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Ryan Johnson, Published March 12 2014

Review: Latest Broken Bells has good moments, lacks cohesion

On their own, James Mercer and Brian Burton rightfully earned a place at the top of indie music in the 2000s.

But the two artists – Mercer, the voice of indie pop band The Shins, and Burton, better known as artist and producer Danger Mouse – still haven’t managed to become more than the sum of their parts working together as indie band Broken Bells.

The group released its second album, “After the Disco,” last month, five years after a self-titled debut that displayed moments of brilliance but never quite added up to a must-have set of songs.

The second effort exceeds that first outing, and at their best, the 11 songs of “After the Disco” offer a better glimpse into just what Mercer and Burton are capable of making together.

The first single, “Holding on for Life,” showcases an eerie synth groove and Mercer’s Bee Gee-like falsetto that had me hooked after a first listen when it started getting radio play and Internet buzz last year.

Second single “After the Disco” also realizes its potential, with a pulsating beat that works as a throwback to the disco heyday and a post-modern tune at the same time.

“No Matter What You’re Told” flourishes, with a perfect mix of brass and synth beat that makes it ripe for party playlists of 2014.

But all too often, the two artists’ second collaboration falls flat, offering too much buildup and not enough payoff on tracks that slow the album’s pace too much, such as the somewhat boring “The Angel and the Fool” and “Lazy Wonderland,” a song that would be more enjoyable with a faster tempo.

“After the Disco” is a solid enough album. But a close listen reveals too many flaws, and the album’s tendency to skew toward apathy or near-melancholy means it’s not the right mix for everyone.

Broken Bells got closer to perfection this time around, and while fans of Mercer and Burton and the duo’s first effort will rightly appreciate “After the Disco,” this second album was disappointing – if for no other reason than it shows just how amazing this band can really be when everything comes together.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait five more years for the next Broken Bells release, which could finally be the album that truly deserves the title of “must-have” for indie fans.

Bottom line: Fans of the indie duo’s first album will like the more solid “After the Disco,” though slow pacing, unrealized potential of the two band members keep it from true greatness.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587