable than it does in its first three tracks, and it kicks off with the best, “The High Road,” a bouncy song about how you can’t take back your decisions (that sort of cognitive dissonance is a theme throughout). The second track, “Vaporize,” is a mishmash of “Oh Inverted World”-era Shins with a Gnarls Barkley-style groove. That’s followed by “Your Head Is on Fire,” a song that sounds kind of like the Byrds if they were really depressed.

The album’s only real misstep is “The Ghost Inside,” an R&B dance jam that could have used Cee-Lo rather than the singer from some weepy indie band.

The next few tracks go into a more trancy state, and some of them are more soundscapes than songs, with lots of contemplative slow spots and minimal vocals. They work, though, and they fit the mood set up by what’s come before. The last three tracks pick the energy back up and even go into an unexpected, Duran Duran sort of territory.

This isn’t the best record Danger Mouse has been a part of, and the songs probably won’t catch on like some of Mercer’s best Shins work, but this is a solid album from a collaboration that, if Burton’s other projects are any indication, will keep bearing fruit.

You think: It’s pretty good.

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