Tag Archives: Broken Bells

Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #10: After the Disco by Broken Bells

15 Dec


There was a time, I figure, in the wee morning hours of a Saturday in the 1970s when the last remaining bell-bottomed disco dancers stumbled onto the street, tired and bedraggled with sweat and the last remnants of a Donna Summers song, when the disco was physically empty but still bulging with the swollen heat of the night. In that small gap before the clean-up crew cleansed the disco in advance of another night of musical debauchery is where I picture Broken Bells’ second LP release, After the Disco, set and recorded. I have this image of band members James Mercer and Brian Burton climbing onto the weary stage and playing a few tracks to a crowd of memories; the music, a delightful mix of spacey modern disco tracks mixed with an alternative rock groove 20-30 years before its time. This thought exhilarates me, so much so that After the Disco is #10 on the list of top albums of 2014.

After the success of its eponymous debut in 2010 and follow-up EP in 2011, Broken Bells, a super-group made up of Shins’ frontman Mercer and revered producer Burton, was urged to release a follow-up, and After the Disco is that, a wildly entertaining, drawn-out, alt/space/rock agglutination of musical influences and decades. The album was recorded with a 4-piece choir and the 17-piece Angel City String Orchestra, which was conducted by Daniele Luppi, Danger Mouse’s partner on the 2011 album Rome. The album met with much praise, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Top Rock Album and Alternative Album chart and #3 on the Top 200 Albums list. It is an 11-track ode to music in the late 70s and early 80s, a depiction of a difficult musical transition that featured fizzling disco and incipient punk.

“Holding on for Life” is the top track on the album. It features the airy voice of Mercer in front of a tamed disco-like beat that shines like a slowed disco ball, almost like a disco track slowed down to a steady but unhurried pace. It is a song that just needs to be listened to, so I will let it do the talking.

You can check out the rest of the album on Broken Bells’ website. Make sure to follow the band on Facebook and Twitter

Holding on For Life After the Disco

28 Nov

Broken Bells

When James Mercer (of the Shins) and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) first collaborated in 2010, the duo created a fresh, Indie album under the moniker Broken Bells. The album not only saw huge commercial success, but also it depicted the seamless collaboration between acoustic and electronic sounds. “The High Road,” the first single off of the band’s debut, is a quintessential example of the “melodic” and “experimental” sounds the band produces. Here is a live version of “The High Road” for your eager ears.

Flash forward to 2013 and the dangerous shins are at again with the release of a new single, “Holding On for Life,” which will appear on their new album After the Disco in early January, 2014. In what I presume will be an early album of the year candidate, After the Disco, if “Holding on For Life” is any indication, will feature a more natural amalgamation of the complementary styles of Mercer and Burton. Listeners can look forward to an even more comprehensive mixture of sound. Let’s listen to the first single.

If the cover of the album and trippy opening suggests anything, it is that we have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and entered into some psychedelic, Van Gogh-like space dreamscape. And, in typical Broken Bells fashion, the music suits the scenery. Mercer’s skilled vocal is carried by a strummed acoustic that sits over spacey electronics and segmented percussion. At 50 seconds, though, Broken Bells transforms into the disco. In what we English nerds can best term allegorical, Broken Bells turns into the Bee Gees, and it is bloody awesome. It is short, but the call-back is skillful. It’s an excellent single from a band that just continues to prove its creativity in what often is a dry musical landscape

The Best Songs of 2010: #5: “The High Road” by Broken Bells

25 Dec

And the funny numbers continue

Merry Christmas to all those celebrating today. Enjoy the festivities as I succumb to the classic Jewish Christmas stereotype and go see Tron and eat Japanese/Korean food. Also, to both perpetuate and feel deeper into the stereotype, at viewing the $18 per ticket charge for the Tron 3D IMAX Experience, I nearly went into shock. This until I realized that the purpose of movie theaters is to gradually raise prices on tickets. Seriously, no other business can get away with doing that. $18. They say it is a 3D IMAX experience. I am paying an extra $8 for a slightly larger screen and uncomfortable glasses?

Anyway, my family bought five tickets and we are seeing the movie tomorrow. Yeah, I admit it looks pretty awesome.

This has little to do with anything. As my gift to all of you on this festive holiday I will shut up and just get to #5 on our countdown.

Song: “The High Road”

Band: Broken Bells

Left - James Mercer (The Shins) Right - Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse)

At the beginning of The Music Court’s “Best Songs of 2010” countdown I previewed the list by featuring a special #11 song (“Tighten Up” by The Black Keys). Assisting the Black Keys in the production of this song was Brian Burton (Danger Mouse). I said in the post that he would play a prominent role in our countdown. Yesterday, the Gorillaz were highlighted for their recent release “Stylo,” and while Danger Mouse had nothing to do with the production of the new album Plastic Beach on which the song appeared, he did produce their second album Demon Days back in 2005. It’s a small but interesting side note.

So we jump to today’s post and the #5 song on our countdown is “The High Road” written and produced by Broken Bells, a collaboration between Danger Mouse and James Mercer of The Shins. As we can clearly see, Danger Mouse has cut himself a nice slice of the modern good music pie. This 33-year-old White Plains, NY, native has risen to music success through his production of albums by such artists as Gnarls Barkley and Jeff Beck. He even will be releasing a new album with U2 in early 2011. Danger Mouse is a rising force in genres like Alternative Rock, Hip Hop, Electronica and Indie.

His work with James Mercer has produced a very successful eponymous first release that will spawn a follow up (because of their initial success most likely). The title track “The High Road” is a piece representative of the type of work that these two musicians do together.

Above is the song being performed on the Late Show. The synthesizer opening is freakishly reminiscent of old-school video game sounds. It is also awesome. What a way to introduce a song. It gives it an immediate electronic feel that entraps the listener with its oddness. The drummer is Danger Mouse and he levels out the song with a solid beat until Mercer and the rest of the band spin it into rock. It flows perfectly and the simple chord structure blends with Mercer’s voice. As Mercer’s voice travels up an octave the listener is introduced to some beautiful choral harmonies.

At this point you want to hear the electronica and rock mix and they sure do in a chorus that is both melodic and electronic. It is like the best of both worlds. Besides the fact that this song is just simply catchy and well done, this is why it finds its way onto our list. It successfully blends two different genres of music effortlessly. It is so impressive. It may have been hard to find, but Broken Bells found and mastered the high road.

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