Broken Bells, Broken Bells
Hushed songs that pull you in even as they fray at their dark edges
James Mercer and Danger Mouse come from different worlds. Mercer makes tender folk-pop in the Shins, while Danger Mouse is the avant-hip-hop pastiche genius behind projects like Gnarls Barkley and the Beatles-Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album. But they both go in for a kind of haunted interiority, a vibe they nail on this unlikely but excellent collaboration. Throughout Broken Bells, DM's brittle, loopy beats and Mercer's mumble-core croon gel into songs that pull you in even as they fray at their dark edges. "The High Road" gets things going with video game burble, a slow strum-hop beat and Mercer's warm evocation of various states of spiritual flux. "Vaporize" begins with Mercer meekly testifying over a folk strum, then turns into an errant snare shuffle, complete with hymn-like backing vocals and synths-as-horns. On "The Ghost Inside" Mercer plays cardigan-sweater soulman over a beat that recalls Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." On "Mongrel Heart" a sheer, perky groove and one-finger Farfisa tune leads us into a festively ghoulish South of the Border funeral march. The cagiest song here might be "The Mall & Misery" which, true to its title, takes some Gang of Four guitar scraping for a ride into woozy new wave purgatory; it's the feeling of being lost in the mall parking lot and trying to find your car — for the rest of eternity. That sense of displacement is a DM hallmark and Mercer is perfect at playing the friendly ghost in his funk machine.