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Cork, Ireland
An Irish based alternative music blog. Music news, gigs, live reviews, album reviews... You'll find them here. If you want anything featured or removed, please shout. I hope you'll discover something new to love on this little experiment of mine. Currently editing the Music Section of the UCC Express and contributing to Motley magazine on campus, as well as writing for PopCultureMonster and 4FortyFour. Always looking for new projects so please get in touch if interested. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Album Reviews: Broken Bells


This is an album that has garnered significant attention since its announcement (and seemingly inevitable leak) last year. A collaboration between James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse (working under his real name, Brian Burton, for the first time ever) was always going to catch the gaze of the masses, especially given the strength of the lead single The High Road.

The record finally hit stores in Ireland last Friday (March 5th), and has received a number of plays across the weekend on my iPod. However, repeated listens have just led me to ask the question - is James Mercer capable of creating music that doesn't sound like the Shins? This is not entirely a bad thing. I have always enjoyed the work put out by the Shins, but it is fair to say that when you combine this template with the varied and unique production of one such as Danger Mouse (see: Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz' Demon Days and, of course, the Grey Album) you expect something creative and original, rather than the safezone that Mercer has occupied since 2001's Oh, Inverted World.

This self titled release ambles between synth-pop and familiar acoustic guitar sounds, with Mercer's vocal wrapped around the melody. From time to time, we encounter hints toward an experimental side, however it is all too clear that Burton's influence is far too subdued on the majority of tracks. There are subtle drum rhythms and hip-hop beats that have epitomised much of Burton's work, though these are lost beneath the habitual Shins feeling that Mercer brings to this.

There are a number of very good pop songs on this: see October, Your Head is on Fire, The Ghost Inside and Vaporize, however none come close to the high standard of the High Road - a problem that was also attributed to Mercer's last work (The lead single from Wincing the Night Away, Australia far outstripped the rest of the album).

On first listen, Broken Bells could be mistaken for the 4th release from the Shins rather than a daring new collaboration. However, multiple listens to reveal a hidden depth. Burton's input is evident, though heavily suppressed on the majority of songs, and it does manage to steer the record in a wayward direction - most notably on Mongrel Heart. This track has a vibe that hovers between the Cure and Joy Division and evolves into something completely different, it's early drum beat and synthesiser undertones evolve into a glorious barrage of trumpets that would not sound out of place on a release by Beirut.

Ultimately this album delivers precisely what many had expected when we were told of a James Mercer/Danger Mouse collaboration. There are ten solid songs on offer, though the album does not push the boundaries as I had hoped. The Sunday Times remarked that while the album was enjoyable, it feels like a series of demos and I am inclined to echo this sentiment. I like Broken Bells, more so with every listen, and I am hopeful that should be treated to a second release in the future that Brian Burton may feel his influence extend a little further over the recording process. This double act have shown much potential on this album, though there is room for improvement and experimentation.

Broken Bells; Broken Bells: 8.0/10: Much to enjoy, however it feels as though they played it a little safe for my liking.

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