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100 Albums: "Broken Bells" by Broken Bells

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Broken Bells
Title: Broken Bells
Released: 2010
Genre: retro indie alt-funk... or, you know, whatever it is Danger Mouse does


Indie hip-hop producer/Wunderkind Danger Mouse has collaborated with a number of artists in this list. In addition to producing albums like Beck's Modern Guilt or Portugal. The Man's Evil Friends, he's also worked on collab projects like Danger Doom with MF Doom and Gnarls Barkley with Cee-Lo Green. One gets the impression that people just walk up to Danger Mouse and say "Hey, I loved The Gray Album, wanna work on something together?" and he keeps saying yes. Which, if that's the case, good for him! Broken Bells is another one of these projects, this time working with James Mercer of The Shins after the two met at a music festival. The combination is not as flashy as Gnarls Barkley, but Danger Mouse's retro-spaghetti-western sample libraries and aesthetic sensibilities pair very nicely with Mercer's 60's pop songwriting.

The album has a laid-back groove to it, constructing pop rock songs out of a vintage instrumentation with hip-hop-inspired arrangements. Danger Mouse's presence on the record definitely looms larger than Mercer's, at least from my perspective. The songs are brisk enough that you can dance to them, but they never feel rushed or even particularly intense. Broken Bells aren't here to rock you; they're just throwing a party and if you want to hang out, that's cool. The opener and lead single The High Road is a solid, but my favorite is The Ghost Inside. Trap Doors is also excellent, and I love the weird energy behind Mongrel Heart (which also sees the record at its most spaghetti-westerny). In fact, there's not a bad track on the album, but it's a relatively slight record, ending after a mere thirty-eight minutes.

Further Listening: The two put out a follow-up album called After The Disco that's not bad. Apart from that, I've already extolled the virtues of Danger Mouse's other works, and I'm not actually a huge Shins fan, but if you want something that's a weird blend of styles that you can sort of dance to and is loosely built around James Mercer, I'd recommend the soundtrack to Garden State.

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