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, 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, so when you hear that James Mercer, 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.
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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