by Andrew Garrison
If the sound of Broken Bells’ new album After the Disco sounds familiar, that’s probably because well, it is. For those who aren’t aware, Broken Bells is made up of The Shins’ frontman/lone survivor James Mercer and Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse; a producer who has had his hands in everything you have ever listened to since 2006. After the Disco is the collaboration’s second effort, following a self-titled debut in 2010. After the Disco plays great as a complete work, navigating between different sounds and vibes while still have the continuity of some great production and musicianship.
After the Disco leads off with a very funky-synthy “Perfect World” that has a strong and fast paced beat and some very cool cymbal work. With a little over a minute left, “Perfect World” fades into a very soft and spacious sound only to build itself back up again before the track wraps. The titular track has the pitch brought up a little bit and has a back beat to it that is almost, dare I say, disco. However, in terms of Saturday Night Fever-ness, the album’s first single, “Holding on for Life” takes the cake. It has some near Bee Gees type of vocal harmonization. That isn’t to say that this is a soft song, with some more rock guitars and lyrics that are focusing on loneliness, but the similarities are there regardless. “Leave it Alone” is much more slowed down and soulful than any of the preceding tracks. In “Leave it Alone” you can feel Danger Mouse’s presence and it is outstanding. It has a very cool nuanced soul-scorned-folk vibe to it with an awesome guitar riff. “Changing Lights” picks the tempo and energy back up with a whole mess of funk and dominate drum and bass work. Again we get some really special harmonization, but at this point we have strayed further from the Disco sound earlier.
A lot of times when I write these reviews I listen to the album once or twice through and take notes on a separate piece of paper (Petty standard writing practice, I know. Nothing groundbreaking.) Usually it is full sentences or at least complete thoughts. For “Control” I wrote “Sultury. Bravado. FUNK!” And I think that just about covers it. “Lazy Wonderland” is for lack of a better term, lazy. It kind of just strolls its way along in a steady yet hazy and spacious manner. “Lazy Wonderland” also employs some vocal and production techniques that give it a very psychedelic feel. “Medicine” is a very cool track, due in large part to its low-fi vocals and simplistic, deconstructed sound. “No Matter What You’re Told” again brings a new sound we haven’t heard yet, with almost pop sounding vocals and a high energy beat with some faint, near futuristic sounding production additions. The penultimate track, “Angel and the Fool” is the slowest on the album and softest with a ballad-esque quality to it. Gentle strumming and a string part carry this song along at a slow, constant rate. “The Remains of Rock and Roll” wraps things with some horns, mimicking a big band sound. The song talks of hitting the road and the song itself incorporates a tumbling effect. The music carries steadily, falls and picks back up again, taking your ears on a little road trip of their own.
I will let you all in on a little secret: I drink a pretty fair amount. As a result, I find myself hungover more often than most. The vibe that Broken Bells brings on After the Disco seems like the perfect hangover soundtrack. And I mean as the highest praise I can possibly give. The appropriately named album has an airiness to it to provide plenty of room to accommodate for a pounding headache. But with just enough energy to perhaps motivate you to get out of bed to satisfy basic human needs. Like water. Or another drink. I am not here to judge. What I do know is that After the Disco is an album that as a complete work has an awesome, just downright fun sound to it and is a great way to unwind.