Album Review: Broken Bells – Broken Bells

By on Friday, 16th April 2010 at 2:00 pm

Danger Mouse (real name Brian Burton) and James Mercer (of the Shins) are now on everyone’s lips as American psychedelic duo Broken Bells. In March they released their self-titled debut album and nearly sold 50,000 copies on its release week. After repeated listenings of the album during my downtime last month as a juror, I really enjoyed the mostly skillful renderings of the ten soundscapes that make up this album. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I’m convinced of an existentialist thread running throughout – meaning this isn’t just any plain pop record. I think Burton and Mercer thought long and hard how this album was going to go together, and I think this shows in the way it flows almost effortlessly from one track to another.

It seems bizarre to be reviewing two ‘psychedelic’ albums back to back (see MGMT‘s latest), but the one massive benefit is that I can draw some comparisons and contrasts between the two album-length efforts that I wouldn’t normally be able to do. Mercer (who is an unsettling dead ringer for Kevin Spacey) adopts a falsetto for some tracks on this album but unlike Andrew Wyngarden’s stab at it in ‘Congratulations’, Mercer seems more at home with crooning at high pitch. Somehow, Burton and Mercer have also managed to keep all 10 tracks on this debut well under the 5-minute mark: whether or not this was to retain single release possibilities remains to be seen.

‘The High Road’ begins the album with some video game blips and bleeps – a seemingly recurring theme in popular music today. In a sweet, loving voice, the duo warns ‘it’s too late to change your mind / you let laws be your guide’ that, in hindsight, could be interpreted two different ways. As if to give a nod to the whole dreamlike nature of this album, the promo video for the song is quite non sequitur:


This is swiftly followed by the more trancelike ‘Vaporize’, with lyrics of “It’s not too late / to feel a little more alive / make an escape / before we start to vaporize”. Liberal dashes of “la la las” stop this one from feeling too heavy. ‘Sailing to Nowhere’ sounds appropriately like a sea shanty. Oddly, they’ve chosen to purposely muffle the vocals, which is a shame because otherwise I really enjoy Mercer’s voice throughout the album. The vocals are also muffled on ‘Trap Doors’, but the melody and programming on this track will make you forgive them.

It’s nice to note that the piano and organ both play prominent roles in this album, with winning results. (See ‘October’, with its piano-driven melody.) The only instruments on the album not played by Burton or Mercer are the string parts (arranged by Daniele Luppi), which sound amazing on the surreal-named ‘Your Head is on Fire’. If my head is really on fire, I hope Mercer is next to me, singing me into oblivion.

The masterpiece of the album is ‘The Ghost Inside’, sporting a melody that doesn’t sound immediately poppy. But I dare anyone to listen to this track and not have its melody stuck in your head in short order. This is the track that I believe will convert falsetto haters into lovers.


But don’t worry if you’re still not sold on falsettos: there is plenty to love on this album that isn’t sung in a pitch than is not normally accepted for male singers. Check out their parting shot with ‘The Mall & Misery’, which starts softly for the first minute before speeding up into a fantastic rock number. A great ending to a good album, and definitely one worth checking out.


Broken Bells’s self-titled debut album was released in March 2010 and is available now. The duo recently announced their first North American tour of significant length (beginning in mid-May in San Diego) and have confirmed their first UK appearance at London’s Meltdown Festival in June.

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2 Responses

[…] to town making music. Good reason the Broken Bells debut album (you can read my review from March here) was one of the most anticipated album of the year. The two played nearly everything on the album […]

8:29 pm
6th November 2010


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