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

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image