Danger Mouse and James Mercer team up as Broken Bells on self-titled debut

Pairing Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton with Cee-lo Green in Gnarls Barkley seemed natural. Setting him up with Beck, the Black Keys, MF Doom and Gorillaz made sense, too. But putting Danger Mouse in a recording studio with Shins frontman James Mercer is a less intuitive choice.

No one’s saying the Shins aren’t soulful in their own way, but Mercer’s quirky indie-pop sensibility seems less mutable than Burton’s omnivorous musical appetite. Still, they make it work as Broken Bells on a self-titled debut of the same name (Columbia).

From the start, there’s no mistaking either of them: first song “The High Road” opens with noodling electronic blorps and settles into a classic Danger Mouse soul vamp: dry purposeful rhythm and deep wandering bass enlivened by flashes of electronic color.

Mercer sings over that foundation in his familiar pinched voice, going high as he leads up to the chorus and sliding into a coda where wistful piano takes over.

The pair dials in a punchier sound on “The Ghost Inside,” a brisk rhythm, bright handclaps and burbling electronics framing Mercer’s falsetto vocals. “October” would have fit on the Shins’ last record, while “Mongrel Heart” has more of a Gnarls Barkley feel with active bass and a buzzing synthesizer.

There’s a little too much of that see-saw effect as “Broken Bells” teeters back and forth between Mousy songs and Shinsy songs. The ones that work best, naturally, are the ones where Burton and Mercer find a middle ground.

(Photo by Josh Cheuse)

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