James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) want their project Broken Bells to be seen, and heard, as an honest-to-goodness band, not a side-project dalliance. It's a little tricky to do that when first listening to their self-titled debut album, since they're such well-known and distinctive talents: Mercer crafted singularly bittersweet indie pop with the Shins, while Burton brought the Beatles and Jay-Z together on The Grey Album and went on to shape sounds for equally omnivorous artists like Beck and Gorillaz. Mercer's songwriting skills and Danger Mouse's production mastery sound like a potent combo, and they are, when the pair balances its ambitions and respective strengths. Mercer's vocals and melodies will almost certainly evoke the Shins to some degree or another, but he and Burton steer clear of the bright pop that countered that band's gloomier moments in favor of winding melodies and mellow atmosphere with lush production and arrangements. "Citizen" presents its small melody in lavish surroundings -- it's hazy bedroom pop, if that bedroom were in a five-star hotel with 1000-thread-count sheets. "The High Road" melds slick electronic percussion and a searching, minor-key melody into something that echoes the duo's previous work without rehashing it. "The Ghost Inside" is especially exciting, pushing Mercer outside of his comfort zone by pairing his falsetto with wobbly keyboards and strings. Toward the end, Broken Bells break out of their reflective mood with "Mongrel Heart" and "The Mall & the Misery," which, after a lengthy expanse of strings and horns, closes the album with some crisp chamber pop. ~ Heather Phares
Rolling Stone (p.64) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Danger Mouse pushes Mercer's gorgeous, existential tunecraft outward with Day-Glo dynamics."
Spin - "The phantasmagoric 'Sailing to Nowhere' perfectly fuses their sensibilities....And 'Mongrel Heart' is a fascinating refraction of Burton's obsession with film scores."
Entertainment Weekly (p.69) - "Burton builds layered, twilit soundscapes for Mercer's pensive musings..." -- Grade: B+
Billboard - "The new album's opener, 'The High Road,' revs to life with the sputter of what sounds like an arsenal of vintage keyboards, while shivery film-score strings coat Mercer's sad-guy croon on 'Citizen.'"
Paste (magazine) (p.65) - "Mercer's vocals sound looser than usual against these careful backgrounds, whether leading a falsetto chorus on 'The Ghost Inside' or alternating between pinched filter and husky chorus on 'Sailing to Nowhere.'"
Pitchfork (Website) - "[I]t hits its marks....It's a deceptively catchy album centered on personal loss."
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