Broken Bells

Certain things just don't mix: oil and water, laxatives and sleeping pills, indie rock and electronica. The latter is apparent on the debut album from Broken Bells, which features James Mercer, front man for indie heavyweights the Shins, and musician-producer Danger Mouse.

The two excel at what they do -- Mercer at blending emotive lyrics, pristine vocals, and melodious guitar riffs, while Danger Mouse is a wiz at mashing hip-hop beats and R&B. Together, however, the two have made a gutless collection in which Mercer's voice and guitar provide the only moving parts. Most of the ten songs are filled with cheap keys, electronic beats, non-existent bass, and sound effects.

"The High Road" kicks the album off. Mercer's voice and full acoustic strums are the substance here. The electronic handclap drumbeat and keyboard effects add nothing. The end result is a paper-thin, pop 40 tune.

Despite the gimmickry, Broken Bells holds a few standout tracks -- “Vaporize,” “The Ghost Inside,” “October” -- but in the end, even they lack staying power.

"Was it all for show?" Mercer wonders on "The Ghost Inside." Yes, James, that seems to be the case.

  • Album title: Broken Bells (2010)
  • Artist: Broken Bells
  • Label: Columbia Records
  • Songs: (1) The High Road (2) Vaporize (3) Your Head Is on Fire (4) The
  • Ghost Inside (5) Sailing To Nowhere (6) Trap Doors (7) Citizen (8)
  • October (9)Mongrel Heart (10)The Mail and Misery

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I care to disagree! I believe rather that you may have come into the album with the wrong mindset, that the two would some how combine into similar forces, some sort of super-indie-electronica. Rather, they have created something new. October speaks out to this extraordinarily, founding itself upon Mercer's guitar and Burton's piano (that's right, Burton is credited with piano, not Mercer) while Mercer's voice speaks his lyrics softly, letting the "electronic" effects carry his words deeper. As for "The High Road", though it may have been overplayed in hype of the album, it is an example of your expectations, perhaps why they put it first in the album. "Your Head is On Fire" should have been the signal for you to see that this album is about almost gospel lyrics, singing of heartbreak and women, echoing warnings rather than praise of an Almighty. They explored, they ventured, and I believe that they succeeded. Oil and water may not combine, but ask any fan of Italian dressing and they'll tell you that both ingredients are vital.

Musicman, I didn't come into this with any mindset, nor did I have any expectations about Broken Bells. I liked the Shins years back, saw them play, but they haven't ever changed my life.

I put this album on and gave it an honest try. I even watched them play on some late night show. My opinion is that Broken Bells is watered down indie music with lame handclap snare effects and cheesy keyboard gimmickry. Sure Mercer's lyrics are strong, his voice the same, but the entire rhythm section was spineless and weak. If that is new, I don't want anything to do with it. Thanks for the comment but I agree to disagree on this one.


Rollo, you didn't like the new spoon album, you don't like this one, do you think you might not be into this type of music? i've always been of the mindset of "If I don't like it, I won't say anything bad about it" maybe you like heavy metal or some other genre.

Actually I do like this type of music, Cesar and have since I was a teenager listening to Superchunk, Archers of Loaf and Sebadoh, among others. And as far as the Spoon record, I just don't think the album compares to the band's previous albums, namely Kill The Moonlight and Gimme Fiction. I still listen to Transference, just certain songs and not the entire album.

Now, moving on to Broken Bells, I am not against meshing two different strains of genre. It's just that this album did nothing for me. Don't mask the snare with an electronic handclap, use a snare and clap your hands. Don't try and put a quirky spin by adding lame keyboard effects, do it without restraint. Personally, I would have rather listened to Mercer by himself than be distracted by silly flourishes.

And while I respect your mindset to not say anything bad about things that you don't like or understand, unfortunately I am incapable of doing so. Thanks, Cesar.


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