Broken Bells' debut album is the fruits of the unlikely pairing of renowned producer (and one half of Gnarls Barkley), Danger Mouse, and James Mercer of twee indie-pop troupe The Shins. A strange match if ever there was one, the two met at Denmark’s Roskilde Festival and apparently hit it off straight away. Two years after meeting sees the product of their union emerge now in one of the most anticipated collaborations this year.
Lead single and album opener, ‘The High Road’, kicks off with some mid-tempo acoustic guitar and what sounds like R2D2 beeping and whirring over the top – perhaps a secret third member? This coupled with some lush layered vocals from Mercer, including an infectiously catchy chorus, come together to create a master class in how to create the perfect melancholic pop song. ‘Vaporize’ signals the start of Danger Mouse’s love affair with vintage organ sounds, cropping up again in the string-drenched loveliness of ‘Sailing to Nowhere’, alongside some cabaret-esque piano to boot.
The record continues in top-notch fashion with the superbly funky ‘The Ghost Inside’, showcasing DM’s stunning production skills and the pair’s knack for quality song-writing. ‘Trap Doors’ is awash in fuzzy synths and the muffled and distorted voice of Mercer urging the listener to ‘close your eyes.’ The strains of acoustic guitar and some jangly piano chords signal the start of ‘October’, another great example of deceptively simple pop music and definitely one of the best tracks on offer. 'Mongrel Heart' begins sounding somewhat like a modern-day Joy Division track with some throbbing electronics bubbling underneath, but later morphing into what could be mistaken for an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Yet the diversity of sounds on display doesn't harm the album, only offering the listener more and more layers to peel back each time they hear it. What Mercer and DM have created here is a truly collaborative effort, one that successfully merges both their strengths, giving birth to something they can proudly add to their respective catalogues. Let’s just hope this doesn’t prove to be merely a one-off project.