Let’s reiterate: KC and the Sunshine Band and the rest were a largely dark time for music. So, after Daft Punk won Grammys for paying homage to the era, the title alone of Broken Bells’ sophomore album inspired apprehension.
Yet, like “Get Lucky,” the first three tracks of “After the Disco” soften the heart of a bell bottom hater.
The combination of former Shins’ frontman James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse make a careful distinction between resurrecting the past and hearing its echo. As has been said by many
before, Mercer is a surrogate Bee Gee on the album’s single “Holding on for Life,” but that somehow doesn’t cheapen one of the best songs of this young year.
Thanks in part to an excellent build-up campaign, the album’s mood was firmly set in 1950s’ science fiction and begins with a “Perfect World” . A silver rocket carrying Flash Gordon wearing John Travolta’s pants heads toward the moon conspicuously suspended by a string, but the listener is well aware it’s a nostalgic memory cast back from a future time. Mercer’s eerie vocals and acoustic guitar spurred by Danger Mouse’s off-kilter synth and drum kit keep Broken Bells on the sad side of pop and the right side of danceable, especially on the title track .
However, the dyad retreads much of the same ground on the remaining eight songs as they did on their first record. The early songs’ danceable rhythms fade into slower, acoustically driven indie pop. The imagery of Mercer’s songs are very much like those on a Shins’ LP, except maybe a touch simpler, and thematically, he plays it straight — love, loss and loneliness. It’s pop, yes, but like with the Shins, something more holds your attention, and the simplicity might actually be better suited to accent the soundscape forged by Danger Mouse.
There are moments when the background choir sounds like the spitting image of producer Brian Burton’s work with the Black Keys — compare “Lonely Boy” and “No Matter What You’re Told” — but can we take a step back and admire a pillar of modern music?
From Gnarls Barkley to Norah Jones, Danger Mouse’s collaborations are unparalleled. His sensibilities fertilize and show in stem and leaves of any album he touches, even as he tries to leave the flower and glory for the collaborating artist.
On “After the Disco,” his durable and basic R&B sensibilities and ease with modern synth incorporate effortlessly behind Mercer. They recall the latest albums of artists like Portugal, the Man or Beck — but then again, those too are Danger Mouse collaborations.
While nowhere near as gripping initially as tracks one through three, the down-tempo, folksier efforts are still more upbeat than old Broken Bells as quiet, plucky disco beats haunt songs like “The Changing Lights” .
“The Angel and The Fool” is a slow-burning stunner with orchestral instrumentation subtly arranged by Danger Mouse, breathing life into all those fans who still can’t believe the Shins are never getting back together.
Some of the lazier efforts return the silver rocket to the stratosphere, but the trajectory of “After the Disco” is only tangentially related to any earthly surface.
Brown may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2278. Follow him on Twitter @DylanBrown26.