On the excellent “After the Disco,” Broken Bells —aka Danger Mouse and The Shins’ James Mercer — wonder how we got here. Not physically, but metaphysically. Song after song on the synth pop-driven set asks hard questions for which there are no answers.
More consistent than their self-titled 2010 debut, the atmospheric “After the Disco’s” often uplifting synth lines smooth the path for the alienation and loneliness of Mercer’s lyrics. It’s a tough album to listen to at times because there’s nothing but cold comfort, and not much of that, as Mercer touches again and again on the distance between the love and life we want and our inability to bridge the gap between our reality and our desires because we cant get out of our own way.
Uncertainty and ambivalence circle like sharks in the water and we’re the chum. Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, told Rolling Stone that the record was informed by their fascination with “What people in the Fifties and Sixties thought now was gonna be like. That’s when we did the record: that’s where a lot of that came from.” That’s a little hard to decipher but there is a certain “outside looking in” distance on many of the tracks.
Mercer’s voice warms the synth tones, as does the spare instrumentation of mainly guitar, bass and drums, but it will still leave you with a chill.
Below is a track-by-track review:
“Perfect World”: A chiming, dreamy synthetic track that recalls the ‘80s as Mercer sings about heartbreak. “I thought love would always find a way/but I know better know/it’s a perfect world all the same.” The 6-minute song sets the expectations for the rest of the album. We’re in for what promises to be an emotional ride. Grade: B
“After the Disco”: Despite the title, the disco balls still spinning in this upbeat track as Mercer puts his falsetto to good use. Though the melody is bouncy, the story he has to tell is a sobering one. “Don’t tell me it’s not our time,” Mercer says, “Because I’m waiting here much too long.” Grade: B
“Holding On For Life”: Spacey and ethereal, the mid-tempo track and album’s first single features Mercer doing his best Bee-Gees’ imitation with an excellent falsetto that would make Barry Gibb proud. Grade: B
“Leave It Alone”: Slightly folky and with a gospel-like chorus musically, this song is all bitterness lyrically as Mercer acutely feels the distance between the love he wants and what he can give. Grade: B+