Broken Bells: A ‘Disco’-Tinged Musical Partnership

Broken Bells' album, After the Disco, is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)
Broken Bells’ album, After the Disco, is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)

When people think about the music of Broken Bells — the project of The Shins’ James Mercer and producer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) — it’s easy to imagine Mercer writing the songs and Burton coming in to “make them weird.” But really, Broken Bells is a collaboration in the truest sense.

The duo writes everything together — and not just the music, but the words, and sometimes single lyric lines — to the point where even they have said they have a hard time discerning where one’s contributions to a song end and the other’s begins.

If Broken Bells’ fantastic self-titled debut was all about establishing this musical partnership and a core sound — a fusion of psychedelic indie rock, lush soundscapes, and futurist electronic soul — then the band’s follow-up, After The Disco, pushes that relationship further, finding new musical ground and influences in the process.

Judging by the first single, “Holding On For Life,” Mercer and Burton have evolved with a lovely and ominous pop sheen — a mix of synth pop, ’80s film soundtracks, and, as the album’s title references, perhaps a little touch of Bee Gees-inspired falsetto. Along the way, Mercer and Burton lyrically delve equally into grand ideas, and darker, more personal territory.