Broken Bells Ring Up Another Batch Of Crafty Shape Shifting Pop On ‘Into The Blue’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Photo by Shervin Lainez & Nikki Fenix

It has been just over a decade since the world was introduced to the colorful creations of Broken Bells. The combination of super producer Danger Mouse and The Shins’ frontman James Mercer, together they help each other explore new sonics and tempos that culminate in their critically acclaimed albums. Their unique take on indie-rock was an instant hit and their 2010 self-titled debut went on to become Grammy-Nominated. The follow-up, 2014’s After the Disco, was filled to the brim with up-tempo, danceable tracks that leaned more to the pop side. After a long wait, the duo has resurfaced with a brand new full LP that continues to expand the band’s sound. Into The Blue is the 9-song follow-up to their sophomore album that showcases a more sentimental side of the band. 

Broken Bells exchanged the sing-along ready tempos of After The Disco with ballads of almost orchestral proportions. On the production side, we hear Danger Mouse craft larger-than-life instrumentals that fill your speakers with cosmic textures. These songs accomplish a special balance by sounding equal parts spacious and grandiose all at the same time, extremely focused yet open-ended which brings along with it a sense of unpredictability in the best way possible. No song proves this more than the 7-minute lushness of track 4, “Love On The Run”. The opening horn section allows you to get comfortable as the rest of the song features sonic twists and turns that swell together to create a soft landing pad for Mercer’s gentle melodies. This winning formula continues throughout the album stringing all these songs together to create an incredible coherent project. 

While the instrumentals provide so many bright textures, the key ingredient here is Mercer’s vocal work. Into The Blue features some of the most awe-inspiring harmonies to be released this year, a true masterwork of vocal layering. This is evident from the jump with the slow burn of track one, “Into The Blue”, which begins with an angelic performance from Mercer. The droning synths that kick things off are soon joined by spurts of crooning from the artist that subtly draws you in. As the song swells up and Mercer begins his ballad, those initial harmonies now act as backing vocals, adding on to this already well-structured song. There is a sense of longing in Mercer’s vocal work on this album, a sense of unfiltered passion drives his performance and creates an intimate feeling throughout this album. 

While everything on this album seems to orbit around the grandness of its sonic textures, Mercer’s lyrics add a lovely personal touch. While this comes as no surprise for longtime fans of the artist, this time around he recontextualizes his personal lyrics to fit these instrumentals, giving the largeness of the production a needed gentleness. If the production on Into The Blue emulates the feeling of floating in a pool, Mercer’s melancholy lyrics are the rain clouds lingering overhead for a needed reality check. When these two elements combine you get poetry in motion, a true sense of just how strong the chemistry is within Broken Bells. 

When two well-established artists come together and put their egos aside for the sake of the music, you get Broken Bells. The consistently heart-wrenching lyrics of Mercer combined with Danger Mouse’s ability to craft luxurious instrumentals give Into The Blue its colorful personality. Within the 40-minute run-time of the album, the duo explores new territory while Mercer’s poetic songwriting keeps Danger Mouse’s spaced-out instrumentals grounded. 

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