In most cases, four years off is an eternity for a band. Many times, it’s the definition of “hiatus” for bands who decided to quit the band and pursue other ventures, only to find no successes were to be had. Or it could mean a group of musicians that only get together to record and make music together from time to time, often years apart. Fortunately for us, the return of Broken Bells plays into the latter reasoning, but still, it’s been four years. After the immense popularity of a couple songs, and the sheer excitement of a producer like Danger Mouse working with The Shins again, this time NOT for a Shins record…well the excitement died down. But now it’s 2014, and the first record is a distant (albeit still very much welcomed) memory. After The Disco is here.
What made Broken Bells so great back in 2010 with their self-titled debut was the overall simplicity of the songs. They were just good, hearty indie rock songs, with sensible melodies and catchy hooks. After The Disco expands upon the idea, adding a bit of depth to each cut, allowing it to easily surpass its predecessor quite handidly. Synth verses abound in such an addicting track as the title song, and set the tone for what we’re in for: a futuristic hybrid of rock and disco, sans the Daft Punk vocoder. “Holding On For Life”, the album’s first single, is just what it sets out to be: as good, if not better than a cut like “The High Road” or “Vaporize”, the two more infectious cuts from the debut record. Then we’re thrown into a soundscape treat, with “Leave It Alone”. The song is cluttered with acoustic finger-picking throughout, with a soft, deep, and powerful high pitched chorus that compliments the entire rock-styled feel. James Mercer’s soulful vocals have never sounded better, including on all the Shins records.
Another thing setting After the Disco apart from the duo’s debut is the addition of such raw, brash guitar solos on Mercer’s part add a different dynamic. They’re almost reminiscient of solos heard on something like Jack White’s solo venture Blunderbuss from 2012. Percussion seems more important and focused this time around, particularly on cuts like “The Changing Lights” with its fast-paced beat and driving bass lines. The more intimate moments are highlighted by Danger Mouse’s inclusion of the seventeen-piece Angel City String Orchestra and a four-piece choir on singing vocals, besides Mercer and his back ups. And besides the six and a half minute opener of “Perfect World”, the songs map out to about as long (if not slightly longer) than the entire first record. Both Danger Mouse and Mercer know how to cut a good, solid record, that isn’t too long-winded or too brief.
Overall, After The Disco is a worthy follow-up to such a gem as was the first Broken Bells recording. It’s a shame we had to wait four years in between records (despite the short four-track Meyrin Fields EP from 2011) for more from such a gifted and unique blend of musicians. But I’ll definitely take what we can get, and what we’ve got is the future of disco, as we head into the second half of the 2010s. Here’s hoping it won’t be until 2018 until we hear from this duo again.