Category: Broken Bells

Ludacris back at No. 1 with 'Battle of the Sexes'

Ludacris 2008 Mel Melcon

Atlanta rapper-actor Ludacris is back atop the national sales chart with his latest, “Battle of the Sexes,” his third No. 1 album and the first rap collection to make it to the top since Jay-Z’s “Blueprint” logged two weeks there in September.

It’s a rebound of sorts for the rhymer born Christopher Bridges, after his 2008 album, “Theater of the Mind,” made it only as high as No. 5. “Battle of the Sexes” had first-week sales of 137,000 copies, putting it just ahead of the new Gorillaz effort, “Plastic Beach,” opening at No. 2 on sales of 112,000 copies.

In a strong week for new releases, with five debuting in the Top 10, the posthumous Jimi Hendrix collection “Valleys of Neptune” enters the chart at No. 4, on sales of 95,000 copies. That’s one notch higher than the peak position of his landmark 1967 debut album, “Are You Experienced?,” and right behind 1968’s “Axis: Bold as Love” and 1971’s “The Cry of Love,” both of which peaked at No. 3. The rock guitar hero scored his only No. 1 album in 1968 with “Electric Ladyland.”

The other new entries to the chart this week are from Southland-reared country singer Gary Allan, who debuts at No. 5 on sales of 65,000 copies of “Get Off the Pain,” and  Broken Bells, the new group featuring producer Danger Mouse and Shins singer James Mercer. Their collaboration, also called “Broken Bells,” starts out at No. 7 with sales of 49,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Ludacris. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Live review: Broken Bells at the Troubadour

Nearly 30-minutes into an hour-long set, and in the midst of a rather ornate keyboard-led number, Broken Bells lead singer James Mercer tried to put a naive lover in her place. "You got me wrong," he sang during the chorus of the exquisitely mid-tempo "October," calmly and coolly teasing a falsetto. Yet the frontman, best known for his day job fronting beloved indie-pop band the Shins, may as well have been addressing the audience. 

In Broken Bells, Mercer's collaboration with genre-shifting producer Danger Mouse, the singer swaps the jangly upbeat bounce of the Shins for something a bit more dreamy, and even at times a little soulful. For Danger Mouse (real name: Brian Burton), Broken Bells may not be nearly as groovy or as psychedelic as his partnership with Cee-Lo Green in Gnarls Barkley, yet a case could be made that it better shows off his skills as a melodic craftsman. 

With only 10 original songs that clock in at about 40 minutes, Broken Bells, performing as a 7-piece at the Troubadour, were a study in minimalism, using a mix of electronics and a standard bass, drum and guitar setup to whip up a brief set of mini-symphonies. Opener and lead-off single "The High Road," with zig-zag effects, a dusty rhythm, subtle harmonies and a Haight Ashbury-inspired keyboard, conjured a feeling of a long-lost vintage AM radio cut, yet still managed to feel utterly fresh.

Broken Bells aren't a group that works up much of a sweat. Only the forlorn, Southwestern-style guitars of "The Mall & Misery" threatened to overtake the soft-voiced Mercer. Instead, this is a band of texture and mood. Synths mimicked violins on the aforementioned song, and "Your Head Is on Fire" opened with a lengthy dub-meets-digital overture reminiscent of the Clash's beat-orientated experiments on "Sandinista!"

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Broken Bells unveils album in Los Angeles

Broken Bells, the hotly anticipated new project between Danger Mouse and the Shins' James Mercer,  had a coming-out-party Friday night, performing at the intimate Bootleg Theater for industry pals and those lucky enough to score some of the tickets that went on sale Friday morning. With a capacity of about 200, tickets didn't last long, and Pop & Hiss was forced to head home to watch some Olympic ice dancing instead.*

Nevertheless, plenty of amateur videographers were in attendance, and YouTube continues to help bring some context to rock 'n' roll myth-making. Above, Mercer and Danger Mouse, performing as part of what we're told was a six-piece band, dig into lead-off track "The High Road," from the act's upcoming March 9 release of its self-titled effort. 

With Mercer tapping his falsetto, and the slow, trippy introduction of background harmonies, Broken Bells manages to sound familiar yet contemporary, like the uncovering of a vintage album given some modern electronic flourishes. Or, to use a musical reference point, a more soulful take on the folksy-electro sound used to great effect by the Beta Band

Broken Bells, which will appear at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, pulled out some rock-crit-approved covers, including the Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" and Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson & Clover." The former was uncovered by Consequence of Sound, and is showcased after the jump.

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