Feb. 9, 2014 -- intro: This week, it's a rather low key release week but a strong one, nonetheless with James Mercer and Danger Mouse re-pairing and returning as Broken Bells. Two nineties R&B heavyweight reunite as Babyface and Toni Braxton take us through the course of a doomed relationship. In addition we'll examine the latest album from indie-rock singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler and listen to a new EP from Macklemore associate Mary Lambert.
quicklist: 1title: Broken Bells' "After The Disco" ****1/2text: Broken Bells is the duo consisting of James Mercer from the Shins and producer-extraordinaire Danger Mouse. Their first album topped my year-end list in 2010. It's amazing to say this, but their new, second album, "After The Disco," makes their debut seem like a practice run. This is a richly nuanced, dense collection of well-crafted space-pop.
Mercer has really blossomed as performer, too. Remember how mumbly and whispery he was on the Shins' classic debut, "Oh, Inverted World?" Here, he sings loudly and really gives the tracks the energy they need. His emergence as a key pop-songsmith was established long ago and perhaps cemented with the beautiful "Pet Sounds"-esque Shins hit, "Phantom Limb."
Danger Mouse has never failed to impress. He's recorded ace records with Norah Jones, MF DOOM, Beck and The Black Keys. Later this year we'll hear his work with U2. Here, he surrounds these tracks with a whimsical sheen. This album reminds me of some of the best pop albums of the '80's. (Remember the ones that would score 7 or 8 big hits and stay on the charts for more than a year?) Danger Mouse shows here that Broken Bells are worthy of the same kind of epic critical love bestowed upon his other high-profile duo, Gnarls Barkley. This is the work of two men coming together to make beautiful sonic dynamite.
"After The Disco" shows not only that these two musicians have gotten extremely comfortable with each other, but that this once side project deserves a long string of future releases. This is a beautifully made record all the way through.
"Perfect World" It took me forever to get through the rest of the record, because this opening track grabbed me to such an extent that I needed to listen to it on repeat. At 6:24, it actually doesn't seem long enough! That is how good it is! It also possesses some of the most beautiful synth work heard on this side of 1985. Mercer's typically thought-provokingly cryptic lyrics dance over a dreamy backdrop that should please both classic new-wave fans and EDM-loving club kids. There's no doubt about it, this is a perfect song. (No pun intended!)
"Lazy Wonderland"This track is electro dream pop taken to its brink. Mercer sings a lulling melody over a digital metronome beat. The echo and reverb on his voice give the track a woozy, psychedelic punch. During the chorus, the song gets a strong dose of orchestration.
"Medicine" "Medicine" is another winner. Built around a keyboard line that brings up associations with Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation," this track also probably plays to same instinct in Danger Mouse that made him cover the Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone" with Gnarls Barkley. The song ends with a beautiful instrumental part that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Yann Tiersen's score to the movie "Amelie."
"Holding On For Life" This falsetto-laden groove sounds like Mercer and Danger Mouse spent the year listening to Jessie Ware's "Devotion" on repeat. That is, until the very Beatle-y bridge comes in and sends the track on a wonderful, momentary detour.
"Control" A watery guitar-line reminiscent of both the Cure and New Order sets "Control" into motion and Mercer gives the track a worthy, sneaky swagger. When the Motown-eque backbeat comes in and is augmented with a horn-section, the deal is sealed.