In 2010, the production expertise of Danger Mouse and the songwriting of The Shins’ James Mercer merged to make an incredibly creative indie pop album under the moniker Broken Bells. The two first crossed paths on the Dark Night Of The Soul compilation and decided to combine their creative juices once more and redirect their careers for a brief moment. The good news is that the duo have decided to extend their stay by touring in 2014 and releasing their second full-length album, After the Disco.
“Boy meets girl” is a concept we’ve seen in television, film and music for centuries. But this time, Danger Mouse and Mercer are at the helm of the script, offering their own extraterrestrial take with their sophomore effort. An eponymous short film was released prior to the After the Disco, telling the story of a native spaceman and a fallen angel/space explorer girl. Not only do you get to see Mercer and Danger Mouse as bouncers for a really wild space dance party, but the visuals are also almost too perfect an embodiment of the outer space folk tale they’re crafting.
Now, some people, like Spoon’s Britt Daniel, believe it isn’t fair to judge a “supergroup” based on the individual members’ past projects (or even to use the term “supergroup”). In that sense, it’s only fair to forget about an artist’s past successes and listen to their new work with independent judgement. However, sometimes it’s just impossible to separate them from their recognizable voice or musical inclinations. “Changing Lights,” when stripped down, and “Lazy Wonderland” are identical to Shins tracks and the R&B tones and excellent production throughout the album are reminiscent of Gnarls Barkley, as well as other Danger Mouse projects. It's not the worst thing to be tied to your past work either – fans of indie forefathers The Shins will easily be able to make the transition over to the mix of electronically-tinged beats and acoustic guitar on Mercer's new project; in anticipation of the new Gnarls Barkley album, fans of Danger Mouse can expect more of the same crisp tones and bumping rhythms.
But on its own, After the Disco serves as a nice continuation of the electronic folk vibe that the two were going for on their debut. At times, it almost seems like they’re also trying to paint their own version of disco as inspired by the Bee Gees, perhaps more human than the recent effort by Daft Punk and less try-hard than Reflektor. The tones are great and the melodies are of the Shins' classic, soaring quality – even though the album isn't on the same grand scale as a Random Access Memories, it's equally as strong in terms of production.
The album floats between atmospheric disco numbers and mellow pop ballads, while everything remains perfectly in theme with their space-folk mindset. The opening track, "Perfect World," is a driving synth tour de force that, despite its length at just over six minutes, really tries to stake its claim as the grandest Broken Bells track to be released so far. It also provides a blueprint for the whole album, beginning with the powerful electronic opening before transitioning into a slowed-down synth and acoustic guitar jam. But while everything is thematically cohesive, most of the songs don't bring anything new to the table.
Sure, Mercer is a songwriting wizard and a good amount of the folky tracks are great – especially “Leave It Alone” – but this variation really disrupts the flow of the album at times. It’s a little upsetting when they decide to abandon the groove so quickly – the only songs after the third track on the album (and the first single) that even approach pop and dance are “Control” and “Medicine,” featuring a more laid-back, Wye Oak-like guitar line.
As they say on the title track, “After the disco, all of the shine just faded away.”