Album Review: Broken Bells – After the Disco

broken bells atd

Broken Bells : After the Disco
Rating: 8/10

With the release of their second album entitled After the Disco on February 4th 2014, it is clear that Broken Bells is staying true to their roots of what can only be classified as a retro disco movement aboard the death star. James Mercer’s voice sounds as if it has been coated in liquid gold and polished to brightness comparable to the sun. Meanwhile, Danger Mouse’s grooves set the listener into consistent motion like a 30’s Disney Cartoon starring the choreography of John Travolta and Uma Thurman.

On After the Disco, Broken Bells picked up and ran with what they did best from their previous album in 2010. They were able to trim the fat to produce songs that were generally more cohesive yet, still true to the collaboration of the two artists. The result of said collaboration produces a sound too big to be classified due to its ability to blend a myriad of genres into cohesion providing something new, unique, and original.

After the Disco has been receiving anything but high praise from the critics. The reasons behind the poor reviews have been due to a comparison of After the Disco to Daft Punk’s award winning release, Random Access Memories. My argument is that this isn’t a fair comparison. The only reason that these albums are being held up next to each other is because they both contain disco/70’s influences at the core of their structures. These influences are being used differently in each artist’s respective work. Random Access Memories was arguably a throwback album in which Daft Punk made a clear decision to produce a sound that was reminiscent of the music 40 years ago. Throw some robot voices on top of a 70’s track, and you have yourself Random Access Memories.

Broken Bells’ work on After the Disco can be classified as a fusion album. Ultimately, it is a modern pop influenced, indie rock album with 70’s influences. They didn’t produce a piece with only disco themes in mind. They wrote a topical album with Disco qualities. Here is the difference: Creating music with disco qualities is different from creating music that is meant to sound like a disco album…

Provided that Daft Punk created a better 70’s throwback album is not what is being discussed here, and narrowing the scope of After the Disco to this lens only trivializes the album’s true potential. This article is not meant to discredit Random Access Memories as being a bad album, mind you. They must be viewed as different works and deserve to be examined from their respective lenses.

danger moos and mercer

Apart from the apparent disco qualities of After the Disco, Broken Bells utilizes a very complex minimalism where song structure and melody supersede theatrics and over production. It is through this formula that brilliant song writing is allowed to exist and meaningful rich layers are added as a purpose to highlight, rather than over complicate. Rich layers of strings, children choirs, synth and brass is common place throughout the album, and these layers add a depth to this minimalist music that allows for complexity within genuine, meaningful roots.

On the most standout moments on the album, Broken Bells is able make driving and aggressive songs out of what is ultimately down tempo framework. This gives the band a lot of room to play in for an opportunity to fill the space with grooves that demand listener’s attention. It is here where Danger Mouse thrives and his precise and formulated minimalism takes these down tempo songs to much larger, powerful places.

James Mercer provides the ying to Danger Mouse’s yang to produce another significant quality that defines the band’s sound. Tipping a hat both ways to his roots in The Shins as well as a 70’s falsetto riddled influence, Mercer has redefined himself and created a fusion of influences vocally that has yet to be fully recognized or met in today’s mainstream. His melodies are filled with complexities that scream intelligence. Every opportunity and risk taken comes off as distinctly intentional and has sincere thought behind it. He is a master at weaving intricacies into these songs. Those intricacies mixed with Danger Mouse’s swagger reveals the most crucial quality to Broken Bells’ music.

Album highlights: Perfect World, After the Disco, Holding on for Life