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Broken Bells

Meyrin Fields

Rating: 3.3/5.0

Label: Columbia

The album art for Broken Bells’ 2010 self-titled debut pictures a florescent pink globe against an outer space background of Kodachromatic distress. This frame-filling simulacrum is not exactly spherical; it’s more of an origami orb – round, yes, but attaining its overall shape through an intricate pattern of crisp-edged folds. This object might be a paper lantern dangling in a dark sky, a puffer fish conception of things planetary or an artistic representation of the mathematical non-conundrum, “How many angles does a sphere have?” A column of light is trained onto an opening on one of the plane-surfaces; it’s hard to tell if this light source is penetrating in or emanating out. It’s an intuitive design as all of these lofty elements – galactic colors, the textures of folded peaks, beams of luminosity – translate into an apt description of Broken Bells’ ultra-modern sound.

Meyrin Fields, the new EP from this intellectually delightful partnership between multi-instrumentalist/producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) and Shins frontman James Mercer continues on the same trajectory into a slinky-sounding future. The title track (and B-side companion to debut single “The High Road”) is a traveling line of ripcord arpeggios, mixing up in that signature Danger Mouse way the sounds of analog blips and trebly piano plinks. Mercer’s vocals are doubled an octave higher – either by a female guest or perhaps by Mercer’s own voice, sampled and reconstituted by the Mouse. It’s an eerie, sidelong effect, matching up well with apocalypse-light lyrics like, “This city/ Your culture/ Your modern day suffering/ Is over/ So what if/ I love it/ I can’t help it…

While “Meyrin Fields” is a B-side worthy of single status, the balance of the tracks on this EP lacks the sublime verve that those of Broken Bells exhibited in spades. “Windows” has Mercer speak-singing – and while the velocity of the word tumble wants the cred of innovation, on a vocalist like Mercer it feels like a poorly chosen experiment gone gimmick. “An Easy Life,” as the title suggests, explores the Bells’ sound at its most superficially poppy. The most melodic of the songs, Burton dials down his programs here, the heaviest sound of interference being a series of confetti-like tones dotting the second verse. Closer “Heartless Empire” possesses a gratifying intro – staccatoed triplets in the form of organ quacks are soon leveled by a stuffed mattress-full of guitar buzz – but the verses sort of wander away half-aimlessly. While the debut album was packed with scores of odd bits to love, this sampling – while far from a failure – suffers from a handful of mitigating weaknesses.

Meyrin Fields’ album cover depicts that familiar pink globe in a serpentine mid-crumple. From the sounds of the EP, we are catching Burton and Mercer at a stopgap – between something big and something bigger there is that blurry process of reconfiguration. As we await their second full-length (rumor has it they are soldiering forward), Meyrin Fields serves as a middling consolation. Though the pace is more cruise control than light speed, it’s good to be along for the shape-shift.

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