Artist: Broken Bells
Extended Play: Meyrin Fields
In some ways, Brian Burton has forgotten the gambits that took him from basement bricolage to as close to celebrity as producers come. As Danger Mouse, he prefers to let his musical counterparts take the foreground while he does the heavy lifting. He’s been responsible for jumpstarting niche rapper Cee-Lo Green’s career in Gnarls Barkley, Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz project with the critical and commercial success of Demon Days, and last year’s Broken Bells, a collaboration with Shins frontman James Mercer.
Broken Bells’ self-titled debut attracted much fanfare. Partly because of lead single “The High Road”, which massaged Mercer’s melody with a supercomputer synth, and also because a few standout tracks (“The Ghost Inside”, “The Mall and Misery”) off the self-titled were simply delectable, either due to Danger Mouse’s airtight, cartoonish production, or Mercer’s chocolate tenor. The rest was uninspired, gilded with recycled orchestral pieces that probably missed the cut for Gorillaz.
Their new EP, Meyrin Fields, is composed of half-baked b-sides. From the same sessions that created an album comprised of half-baked b-sides. Mercer’s vocals take the backseat on these tracks, which tells you the debut was clawing for radio play while Meyrin Fields is for-fans-only. This could make for a notable EP, showing the flip-side-of-the-coin, the man behind the curtain: Danger Mouse. Except some of these must be the most mundane beats Danger Mouse has configured since becoming indie pop’s golden boy.
Climbing a stairmaster would be an apt time for listening to the electro of title song “Meyrin Fields”. The refrain is a busied, unmelodic line that will bob heads in the MGMT crowd. It has the alien distance, but without any of the souped-up alien gadgetry. “Windows” shares the cultish vibe, rolling militantly on the drums with Mercer straining to create a hook that can be sung-along to as easily as the singles. Both songs sound undoubtedly like Broken Bells. The futura, cel-shaded beats feel logical, but in all of this inventiveness a factor of passion is missing.
Things get progressively better, becoming less plotted and more pedestrian on “An Easy Life”. It’s not as interesting as some of Danger Mouse’s fashionable lollygaggers and doesn’t play to the more live-oriented stylings of Mercer, but struts with personality.
The EP wraps up on a high note, though. The beachy bass tones and chlorine-bleached guitars blow up “Heartless Empire” with something that sounds, remotely, like life. Theme park adages dilate electronically as Mercer tries a whistle that at least sounds spontaneous. It’s the shortest track and doesn’t traverse much terrain, but working overtime on the production is what convolutes Meyrin Fields’s other efforts.
It’s hard to fault artists for putting out rarities, but the affliction with Meyrin Fields is basically the same as with the self-titled: The songs possess cool jingles, orbs of pure pop, but thereafter rely mostly on their makers’ established credibility to push them past the finish line.
Grade: C (74)