Broken Bells' 'After the Disco': What the Critics Are Saying

Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment
"After the Disco"

The indie duo returns with a space-rock sophomore album.

Broken Bells' Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) recently told Rolling Stone that the duo's sophomore effort, After the Disco, is "a pretty sad record." But Mouse and his counterpart, The Shins' James Mercer, go beyond melancholy in their second studio album as they explore deep, dark themes with a space-rock sound.

Out Feb. 4, After the Disco consists of 11 psych-pop tracks -- a modest release largely on par with the duo’s self-titled debut, which received a 2011 Grammy nomination for the best alternative music album.

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Reviews are mixed thus far: For hipsters and sci-fi fans, Broken Bells’ latest project has definite appeal, but many listeners may consider the album’s synths and sentimentality overworked. After the Disco gains ground in this week’s What the Critics Are Saying:

Rolling Stone’s Jon Dolan considers After the Disco "more cohesive, with tighter songs and a strong mood” by contrast to the band’s 2010 debut. Dolan gave the album 3 1/2 out of 5 stars, describing it as "at once sleek and world-weary, often homing in on that sexy moment of malaise when the Seventies wanted to turn into the Eighties so badly but didn’t quite know how to do it yet."

The New York TimesJon Pareles writes, "Broken Bells straighten out their priorities on their second album,” which "keeps the concept and fixes the mix” of the duo’s debut release. Pareles applauds the shift in focus from sounds to songs -- this time around, the musicians "don’t flaunt their cleverness; they let a listener discover it after the songs sink in."

The Guardian’s Kitty Empire gave After the Disco 3 out of 5 stars, conceding that it’s "really not a bad record at all." Empire calls the album "bittersweet, full of clever earworms and knowledgeable references," notably better than their debut release. "It might not be the craven product of a marketing meeting, but it sounds like two talented, successful guys making nice tunes, no less, no more."

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Boston Globe’s Sarah Rodman teases, "When the party’s over and you’re in that transitional space where mirth is giving way to melancholy…Broken Bells is there for you." The indie pair follows up with "another beguiling collection that merges New Wave and dance sensibility with winsome pop melodies." Thematically dynamic, After the Disco leaves listeners "at the intersection of beauty and pain."

The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot, like Dolan, finds Broken Bells’ sophomore album "more cohesive, but not necessarily better than their 2010 self-titled debut." For his part, Kot rated the album 2 1/2 out of 4, lauding the combined talents of Mercer and Mouse but resolving that, as it stands, After the Disco offers only “glimpses of what might have been."