December 9, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 33°F


Review: Duo muses over pained hearts

"After the Disco"

Broken Bells

Broken Bells’ new album, “After the Disco,” confronts the themes of time and uncertainty. The lyrics tackle the question: What happens next? Band members James Mercer and Brian Burton, known for his stage name Danger Mouse, confront their own struggles, singing about solitude, heartbreak and resignation throughout their album. While the record features impressive vocals and sounds, it seems incomplete as a whole.

Vocalist Mercer, former member of The Shins, finds this album to be a refuge after his band broke up in 2009. In “After the Disco,” Mercer explores a new musical identity with the expansive range of his voice. Similar to 1970s disco bands like the Bee Gees, Mercer uses falsettos, exhibiting his incredible vocal range.

The listener may be taken on a musical journey in “The Changing Lights” with the sudden transitions from slow to fast tempos. The lyrical exploration of uncertainty is apparent when Mercer sings, “And sometimes you wonder if it’s off/ Just another mistake.”

Though the lyrics communicate a fear for the future, Broken Bells does an incredible job in using its signature synthpop and post-disco tunes to create a loose, energetic sound. Arguably the liveliest song in the album for its range in vocal pitch and use of various instruments, “Holding on For Life” features a stream of synthesizers, techno drums and flutelike sounds. The song encompasses all of the best qualities of the album: Mercer’s vocal range, strong lyrics and both disco and rock tunes. While the song offers the most variation, the rest of the album lacks liveliness.

The album explores understandable fears and uncertainties, but there never seems to be a climax. This creates an unsatisfying experience for the listener. After the sixth track, “Control,” the songs lose the energy established in the first half of the album, making it seem unfinished.