Indie rock group Broken Bells’ sophomore album After the Disco blends a mixture of disco beats and layered tones, resulting in an even-paced album with no standout high or low points. The entire album wallows in its laid-back chillness. While Broken Bells’ successful first album, 2010’s Broken Bells, might be seen as an incoherent mixture of many different styles, the greater variety was undeniably more interesting to listen to than the often-flat yet cohesive sounds of After the Disco.
Broken Bells itself is a duo consisting of James Mercer, vocalist and lead guitarist of the indie rock band The Shins, and artist-producer Brian Burton, known as Danger Mouse. Burton is known for forming Gnarls Barkley and has produced albums for the Gorillaz, The Black Keys and U2. Burton has won Grammys for both performance and production.
After the Disco is chock-full of melancholy lyrics about someone trying to distance himself from his lover due to their different directions in life. The album tells the tales of the parting couple, the lyrics expressing mixed disappointment and occasional phrases of reassurance. These heavy, emotional lyrics are set right alongside the poppy beats, catchy melodies and the nearly-danceable style found across the entire album. In the title track Mercer sings, “How did I get in this winding maze of love? / And there’s something wrong and it’s sending you round and round ‘til we go nowhere.” It’s a bit strange that the high emotionality of the lyrics are found on an album with tracks that are so upbeat.
After the Disco highlights the wide range of Mercer’s vocals, and the lyrics describe the emotions of someone disenchanted with his lover: “I’m not the dreamer or the dream you’re out there looking for,” Mercer sings. In “The Changing Lights,” the lover reassures himself that “It won’t bother me now, and you know I’ll be okay / You gotta lead your life.” Tracks throughout the album feature similar lyrics: “Holding on for Life” features the wistful lyric “What a lovely day to be lonely” for example. Slightly pathetic lyrics of self-defeat such as these contrast with the overall tone and melody of the album. While After the Disco is lacking stylistic variety, it’s never stale because of its style deeply entrenched in disco.
After the Disco is perfect background music. It won’t irritate anyone, and its basic, laid-back feel makes for an easy listen. But it’s these exact things that make After the Disco feel stylistically flat and, therefore, sort of boring.
2.5 out of 5 stars