Broken Bells Review
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When I first heard the self-titled debut from the indie duo Broken Bells, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Sure, the opening cut and hit single, “The High Road,” has that unyielding chorus that just grabs you—along with that contemporary but still nostalgic Moody Blues feel. But I wondered whether that song would be representative of the entire CD, or if the synthesized music would grow old after a while.

Of course, the guys in Broken Bells are no novices. Actually this on-going project is a collaboration between James Mercer of The Shins and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton of Gnarls Barkley. The two play all of the instruments on the album except for some brass sprinkled in, as well as a full string section arranged by Daniele Luppi. Broken Bells features Mercer on vocals, guitars, and bass, while Burton plays piano, organ, drums, synthesizer, and bass.

As I listened more, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the album. Yes, the catchy chorus of the fourth cut, “The Ghost Inside,” stuck in my head, and I appreciated the innovative lyrics, which take on a common theme and give it an original style. This track, along with “The High Road,” proved to be one my favorites. Then again, I also enjoyed the melodic vocals complemented by beautiful piano and strings, which permeate the next cut, “Sailing to Nowhere.”

Though much of the music is tranquil, the lyrics say otherwise—as in “Trap Doors” and “Citizen.” The original and stirring lyrics infuse each piece of the entire album—with not one cliché to bring it down. The songs are short, but, in this case, it all works.

Though I often find that collaborative efforts tend to result in a hodgepodge, with little or no cohesiveness, that’s not the case with Broken Bells. Yes, you’ll hear a lot of The Shins throughout the album, but it has more depth and subtlety.

Still, I didn’t warm up to Broken Bells initially, since I’m not a big fan of electronica. However, I eventually realized that it has just the right balance of acoustics, strings, and synthpop.

I’m glad I gave it a chance.

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