Broken Bells: Broken Bells

RIYL: Danger Mouse, The Shins, Beck

The latest collaborative project involving the seemingly indefatigable Danger Mouse (billed here under the name his mama gave him, Brian Burton), Broken Bells presents the music press with its first opportunity for hype overload in 2010. One half of Gnarls Barkley teaming up with Shins guitarist and singer James Mercer? Are you kidding? This album doesn’t have a prayer of being reviewed objectively – which is probably why Burton and Mercer kept Broken Bells under wraps until late last year, when they digitally released the album’s first single, “The High Road,” to thunderous online applause.

The full-length is finally here, and here’s the bad news: None of it’s as deliciously addictive as “The High Road.” On paper, Broken Bells looks like the type of album that’s so cracked it either has to be terrific or abysmal, but in reality, it’s just sort of a pleasant listen – which is ultimately disappointing, because if nothing else, you expect to be provoked by any project that places its creative principals in unfamiliar surroundings.


Broken Bells, though, keeps the listener at arm’s length; like a lot of Burton’s work, there’s a coolness about it that starts to feel pretty chilly after a while. The production is undeniably interesting – this is definitely a headphones record – but all the swirling, blooping synths, distortion effects, and layers of ghostly sound can’t obscure the album’s lack of an emotional center. This probably sounds harsher than Bells deserves – it isn’t a bad album at all – but with this much talent in the studio, who wants to award partial credit?

Listening to Bells’ third track, “Your Head Is on Fire,” you’re struck by the beautiful emptiness of it all – spectral vocals floating between stacks of synths and subtle guitars, with Beach Boys harmonies unspooling around sonar sound effects. Problem is, that’s the record in a three-minute nutshell: Sweet pop melodies and a musically adventurous spirit, drowned mercilessly in a sea of frictionless sound. Broken Bells is a pretty enough place to visit, but don’t plan on staying long – or if you do, bring your warmest winter coat. (Sony 2010)

Broken Bells MySpace page


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