PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Broken Bells: After the Disco

After the Disco rides that morning after wave, holding up a mirror to cast a dark reflection on the fun that's come and gone.


Broken Bells

After the Disco

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2014-02-04
UK Release Date: 2014-02-03
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Coming down from a night of partying is often a dismal experience. The wilder the good time is, the follow-up comes in proportionate dreariness, inverting the previous pleasure. Riding that morning after wave, occupying that day of lonely self-reflection is Broken Bells’ sophomore LP, After the Disco. The title itself conveys this sentiment, and a thread runs through the 11 songs bolstering the melancholia, holding up a mirror to cast a dark reflection on the fun that’s come and gone. Yet the gloom here is not oppressive, more bittersweet and, as such, more in line with the wistfulness that accompanies those hangover days.

The first trio of songs establishes this theme of post-merriment via James Mercer’s second-person cautionary tales and Danger Mouse/Brian Burton’s evocative aural pastiches. “A Perfect World” opens up timidly, like a groggy man rising from bed, before being swept up in propulsive beats. It’s as if one is trying to outrun something, thin synth lines spinning out frantically in all directions. Amid this tapestry, Mercer serves up line after line of ambivalence and of shedding what held you back and trying to appreciate it as freedom rather than destitution. “I got nothing left," he sings almost self-pitying, before adding the silver lining of “It’s kinda wonderful / ‘Cause there’s nothing they can take away." At the chorus, an energized phase shift occurs, ratcheting up the tempo with Mercer’s vocals moving to a higher register as he declares a forfeiture of youthful idealism — “I thought love would always find a way / I know better now / Got it figured out." But then comes the addendum catch, “It’s a perfect world anyway," leaving listeners to decide if the tune is depicting a fall to cynicism or attaining a mature degree of acceptance. A frenzied guitar solo that is more ‘80s underground than one would place with Broken Bells then ushers the song out, or so it seems until it reemerges with staid beats and minimal vibraphone work.

The title track then arrives, all stark synth spires and bouncing bass. The dance rhythms here almost feel satirical, expressing a struggle to keep a waning party going. The dance floor has its last legs limping across it, the party is beyond winding down, and as such, it’s an adroit lead-in for “Holding on for Life”. A bass line pregnant with foreboding thumps along as the distant strum of an acoustic guitar is looped. The negative space between bass notes draws attention to the abyss being addressed, the synthesizers’ sci-fi soundtrack tones sounding like a theremin. It’s the blueprint of a maleficent disco, and with Mercer obviously aping the Bee Gees in the vocal hook and falsetto of the refrain, it’s presenting the underbelly of the hedonist mindset, exposing the last reveler left behind while all others have moved on. As Mercer sings in the chorus’s preface, “What a lovely day to be lonely”, a motto that could be delusional comfort or self-deprecation to the piece’s central character.

With the palette set by these first songs, After the Disco breathes a little more and finds Broken Bells stretching from their comfort zone. “The Changing Lights” drives forward with a desperate urgency to move on to a place not yet known. “Leave It Alone” starts with the rusty creakiness of rural blues (perhaps marking a Sparklehorse influence, whom both Burton and Mercer collaborated with on Dark Night of the Soul) before swelling to include nouveau gospel backing vocals. Toward the end, it fades into a muted ballad of melodious guitar, piano and embellished strings. “Control” has a noir bass rhythm and casts a jittery effect, Mercer singing a message of impermanence and why this fleeting quality makes control itself an illusion. Again, that duality of whether this is fatalistic or liberating is up to the perspective one brings to the album, but the horn section that ends the song in a big band bluster indicates the sentiment is more cause for celebration than grief.

On the more whimsical front are “Lazy Wonderland”, aptly titled and bearing more similarity to a Shins song than anything else on the record, and “The Angel and the Fool”. The latter in particular is lethargic and uneasy, but still captivating, reminiscent of a Nick Drake number or Doors ballad. “The Remains of Rock and Roll” then serves as a grandiose exit, with Mercer’s layered vocals and Burton going full bore. There’s a palpable build-up for the first minute and a half, but when the verses erupt in the refrain, it’s a rewarding break-through bordering on anthemic, Mercer singing, “We prefer good love to gold / And the remains of rock and roll." Carried off on a stream of violins, a wall of synths and distorted guitar, the song serves to regain the vitality that the record previously charted the loss of.

As a whole, After the Disco finds Broken Bells no longer feeling like a side project. There is a degree of consistency and focus not present on their eponymous debut. The tracklist does not let up or get bogged down with filler between a few stellar songs, as defined their first release. Mercer and Burton have settled into the nature of their collaboration and After the Disco shows that Broken Bells has its own identity as much as its members’ other endeavors.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.