There’s nothing elusive or misleading about what Broken Bells is trying to do with their sophomore album After the Disco. The title itself says it all. This is about moving beyond trivial pursuits, and into some more meaningful perspectives. It’s after the lights dim that things become more clear for Broken Bells. Both voices are equally represented in this endeavor: Mercer with his underrated voice and sharp writing ability and Danger Mouse with his rousing, cinematic landscapes. The package it’s delivered in is caked in pop sensibilities, and that’s where the irony occurs. They’ve brought a meaningful message to the masses, but on the sly like when mom used to hide a vitamin in your meal.
There are several elements at play here (folk, blues, soul, and hip-hop), but the sci-fi theme they’re embracing helps abstract those lines – at times sounding like a Gorillaz side project, but infused with a little more psych rock than hip-hop. Point is the sound is constantly shifting, bandying back and forth with ease, which in the end is a testament to Broken Bells’ ability to adapt to an evolving narrative. The message is ambitious and to some degree open to interpretation, but it never runs heavy and manages to come together in a very cohesive manner. They wrap this quirky journey up in just the right amount of time, leading to a solid project that’ll help shake those post-Grammy blues away.
Blast off right from the beginning, an album about the impurities of an imperfect world opening with a vision on how exactly to remedy it. The statement is subtle, but the sound is epic – layers of opulent synth mixed in such a way that it gives its a oracle a proper podium to tell his cautionary tale: [lLISTEN]
Another message hidden in broad daylight. No this isn’t a dance album per se, but it’s definitely masquerading as one. The melodies are served alfresco, and thrive in the high elevation. At its summit it drops off in dramatic fashion leaving the urgency of the message to resonate both in mind and body: [LISTEN]
Wrapping the acoustic elements with the decadent synth work is like wrapping a brat in bacon – certainly worth gobblin’ up. The anarchic messages of hope keep rollin’ in, this one via a chorus of benevolent muses. It’s a shot of diffused light born from the same dimension as the almighty Gorillaz: [LISTEN]
A theatrical intermission that steers the direction back to one of its thesis points: love. The stripped nature speaks to The Dark Side of the Moon, and it achieves a nice level of psychedelic rock without getting too nostalgic. It’s a scathing remark written to one person, but meant for everyone:
This Starship Enterprise is destined for greater things and their pilots aren’t going to wait around forever or at least that’s what they’re saying here. They’ve spent all this time trying to convince you and time is running short, the urgent percussion and transient melodies initiate the countdown: [LISTEN]
Another sci-fi embedded composition fried in the same cast iron skillet as the Gorillaz and the Shins - a fine example of balanced flavor through thoughtful composing. The message is straightforward and incredibly simple: give up your material possession earthlings before it’s too late: [LISTEN]
Living the Life Aquatic with our protagonists show that these beings know how to relax, indulging in some hazy post Sgt. Peppers/pre Yellow Submarine melodies to help illuminate their ways. But even in the warm sun they manage to touch upon the dire importance of being active in their ascension: [LISTEN]
Dancing to Earth’s destruction is one way to wake up the unconscious, and with its catchy hook, rhythmic hand claps, and paltry but no less effective synth work this does the trick. It’s earthier than other songs on the album, which is a sound stylistic choice as it softens the abstractions a notch: [LISTEN]
At this point in the album a heavier acoustic style emerges, which again brings an earthier, more human element to their intergalactic musings. The mixing is surgical, and sends home a clear message that seems more relevant today than ever before: the more things change, the more they stay the same:
A standout that languidly lurches between rhythm and blues to psych rock with nothing more than a candle’s light to guide it. The cavernous acoustics make it an even more solitary confinement, which sets a perfect place mat for our narrator to illustrate Alice’s inevitable fall down the rabbit hole: [LISTEN]
The send off hits just like the introduction and punctuates the message that’s been subtly placed at the albums core. It’s nothing short of epic in its arrangements, which blends together cinematicly in a cosmic jungle full of viney synth work, streaming melodies and an underbrush of steady percussion: