Album Review – Broken Bells: ‘After the Disco’

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The 1970s are in vogue early in 2014. With American Hustle receiving all those Oscar nominations and the release of Broken Bells’ new album, ‘After the Disco,’ 70s nostalgia is hitting new levels. But labeling Broken Bells’ new album as just disco doesn’t quite do it justice. After all, the album’s title suggests that the music goes beyond the disco, and that’s exactly right—After the Disco is an exciting second installment to the band’s 2010 eponymous album, which saw the release of the hit singles “The High Road,” “The Ghost Inside,” and “October.” The distinction is that this album takes on a postmodern disco flavor, at times evoking the Bee Gees, The Shins, and Depeche Mode, forming a sugary musical concoction all their own.

Broken Bells was formed in 2009 by James Mercer, lead singer of The Shins, and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), the producer behind the Jay-Z/Beatles mashup ‘The Grey Album’, Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz’s ‘Demon Days,’ and even The Black Keys’ ‘El Camino.’

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Whereas the first album and subsequent EP ‘Meyrin Fields’ largely stuck to being a darker, more 80s version of The Shins, ‘After the Disco’ continues more of the same musical sounds but with a heavy disco theme.

The first single, “Holding On For Life,” is a catchy Barry Gibb imitation, which you will either love or hate, depending on your opinion of the Bee Gees. But don’t worry too much either way—the rest of the album is not so blatantly disco. Though the title track also speaks the same disco language, it does so with a more distinctive Broken Bells vibe. There’s also some era-flexibility, as “The Changing Lights” feels like a contemporary take on a Depeche Mode song—but trust me, it’s not as annoying as the ‘classic’ “Enjoy the Silence.”

What strikes me most about the album is that though not all of the songs are as memorable as the first album’s “October” or “Vaporize,” there are a few hooks and recurring themes that make the album distinctive from the ho-hey, Lumineers/Of Monsters And Men/Mumford folk-rock indie scene.

For example, “Leave it Alone”’s bluesy dirge evokes the same sentiments of The Black Keys’ “Little Black Submarines.” The lament to “leave it alone” foreshadows the later musical cues in the songs “Lazy Wonderland,” “The Angel and the Fool,” and “The Remains of Rock & Roll.”

The musical cues are much more notable if you watch the two teaser videos on the Broken Bells website, starring Anton Yelchin (Chekov from the recent Star Trek movies) and Kate Mara (the girl from House of Cards). The videos are utterly bizarre—Yelchin daydreams meeting a spacewoman (Mara) in the desert, and then they both find themselves on a Broken Bells-logo party spaceship—but entertaining and more thought-provoking than the general music video (cough Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball”). I was disappointed to find out there wasn’t a third video, (SPOILER ALERT) because the last one kind of leaves you hanging (END OF SPOILERS).

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A mixture of upbeat dance songs and pondering ballads, this album is a worthy listen for its unique blend of sounds and concepts—Broken Bells is one of the most interesting and genre-bending bands out there. The album has been released today! If you don’t want to buy it on iTunes just yet, you can stream it for free on iTunes First Play or listen to the singles on Spotify.

Watch the preview videos:

Part One: “The Angel and the Fool” and Part Two: “Holding On For Life” are found here!

“Holding On For Life” video:

“After the Disco”

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