Originally published to The New University on February 11, 2014
By Katrina Yentch
In the spring of 2010, musical masterminds James Mercer (of The Shins) and Brian Burton aka Dangermouse released a neat little…scratch that…huge neat project called Broken Bells, which was essentially indie pop rock on steroids. With this, one did not expect there to be a sophomore album from a side project. However, it’s Mercer and Burton. Only these two would be able to balance their musical focuses (in between 2010-now Mercer has also released The Shins’s “Port of Morrow,” and Dangermouse has kept his collaborations consistently going) with a follow up to the self-titled. With this comes “After the Disco” (February 4th on Columbia Records), a fun, unique twist on the sound they established with their first album. Even more refined and powerful, the album is insanely catchy with its mild yet memorable tones of disco synth. The theme is post-apocalyptic disco—and each track wonderfully emulates such.
“After the Disco” opens with “Perfect World,” a track that essentially yells, “Hello David Bowie!” with more electro pop disco infusions. Mercer croons, “I’ve got nothing left, it’s kind of wonderful. There’s nothing they can take away.” The lyrical value of this album is insanely high, and one should not expect any less from Mercer. The track keeps you grounded throughout with a guitar riff that takes you out of the sometimes mundane nature of disco funk. The second single from the album follows—“After the Disco” is more generally pleasant indie pop accompanied by the now-popularized lyric video (Vampire Weekend seems to have renovated this idea if you ask me). It’s easy to listen to, and makes for obvious popular play on KROQ and KCRW, as does “Holding on For Life,” the first single from the album. The music video for the single oozes cosmic symphonies; a playful “boy-falls-in-love-with-spacegirl” ensues. Mercer and Burton cameo the video, and bright fluorescent hues of neon pink and green bathe the video. The catchy bass line makes the track hard to dislike.
“Leave it Alone” is yet another track accompanied by a lyric video with stunning graphics. It’s a little slower paced with an acoustic guitar riff that seems rather reminiscent of The Shins and introduces choirs with unique vocalists. It’s a little more rock and roll and tries to connect with listeners in the lyrics, as are the tracks “Control” and “Medicine,” all of which bring the sound back to some good old rock music.
“After the Disco” begins to wind down in the last couple tracks—“The Angel and the Fool” is pleasantly accompanied by more choirs, and “The Remains of Rock & Roll” echo every thought going through my mind that the album was trying to bring back rock & roll with a twist. The track ends the entire album on a happy note, creating a very clearly “happy ending.”
Overall, “After the Disco” is very obviously well-crafted and enjoyable. It does a fantastic job of emulating a post-apocalyptic disco sound in each track, yet each track does such in a way that is distinct and memorable. Mercer and Burton refine a low-key synth sound that isn’t overbearing; it meshes well with the acoustics and instruments in the album, and the production quality fits this sound perfectly,
Broken Bells are essentially crafting a similar feel that Arcade Fire did with “Reflektor” (rock meets disco pop) but they take a completely different and unique approach, which overall creates a beautiful follow up from their self-titled. I’m already anxious and ready for a third album to come.
Recommend if: You want to hear a different interpretation of Arcade Fire’s disco rock anthem “Reflektor.”