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Album review: Broken Bells' self-titled debut

March 8, 2010 |  6:47 pm

Broken_bells_240_  If Zach Braff ever makes "Garden State 2," "Vaporize," the second track from this accomplished collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, will be the soundtrack to Natalie Portman widening her doe eyes at our next hapless hero. With dusty strumming and soulful organ, Mercer's ennui about wasted modern life makes soul mates, at least temporarily, out of anyone listening.

Cinematic, unexpectedly romantic and carefully curated, "Broken Bells" has the same appeal as Postal Service's 2003 "Give Up" record, another celebrated accord between indie pop and electronica powers, though it skews more toward sparkling but dense folk rock than meticulously minimalist electronica.

A short album of 10 tracks pared from 20 recorded songs, "Broken Bells" is a potent distillation of the strengths of its main players. Mercer's knack for twisting and turning melodies is impeccably served by Burton, who tempers and fulfills those melodies with laid-back but elaborate scores of synth, piano, organ and sometimes a full string section, the only instruments not played by Burton or Mercer.

Though a par excellence enmeshment, "Broken Bells" doesn't yield any surprises and might be controlled to a fault. On the last track, the urgent but ruminating "The Mall and Misery," the two loosen enough to work themselves into a groove that sounds genuinely spontaneous, instead of like a brilliant but distant approximation. It gives the work a thrilling edge -- one that the pair can soar off of for next time.

-- Margaret Wappler 

Broken Bells
"Broken Bells"
Three and a half stars (Out of four)