wed 07/12/2022

Album: Broken Bells - Into the Blue | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Broken Bells - Into the Blue

Album: Broken Bells - Into the Blue

Danger Mouse and The Shins' James Mercer plunder the past with panache

'Mercer and Burton manage to create music that sounds like the result of a deep, decades-long understanding'

Not content with having released one of the best hip-hop albums in recent memory (Cheat Codes, alongside Black Thought), producer Brian Burton has rekindled his partnership with The Shins’ James Mercer for the first Broken Bells album in almost a decade.

Into the Blue is described as “an ode to the pair’s shared musical influences”, a phrase that can, let’s be honest, raise eyebrows and alarm bells. However, far from being a lengthy synonym for painful pastiche, the pair manage to plunder the past with remarkable panache.

One thing no one can accuse Into the Blue of is limited range, and that’s to the album’s credit. If we’re talking touchstones, they range from the pleasingly familiar to the subtly self-referential. There’s the melodic sensibilities and odd, outsider chords that marked the best of The Beatles (“Into the Blue”, “Saturdays”), and the wide open spaces of Pink Floyd in their prime (“We’re Not in Orbit Yet”), before their sound bloated to fill arenas and egos. But there’s more, lots more.

There’s the laid-back, soft-not-yacht-rock of mid-70s America (“Love on the Run”), and, with “One Night” and “Fade Away” (the latter’s chorus a close cousin of Paul Young’s “Come Back and Stay”) artful reconstructions of 80s pop, full of careful craft and compelling character.

So far, so good... But what sets Into the Blue apart, is not the fact that Burton and Mercer have raised these soft spirits, but the way in which they bring them into the light and help them to unfold. From Carol Kaye-esque picked bass notes, to delicate, just-so string swells and mournful horn sounds (a nod to Cheat Codes’ “Belize”), the dense detail throughout rewards the attentive listener with a lot to discover.

Meanwhile, Mercer’s soulful, plaintive voice sits within this lavishly layered milieu like it’s been stitched into the story with invisible thread. Despite being only occasional co-conspirators, on opposite sides of the States, he and Burton manage to create music that sounds like the result of a deep, decades-long understanding – each of them aware of where the other’s going, and how best to frame the shot when they get there.

@jahshabby

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters