Think for a moment about a disco. Depending on your age, there’s probably a good likelihood that you’ve never actually been inside of one, given most of them have long since died out to be replaced by the common night club atmosphere of today. But thanks to photos and videos, maybe even a little Saturday Night Fever, everybody has at least some idea of what the experience of walking into a disco might have been like. The mirror ball hanging from the ceiling and the multicolored light up checkerboard floor were the two key components to any disco, outside of the music of course. It was a fun place to be, especially if you loved to dance. But disco the music style and disco the club type both died off, and we’re left with the considerably less technicolor post-disco era. While we as a society are arguably better off without it, there’s still a hint of sadness at the loss of some of those elements. Use that as a starting point for Broken Bells’ second full length, After the Disco. The duo’s 2010 self-titled debut album was a multicolored, eclectic and moderately fun affair that allowed James Mercer to play around with some different styles outside of his work under The Shins name. Meanwhile Danger Mouse got to add another dynamic collaboration to a resume already packed with them. That first record and the subsequent Meyrin Fields EP might not have been the best things associated with either one of the principal members, but they were satisfactory given the circumstances through which they were birthed.
Over the last few years, Mercer returned to The Shins reinvigorated and provided a great reminder that bouncy indie pop is what he does best, and Danger Mouse produced a few more records for different artists that all wound up sounding similarly retro to one another as a result. Broken Bells was starting to feel like an afterthought, to the point where the announcement of After the Disco seemed to be met with a collective shrug all across the web. To a degree that same mentality comes across in the music as well. Gone is the melting pot of styles and genres, replaced with a more subdued and unified spacey synth pop sound that only manages to truly work for them on a couple of tracks. Single “Holding on for Life” is one of those particularly strong moments, with an earworm of a chorus that feels inspired by the Bee Gees. The delicately crafted groove of “The Changing Lights” also marks a great showcase for Danger Mouse, and it’s just about the only time he shines on the entire record. If you’re looking for the weak link among the duo, he is clearly and unfortunately it. While Mercer does a fine job singing and certainly knows his way around a lyric, the cold, plain and emotionless compositions distract from a lot of the good that’s being done. It leads to moments like “Medicine” and the title track, which have solid dancefloor tempos to them but fail to connect or stay with you in any meaningful way. At least the first Broken Bells album had some variety and curveballs to keep you interested even as it made some wrong turns. With After the Disco, the neon lit floors have been shut off and the mirror ball has been cut down. Turns out a dance club can be a pretty depressing place once someone turns the house lights on.
Broken Bells – Holding on for Life
Broken Bells – Leave It Alone