Hot Disc: Broken Bells

When it comes to heavyweight pop collaborations, there’s a lot to be fearful of: Stepping on toes, amounting to the sum of two parts, going through the motions. Broken Bells’ self-titled debut is nothing of the sort.

Broken Bells is James Mercer, principle songwriter for the Shins, and Brian Burton of Danger Mouse fame. Together, they’ve made an empyreal pop record. One that’s psychedelic, atmospheric and hypnotic. It’s being drawn up to a 21st Century Pet Sounds made with special tools. And it’s damn good.

Mutual musical admirers, Mercer and Burton became fast-friends on the road in 2004. By 2008 they were collaborating at Burton’s home studio. If you’re wont to imagine tête-à-tête songwriting at play here, then you’ll be surprised by the musical kinship that pulses through Broken Bells.

Each artist challenged his cohort to expand beyond comfortable parameters. On Broken Bells, Burton tones down his penchant for synth, mainly playing live instruments, like drums, piano, organ and bass, while Mercer broadens his vocals with persuasive falsettos and deeper range. Which is best heard on “The Ghost Inside,” a track that emerges as the sum of its parts, but quickly expands outward as it moves inside itself, fleshing out how Mercer and Burton enhance each other’s work.

What results is a meditative album that reaches some lofty heights, while plumbing some ponderous lows. A melancholy underscores Broken Bells, but it’s presented with the same tact Broken Bells has in collaborating, a powerful equilibrium pulled off with seeming effortlessness.

Broken Bells was released yesterday on Columbia.

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