There are certain albums that can take you back to a very certain place in time. After the first few notes of the first song the listener is transported back to wherever they were when they first heard the album. Most Circa Survive albums sound like winter to me because that’s when I really got into them. My girlfriend can’t listen to Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li without thinking about her semester abroad in Belgium (If you haven’t heard it, Wounded Rhymes is well worth your time).
Broken Bells’ self-titled debut album takes me back to the town where I went to college. It was spring time and I was driving on some weird back roads looking for a book fair that had really awesome deals on a bunch of old books that interested no one but me. I wore that album out that summer.
After the Disco is the sophomore album of the aforementioned Broken Bells, a collaborative between Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton and James Mercer of The Shins. The album is peppered with dancy-y disco beats, but one of my favorite things about this album, and I’m not sure if I’m being prompted by the name, is that it sounds like a hangover feels. Repetitive drums, layered keys, and thick vocal reverb lead to a very hazy and dream-like sound. On the more up-tempo tracks, Danger Mouse’s production combined with Mercer’s knack for melody make for instantly catchy songs. The problem, though, is the slower songs don’t seem to balance the dance songs. After the Disco certainly has an ebb and flow like any good album should, but the give and take on this particular album seems a bit off for some reason. The highs are super high, and the lows are super low.
Here are a few starting points if you’re going to skim the album:
“Perfect World” – A lot like the first sentence of a novel, the first track to any album sets the tone for the entire thing. A driving dance song that’s easy to get lost in really hits its stride after the bridge with the half-time semi-breakdown.
“After the Disco” – The second single and the title track to the album harkens back to disco. The song relies heavily on the synth and bass to get the listener moving. But the hand claps on the upbeat of 3 and the downbeat of 4 are one of my favorite devices that Danger Mouse employs (on the first album too) to ensure that “After the Disco” gets stuck in your head.
“Medicine” – This song in particular sounds like it belongs on their first album. It’s a mid-tempo song that starts with just vocals, bass, and percussion, but then kinda gets stuck there. There’s something about the song, though, that makes it one of my favorites.
So what is it that makes an album speak to someone? Is it a certain person, a certain album, a certain place, and a certain time? Do all of those things have to combine to make an album unforgettable? Or can an album be so good that other factors don’t matter? Or are both of these scenarios possible? I’m not sure what it was that made me like the first Broken Bells album so much. I’m also not sure what it is that isn’t speaking to me about After the Disco. It has yet to grab hold of me as intensely as the first album did, but that’s probably the worst thing I can say about it. Ultimately, it’s a fantastic album that I highly recommend. After a few months of listening to it on and off I’m sure I’ll come around.