Indie group Broken Bells released their newest album After the Disco, on Tuesday, their latest release since their 2011 EP Meyrin Fields.
Broken Bells, comprised of James Mercer, frontman for The Shins, and producer Brian Burton, better known to the music world as Danger Mouse, has released a record that doesn’t live up to the names behind the group. Drowning in muddled production and monotonous vocals, After the Disco poises itself to fade into the background as better albums are released in 2014.
The album begins with the track “A Perfect World,” which features a driving back beat and plenty of danceable synths laid on top. Reminiscent of pop groups such as the Killers, the track proves to be a generic dance-pop number, with neither the vocals nor the production generating the interest that a beginning track on an album requires.
“A Perfect World” is followed by the title track, featuring much more memorable production. With a pronounced bass line and danceable disco chords, Mercer’s falsetto holds traces of Motown grooves on this track, and holds the strongest potential for a successful single and radio hit.
The next track, “Holding On For Life,” also holds strong potential as a radio hit. A slower track than the first two on the album, it holds clear rhythm & blues and slower disco influences and will most likely find its way onto listeners’ mellower, late-night playlists. Compared to the slower tracks later on the album, “Holding On For Life” emerges as a more cohesive and sonically pleasing song.
On “Leave It Alone,” Mercer’s clear, ringing voice and the backing acoustics and vocals make this a song that was intended to be sung by giant stadium crowds. The generic song structure and tired melodic line, however, make this a track that quickly fades from listeners’ memories.
Vocals and production sound muddled on “The Changing Lights,” with Mercer and the backing vocals drowning in the background music. The song does have some good solo instrumental periods, with bumping guitar lines, but has no clear direction or memorable moments.
“Control” follows on the album, with unmemorable lyrics and melodic lines. At this point in the album it becomes clear that most of the tracks on After the Disco only shine through on the instrumental portions where the production picks up some authority and presence.
The lazy-day atmosphere comes through on “Lazy Wonderland,” but the track is by no means a wonderland. Mercer’s voice is nothing spectacular, and Burton’s production is subpar.
By the time listeners get to the album’s hit, “Medicine,” every cut on the album has melded together into an unclear artistic statement. There is neither progression nor diversity in the song structures or production elements.
“No Matter What You’re Told” features plenty of bouncing beats and cheery vocals, but descends into a mediocre pop track as it progresses. The synths, which appeared at the beginning of the album to be a foundational production element in distinguishing Broken Bells’ tracks from the rest of the pack, have now dissolved into static background noise. Mercer’s lyrics don’t maintain any hold on the listener, and instead become another generic element in a generic song.
It is clear that the track “Angel and the Fool” was meant to be the long rock ballad that functioned as a grandiose summation of the album. Unfortunately, the overlaid guitar chords and the wavering vocals aren’t particularly enjoyable or special, and for the fans who choose to turn off the music at this point, they’ll miss the vaguely interesting instrumental breakdown in the last minutes of the song.
Though Broken Bells is comprised of two artists who are both lauded by critics, fans and fellow musicians, neither can bring to this album the spark needed to make it memorable. In the end, After the Disco comes out as a mediocre record made by two incredibly talented musicians who can’t seem to find any collaborative spark.
Fans of dance-pop groups such as The Killers will find plenty to like about this album. For music lovers who are looking for more varied development in their dance-pop tracks, After the Disco will be indistinguishable from the scores of records within this genre that are released throughout the year.