Broken Bells – After The Disco

Courtesy of pitchfork.com

There are certain bad words in the music world. Cliché adjectives that describe guitar tone. Words like “garage.” And then there are the genre words. The obvious ones are “dubstep,” ‘trap,” and of course “disco.” If even the mention of that last one makes you sick and compels you to reconsider if your sideburns are too long, your bottoms too bell, or your music taste too similar to your parents’, stop reading now. This is a disco review.

Broken Bells’ 2010 eponymous LP carved out a curious, hard-to-define little notch in the belt of indie music. Some of it was wheezy, light headed psychedelia, some a strange art of morose dance step. Whatever it was, it was pretty good for its novelty, weirdness, and its constituents: Broken Bells is James Mercer, best known as being the lead vocalist from The Shins, and producer Brian Burton, better known by his alias Danger Mouse. Their quirky mixture originally contained some definitive elements from both parties, but with the release of their new record After The Disco it seems they have simmered into a state of homogeneity. After The Disco is, as you might guess, a disco record. This is not to say John Travolta had any influence on it, but it is most certainly a dance record. Broken Bells definitely boiled their sound down to a pretty straight forward but nonetheless immaculately produced dance record with great layering.

In each song on After The Disco there’s a lot going on: Mercer’s vocals on various planes, effected and inflected differently from moment to moment, gospel choirs, underlying acoustic string progressions, slinky bass playing, and the essential electronic drum kit, a staple of dance music across the decades. However, to the producer’s credit (Danger Mouse himself), nothing gets in the way. Preference isn’t given to any particular aspect of the record, even the lyrics, which tend to feel middle of the road. What the record lacks in inspiring lyricism is compensated for, or at least rubbed into obscurity, by the instrumentation, whose intricacy stays consistent across the whole record.

Despite its intricacy, the general development of the record is retroactive: as it unfolds, it grows increasingly sleepy, which seems to reflect the title. After the disco, everyone has partied themselves out and now they want to go to bed while listening to some funky bass playing?

But despite the streamlining of their sound on the new record, Broken Bells still knows how to craft excellent grooves. The title track, “The Changing Lights,” and “Holding On For Life,” the latter perhaps being the strongest track on the record, all testify to the band’s ability to shaped a funky tune without making it overbearing or monotonous in the slightest. On the whole, After The Disco is a slick, manicured record that can trade steps on the dance floor with any other disco-tinged records of the year. For once, disco isn’t a bad word. 4/5

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