Review : Broken Bells - Meyrin Fields
PitchforkBroken Bells members James Mercer (of the Shins) and Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, each made their names on twisting the sounds of the 1960s-- the former turning the Beach Boys and the Kinks into gleefully obscure indie pop and the latter remixing the Beatles' White Album into a hip-hop backing track. The music they make together, however, sounds instead like radio hits from some 1960s vision of the future: love songs from a world that will never exist. That sense of unrealizable possibilities reinforced the sense of loss on their debut, and made songs like "The High Road" and "The Ghost Inside" sound bruised and battered, but not bitter or jaded. These four new songs are outtakes and B-sides from their initial sessions, which along with that similar album cover suggests they intended Meyrin Fields as an epilogue to Broken Bells.
Yet, the EP has its own distinctive flavor, notably different from that of the LP. Burton's production is somehow both heavier and lighter: There's more going on in these songs, but the elements, such as the Jack Nitzsche-style guitar on "Heartless Empire" or the constant blips and beeps on "Windows", evoke spaceship mechanization and anti-gravity weightlessness. Gears grind and sirens wail on the title track, while a high, inhuman voice ghosts Mercer's vocals to reinforce the catchiness of the melody, like a gremlin in the works. If Broken Bells was indeed a break-up album-- and especially if it turns out to be about the break-up of the Shins-- Meyrin Fields continues that theme and plays it out a bit more, suggesting new stages of grief and acrimony. Meyrin Fields never sounds as eulogistic as Broken Bells did. It's less about loss than about the undiscovered country that comes after.
That's a lot for four songs to convey, but it comes through clearly on the EP's first half. The title track and "Windows" are both tense and ominous, with similar stabs of melody and a distressed urgency to the production. Burton treats the songs as short films to soundtrack, and every element goes toward reinforcing Mercer's dark drama. In fact, perhaps the main spark in this collaboration is how it gets both artists outside their comfort zones: Burton's beatmaking priorities draw Mercer out of his indie-pop realm and reveal the breadth of his songwriting, while Mercer's eloquent concision keeps Burton sharper and more focused. Both men show us something new, even as they struggle to break free of the gravitational pull of their other projects....full text
MusicDanger Mouse and James Mercer (The Shins) continue their shaggy exploration of space rock and classic pop on their latest EP. The set is based around "Meyrin Fields", a b-side to "The High Road", and gives fans three additional new tracks to chew on while they pray for a sophomore album from the duo. The electro tinged synth, drippy bass line and eerily haunting background harmonies of brash, energetic "Meyrin Fields" make it a standout that would fit well on their debut, though the remaining three new selections fail to pack the same punch.
Mercer's vocals sound a bit underwater on "An Easy Life", where the skipping riffs sway over a lush bass and humming organ backing, lacking the dynamic depth that made their debut work so well. "Windows" comes a bit closer thanks to layers of guitar, bass, organ and drums that seem to peel on and off repeatedly, though Mercer's achy, searing falsetto hook and nearly spoken-word verse are not as engaging as the music. When Mercer soars with a soulful caterwauling vocal on "Heartless Empire", the droning haze of distorted guitar seems to weigh the song down. There is some enjoyment to be had here, but falls well short of the high bar they set on their spectacular debut....full text
CrackintheroadThe first album from Broken Bells (the side-project of Danger Mouse and The Shins’ James Mercer), was released last year and gained the band an instant following. The album’s best singles, October, The Ghost Inside and The High Road stood out as some of the best songs of 2010, and with this new EP, Broken Bells have clearly decided to build upon that success – if bringing little new to the table.
Initially, Meyrin Fields sounds a little different to the self-titled debut album from the band. The opening track of the same name is a change in direction from the sound of their first release, showcasing some more electronica-based influences. Pleasingly, the backing vocals that stood out as a highlight of the first album remain, and James Mercer’s vocals are as strong as ever. The rest of the songs are much more typical of Broken Bells’ style, and here lies the EP’s main flaw – it isn’t really that new. As an EP from a side-project, it would have been nice to see some more risky experimentation from the band, trying out something different. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
That is not to say that the EP is a failure – anything but. There’s clearly nothing drastically wrong with sticking to the proven formula if it worked so well the first time around, and Meyrin Fields certainly works well in the context of the first album. In particular, Windows stands out as the strongest track, utilising the strongest points of the first album – catchy riffs and great vocals whilst managing to sound just that little bit unique in relation to the rest of the musical world....full text
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