Release Date: Mar 9, 2010
Record label: Sony
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
As musical collaborations go, the one embarked upon by James Mercer, mercurial singer/songwriter with esteemed Portlanders The Shins, and Brian Burton, better known as producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse, has to go down as one of the most unlikely. While perhaps not in the sublime bracket of ridiculousness inhabited by Burt Bacharach's mutual love-in with Elvis Costello and Dr Dre that reared 2005's ill-advised At This Time or Bing Crosby and David Bowie uttering Christmas carols to one another, it certainly set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons late last year when Mercer announced Broken Bells was a fully projected work in progress and an album would be imminent. This was, after all, the frontman of one of the most beloved indie bands of the decade coupling up with a producer last seen working with Helena Costas in the slightly forgettable Joker's Daughter.
Once he started working with cats like Beck and The Rapture, the idea of working with Danger Mouse wasn’t as rare and dangerous as it had been when Damon Albarn and Cee-Lo teamed with the sampladelic producer. No worries. The Mouse is a genius who could probably future-funk-up even alterna-folkies like Shins frontman James Mercer. As Broken Bells, Mercer and Mouse appropriate a nifty slo-psychedelic swish (“The High Road”) and an electro-soul flutter (“The Ghost Inside”) as backdrops for its clarion-clear vocals and sad-eyed lyrics.
If Broken Bells, the pairing of producer/Gnarls Barkley alum Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) and Shins frontman James Mercer is not quite as magical as that of, say, peanut butter and jelly, it still makes for a subtly savory sonic morsel. Burton builds layered, twilit soundscapes for Mercer’s pensive musings; these songs are the stuff of cloudy days and sleepless nights, and that’s okay.
It's been a while since Danger Mouse or the Shins did anything to change your listening habits, let alone your life. In the past decade, Danger Mouse's landmark Grey Album mash-up and membership in Gnarls Barkley helped anticipate indie rock's increasing openness to hip-hop and R&B crossovers. A couple of years earlier, James Mercer paved the way for future indie crossover success stories with the Shins' Garden State contribution and controversial Olympics-aired McDonald's commercial.
When word broke that maverick producer Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) and indie pop darling James Mercer of the Shins were working on a project together, it was bound to raise a few eyebrows. While Mercer, ever the perfectionist, has earned a reputation to match his pain-staking work ethic—releasing only three complete albums with his band in the past decade—Burton has kept himself ceaselessly busy since the blow-up of The Grey Album, the 2004 Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up that brought his first taste of acclaim, his prolificacy undeterred by his refusal to simply settle down.
Nothing to fix The new collaboration between Shins frontman James Mercer and Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) is a slow grower. In their inimitable ways, the singer and the wandering beatsmith have always hit for average rather than power, which isn’t to say they don’t knock it out of the park every so often—see The Shins’ “New Slang” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” two of the last decade’s most resonant hits. Still, languid is their natural pace.
Sometimes following the career of Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) is kind of like watching Winona Ryder's dating life: it's fascinating to see who will turn up next, but at the same time, there's always the lingering desire to see him pick one and stick with it. Broken Bells finds Burton teaming with The Shins frontman James Mercer, and though the results aren't the star-crossed, love-at-first-sight, hit-making combo Danger Mouse created with Cee-Lo in Gnarls Barkley, they're more than interesting enough to carry a whole album. .
James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) want their project Broken Bells to be seen, and heard, as an honest-to-goodness band, not a side-project dalliance. It's a little tricky to do that when first listening to their self-titled debut album, since they're such well-known and distinctive talents: Mercer crafted singularly bittersweet indie pop with the Shins, while Burton brought the Beatles and Jay-Z together on The Grey Album and went on to shape sounds for equally omnivorous artists like Beck and Gorillaz. Mercer's songwriting skills and Danger Mouse's production mastery sound like a potent combo, and they are, when the pair balances its ambitions and respective strengths.
There's been a ton of advance buzz behind this new collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), but unfortunately the full album doesn't quite deliver on the promise. To be fair, there are some great moments when Burton's psych-flavoured production rubs up against Mercer's introverted pop songs, but often it just sounds like dull songs dressed up in glitter and tie-dye. [rssbreak] Burton deserves some of the blame for the album's shortcomings as well, even if his creative engineering is the high point.
This collaboration between Shins' mainman James Mercer and producer du jour Danger Mouse promises much. The High Road and Vaporize are exactly what you would expect: exquisite collisions of Mercer's masterful, slightly winsome melodies and Danger Mouse's sonic skills, as also applied to Gorillaz, Beck and Gnarls Barkley. However, elsewhere the pair – who met in 2004 and have been talking about working together ever since – form too much of a mutual appreciation society to push each other beyond their comfort zones.
Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton of Gnarls Barkley, has proved that he can work with artists from a variety of genres (Beck, Gorillaz, Black Keys), but never has he worked with someone as decidedly folk-poppy as James Mercer, whose melodic hooks are the highlight of The Shins. Mercer hinted at an interest in beats and synthesized sounds on his band’s last record, Wincing the Night Away, where songs like Sea Legs were ambitious, but not quite at home on a Shins record.
Now at the fortunate stage in his career where he can afford to be fussy with the projects he takes, fêted producer Danger Mouse—here billed sans pseudonym, as Brian Burton—collaborates with Shins mouthpiece and guitarist James Mercer for Broken Bells, an album that shoots for a happy medium between Mercer’s alternative folk and Burton’s madcap hip-hop. The result isn’t quite as consistent as lead single “The High Road” would imply, as the pair struggles to comprehensively fuse their two extremely different sounds. There are instances where Mercer seems awkwardly unsuited to this electronic flavor, and others where his usually deft beatsmith provides ill-matched instrumentals for Mercer’s subdued crooning.
A sweet’n’sour and head-spinningly trippy set from Messrs Mercer and Burton. Johnny Sharp 2010 The word "psychedelic" is one of those phrases – like "genius", "edgy" and "Pete Doherty arrested" – which has become somewhat devalued by over-use. Yet it certainly suits this collaboration between The Shins frontman James Mercer and studio maverick Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton – a short (barely 37 minutes), sweet’n’sour and head-spinningly trippy affair.
BROKEN BELLS “Broken Bells”. (Columbia).
Spoiler Alert: This album does not live up to its hype. It all started late last year when singer James Mercer (the Shins) and producer/mash-up wunderkind Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) announced their collaboration and released the first single, "The High Road." That song is nearly perfect: dark, gorgeously layered, swaying and sensual. Follow-up "Vaporize" could be straight out of the Shins' playbook, and "Your Head Is on Fire" is delightfully dreamy.