Listen to this track by post-disco inspired entity with an otherwise varied musical wardrobe, Broken Bells. It’s “Perfect World”, the opening track to this year’s After The Disco, the follow up album to their self-titled record put out in 2010.
Broken Bells includes James Mercer, known mainly for his work as vocalist and guitarist in pop-with-shades-of-melancholy outfit The Shins. Brian Joseph Burton who is better known as producer and sought-after sonic colourist Danger Mouse is the other half of the equation.
The record itself pulls from a melange of sounds, but they weren’t kidding when they put the word “disco” in the title. This was a safe bet by 2014 maybe, what with Daft Punk proving that disco grooves are alive, well, and adaptable to all kinds of musical fusion in the 21st century. But, the “after” is important, too, what with a decidedly early ’80s post-disco synth-pop textural palette characterizing their approach.
But, that “after” is reflected thematically in the lyrics as well, which may be the more compelling element in what you’re hearing in this song.
The pair met when each of their respective acts played the Rosklide Festival in the mid-2000s. Since, Broken Bells has become a living breathing artistic concern outside of the Shins, and beyond the many collaborations on Danger Mouse’s resumé including his work with The Black Keys, Gnarls Barkley, Norah Jones, Beck, and The Good The Bad and The Queen, among others.
The music here is imbued with the strengths of both artists, to wit; an emphasis on melody and lyrical depth, as well as detailed musical layering that provides depth of another sort, something proven since the gap between musical worlds was bridged with the Danger Mouse-abetted 2004 Jay Z/Beatles mashup, The Grey Album. Significantly, that was the year the two principles in Broken Bells met and decided to collaborate out of mutual admiration. Amidst those stylistic layers and cross-polinated pop traditions, “Perfect World” sets the scene for the whole record’s marriage of melodicism, spacious grooves, and generally overcast feel.
Lyrically, this song seems to be the emotional flipside of Mercer’s “A Simple Song”, his earlier hit with The Shins. Where that one celebrated the purity of family life, and the calling of a father in the life of a newborn, this one is about love’s limitations, its failings, and maybe the shortcomings found in the heart of the one having to face love’s end:
I’ve been turned around
I was upside down
I thought love would always find a way
But I know better now
Got it figured out
It’s a perfect world all the same
Not exactly a Valentine’s Day anthem, then.
One would hope, on a personal level for Mercer’s sake, that this dichotomy isn’t reflective of a real-life dynamic. Whether it is or isn’t, this is a common conclusion for many when it comes to love, expectation, and disappointment. But, in listening to this record as a whole, the songs seem like an exploration of complex emotional territories while fighting the effects of a hangover; slightly rumpled, bleary, with the shadow of regret imprinted between the lines. And that lends the “after” in the title a sombre gravity, even as the echoes of the “disco” can still be heard.
To learn more about Broken Bells, scoot along to the official site.
You can also see the video for the first single off of the album, “Holding On For Dear Life”.
Thanks to Sony Canada who sent along a download of the album.