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Broken Bells: Broken Bells

The Shins have put out three fantastic albums that combine James Mercer’s jangled songwriting with a chilly psychedelic atmosphere. Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, has put together a string of successful collaborations—most notably as half of Gnarls Barkley—by providing others’ songwriting with suitable atmospheres. With Broken Bells, the duo has created a sound that ends up three parts atmosphere and only one part songwriting. Although both artists use the outfit to try new things—Burton substituting live instrumentation for samples, Mercer using a My Morning Jacket-esque falsetto—the album delivers a captivating overall feeling that’s short on memorable tracks. Mercer’s quirkily catchy hooks and loops are plentiful, but they fade before being given time to take hold. That adds to the record’s drifting, transient vibe, but also makes it harder to connect with. Whether it’s the anthemic outro of “The High Road” or the echoing, shimmering moments of “Vaporize,” the duo chooses not to build up their best melodies, instead letting them softly dissipate. One clear exception is the album’s best track, “Citizen,” which breathes life into its expansive orchestration and delicate harmonies. No doubt this will be a popular record, and Mercer and Burton’s musical moods are hypnotizing regardless of what else is going on. But it’s a mild disappointment that Broken Bells couldn’t take better advantage of Mercer’s songwriting skills.


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