Tag Archives: James Mercer

Happy 2014 – Some Albums to Look Forward To

2 Jan

2014

After finishing 2013 with a list of top sings from the past year, The Music Court is ringing in 2014 with a few album previews for exciting new albums to be released in the coming months. Will these albums feature songs that appear on the top 10 songs of 2014 list? I can’t think that far in advance! Before we swing back into new band profiles and other new, rich content, let’s check out three albums on the platter of melodies for the new year. We start with a duo of accomplished musicians who will look to pin their respective ability against the dreaded sophomore album slump.

Broken Bells

Broken Bells, the Indie rock side-project of Shins leadman James Mercer and multifarious producer/musician Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), is coming off an uber-successful eponymous release back in 2010. After the Disco, the much-awaited second release from the duo, has already received some serious buzz from music lovers (The Music Court wrote about the first single from the album – “Holding on For Life” – back in November). The album is a bit spacier and implements elements of disco (Mercer’s airy vocal helps for this). Will it be a second revelation for the band or spell an end to the project? Check out for yourself on February 4th

High Hopes

This is Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album. Yes, 18. The Boss will never stop working, and he clearly has high hopes for this unprecedented release. Unprecedented, you say? This is the heartland rocker from Jersey’s first studio album composed entirely of covers, unreleased material, or reimagined versions of past songs. For other musicians this may be considered the beginning of the end, but for Springsteen it is a celebration. Tom Morello joins Springsteen on eight out of the 12 tracks, and late saxophonist Clarence Clemons (the big man) and organist Danny Federici (Phantom Dan) appear on two tracks. If you haven’t already gotten a copy of the leaked album it comes out for real on January 14. 

Fanfarlo

Fanfarlo has had a dear spot in my musical heart since the release of its debut album in 2009. The London-based band that defies all genre defining (the band describes its sound as Space Opera meets Spaghetti Western, so do with that what you will) features a plethora of rich instrumentation and potent vocals. Not band for a quartet of multi-instrumentalists. The band’s last release was a concept EP that explored the past, present, and future of humanity. Let’s Go Extinct comes out on February 10. 

 

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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