12 January 2011

2010: Broken Bells & Broken Social Scene

Broken Bells
Broken Bells
Released March 9, 2010 (Columbia)

Short Notes: Danger Mouse and James Mercer (of the Shins) make a record that’s not bad, but not the sum of its parts, either.

Brandon: C+

This record has gotten a lot of heat in the mainstream press, but the indie media that’s been the meat and potatoes for both Danger Mouse and the Shins has been awfully silent on this record. That’s because its not as good as the major records by either artist. While they don’t sound terribly similar, it’s hard not to compare this record to the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse Dark Night of the Soul--a comparison that this record doesn’t come out favorably with. There are a few tracks (“The Ghost Inside”) where this record transcends its usual "the Shins meets weak-ass trip-hop beats," but generally, this sounds like Shins outtakes with blips and handclaps.

Lin: C+

Since I didn't keep up with much of the music press this year, I'm going into many of these albums knowing nothing or little about what they're "supposed" to be or having other information that helps me make "critical shortcuts." Most albums are benefited by this (notice, for instance, how many reviews I've written that conclude with "good, but not as good as previous albums"). Thus far, no album has benefited as much as Broken Bells: I figured, going into it, that this was going to be a crappy pseudo indie pop album liked by people I don't like. (This is probably due to the name and the cover art.)

But that's not what this album is. Yes, compared to what this "should" sound like -- i.e. Danger Mouse and The Shins -- the album is minor. On the flip side, I'm not a fan of The Shins, that makes this more enjoyable. The opening two tracks are a promising start that's never really fulfilled, the next few tracks sounding like cut-rate Flaming Lips. "October" is my favorite here, the repeating piano figure providing an unsettling backbone that reminds me of Elliott Smith. All this said, I doubt I'll be coming back to this album again.

Broken Social Scene
Forgiveness Rock Record
Released May 4, 2010 (Arts & Crafts)

Short Notes: Neither great nor horrible, but nothing special either.

Brandon: C+

I was an early BSS adopter. I bought You Forgot It In People the week it was reviewed in Pitchfork, and I loved that record my first year in grad school. But the last two records by the Toronto collective have been generally less captivating, less filled with the soaring pop of their best work, more varied but less engaging. I think it’s a decent, middle-of-the-road indie pop record, but, unfortunately, that’s not what I want from a band that has meant that much for me in the past. But “Texico Bitches,” the third track, is worth the download.

Lin: C
I believe I've mentioned previously that I listen to most music while doing other things. I've become fairly adept at keeping part of my brain on the music while doing the work that needs to be done; as such, I generally consider it a bad sign when I get done listening to a track and have no recollection of it. I'm all for subtlety (not every track needs to or should be a banger) but there ought to be enough there that makes me -- consciously or not -- want to listen to it. I've tried to get into BSS's critically acclaimed You Forgot It In People but was never really able to. I've gone through that one a few times because I get the feeling that there's just something I'm missing. I don't get that feeling with this new one. I'm not even sure what comparisons to make so that I can do my critic's duty to try and help you decide if you'd like it. It's probably not the best critic, but this reminds me of how I feel about the Belle & Sebastian record reviewed earlier. Brandon's right, I think, that "Texico Bitches" is the highlight, though I feel as strongly (...lukewarm) about "Art House Director" and "Water In Hell."

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