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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Album Review: Broken Bells – Broken Bells

An unlikely collaboration, yet with sterling results

Written by Rachel Clare

yeasayer livePhoto courtesy of Rachel Lipsitz

Yeasayer kicked off their show at the very hot and sweaty Heaven with ‘Odd Blood”s opener track “The Children”. This seemed like a bit of an odd choice to start with, seek price considering that it’s the least poppy track of an album that’s an homage to beautifully executed pop. It also seemed like the audience were decidedly underwhelmed to begin with, approved and weren’t really sure what to do with a less well known song. In fact I’m sure half of them were there only for the purposes of hearing “Ambling Alp” and going home.

In a strange way the sinister distorted vocals of “The Children” set the scene for them to launch into the more upbeat songs from ‘Odd Blood’, and things only improved from there on out. Their set was heavily focused on newer songs, and high points of the night included “Strange Reunions”, “Mondegreen”, “Love Me Girl”, “Ambling Alp”, “I Remember” and “ONE”. By the time they had got to “ONE” the crowd seemed to know what was going on, and had generated some enthusiasm for them at last. To help matters, Yeasayer were accompanied on stage by some trippy flashing light-boxes, which resonated pretty much perfectly with their own somewhat trippy hippy sound.

I was a little concerned, having listened to ‘Odd Blood’ so much, that the live vocals would be a let down. The singing on the album sounds, at times, as if it’s ventured into the dreaded realm of autotune. However what I discovered is that in amongst all the weird noises and bird calls, there are actually three very talented singers playing off each other. Keating, Tuton and Wilder are practically seamless in their live performance. All of them have a capacity to sing far above the pitch of most normal human men, but it works for them, and it’s actually pretty impressive to witness. Keating really stole the show though. He managed to maintain what might normally be a comical level of Bee Gee-esque crooning without his voice breaking, cracking or dropping notes. In addition to the man being an amazing singer, he was inventive with his voice, throwing in snarls, shouts, and all kinds of bizarre vocal noises which he still managed to blend into the song. Not only that but for a skinny white boy in a suit, he had some some serious rhythm, and could have definitely taught the lacklustre crowd how to throw a shape or two.

The sound of ‘Odd Blood’ was replicated in the best way possible. The tracks obviously didn’t sound identical to the album, and they weren’t always easy to identify at the start, but hearing it live made it far easier to appreciate each individual musician’s contribution. It’s fair to say that the few older songs Yeasayer played sounded smoother to the ear, especially when set aside ‘Odd Blood”s more choppy sound. They also seemed to generate more enthusiasm from the onlookers as well. When they came back for their encore and played Sunrise, it was probably the best song of the night. Although I love ‘Odd Blood”s pop credentials, Sunrise has a sound all unto itself.

The charm of Yeasayer is how many bits there are to it. They’re not content with the standard instruments, they have to throw in extra singers, extra sound effects, and bizarre noises that I don’t even know how to begin to identify. Having heard much of Odd Blood live, all I wanted to do was go home and listen to it again, and that to me seems like the best indication of a night well spent.
broken bells album

Musical collaborations and supergroups seem to be a daily occurrence these days. Jack White is apparently unable to walk past a fellow musician without squeezing out an album, erectile Josh Homme is the apparent omnipotent overlord of every decent rock release in the last 5 years and even the meek and mild alt-country scene have gone so far as to team up and form Monsters Of Folk, order so when you hear that James Mercer, what is ed lead singer and guitarist of The Shins, is preparing to release a collaborative long player it’s perfectly understandable that you raise a weary eyebrow in indifference. However, what if Mercer’s side project happened to have been co-written and produced by Brian ‘Dangermouse’ Burton? A much more interesting proposition, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As producer extraordinaire Dangermouse, he’s nailed bootlegging (The Grey Album), hip hop (Dangerdoom), pop (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz), rock (The Black Keys) and now he has turned his midas touch once again to indie (he has also twiddled the knobs on albums from Beck and Sparklehorse). After a chance meeting between Burton and Mercer at a Danish music festival 6 years ago, the pair shared a mutual appreciation of each other’s work and started recording together in March 2008, after Burton produced three of the tracks on The Shins successful third album “Wincing The Night Way”. Two years in the making, they release their self-titled album on March 9th. Album opener ‘The High Road’ was released as a free download in December and works as a perfect introduction to the wistful and perky melodic amblings that make up this record. Instantly ‘Shinsian’, Burton’s electronically edged production add a little something extra to what would otherwise be another winsome and pretty Mercer single.

broken bells 2

There are some lovely moments on this album, namely the string heavy waltz of ‘Sailing to Nowhere’ and the naval gazing trip of ‘Citizen’. We even see them dipping their toes into the realms of Wild West mariachi in the brilliant ‘Mongrel Heart’. What Burton brings to this album is an aural darkness and experimentalism that is constantly lurking on the outskirts of each track, yet not taking over from Mercer’s familiar and likeable indie pop sensibilities. Slide guitars, eighties synths and orchestral interludes fill out the spaces throughout the album in a delicious, satisfying and sometimes surprising way, however, there isn’t a vast spectrum of variety on the album – they have definitely found a formula and stuck to it, which perhaps leaves you feeling a little hungry for a spot of envelope pushing, but it is a brilliantly executed and thoroughly enjoyable record– an album that deserves to sit proudly alongside both The Shins back catalogue and all that Dangermouse has produced in the past. Once again Burton has tweaked and polished an already well-established and refined sound and made it just that little bit better.

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Broken Bells – Broken Bells”

  1. Lo Life says:

    great article, rachel :) will have to check out broken bells, it sounds like a winner!

  2. Jenn says:

    I can’t wait for their new album to come out! You’d love their short film featuring “After the Disco” check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCi4F8GZVqU

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