Featuring two of the bigger names in alternative music — Shins singer/guitarist James Mercer and producer/multi-instrumentalist Danger Mouse — Broken Bells combines the pair’s greatest strengths. On 2010′s Grammy-nominated self-titled debut and 2014′s more structured After the Disco, Mercer’s gift for indelible, slightly eerie melodies and atmospheric productions of Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) complemented each other perfectly, while 2022′s Into the Blue proved their creative chemistry was still strong nearly a decade later.
Mercer and Burton were inspired to collaborate when they met at 2004′s Roskilde music festival in Denmark, where they discovered they were fans of each other’s work. However, they didn’t start writing and recording together as a band until March 2008, when Mercer holed up in Burton’s home studio in Los Angeles. They took a different approach to working together than with their other projects: Burton avoided the sample-heavy style he used on The Grey Album and Beck’s Modern Guilt, and played only live instruments; Mercer broadened his vocal style to include falsettos and deeper registers. Mercer and Burton made their official debut as Broken Bells in 2009, releasing their debut single, “The High Road,” late that year. Their self-titled debut album came out in March 2010; it reached number seven on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and was nominated for a Best Alternative Album award at the 2011 Grammy Awards. In 2011, the Meyrin Fields EP arrived, featuring previously unreleased tracks as well as the title track, which was the B-side to the single “The Ghost Inside.”
Following Meyrin Fields’ release, the two halves of Broken Bells spent some time on other projects: Burton produced music for artists including Norah Jones and Portugal. The Man, while Mercer rebooted the Shins with 2012′s Port of Morrow. Broken Bells returned in February 2014 with After the Disco, a more structured set of songs that touched on synth pop and new wave as well as disco influences. The following year, the duo issued the After the Disco outtake “It’s That Talk Again” as a stand-alone track.
Once again, Mercer and Burton devoted a few years to their other commitments. Burton lent his production skills to A$AP Rocky, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, and Karen O. Meanwhile, Mercer issued a pair of Shins albums, 2017′s Heartworms and 2018′s reimagining of that album, The Worm's Heart. Later in 2018, the duo reconvened as Broken Bells to release the track “Shelter.” Another single, “Good Luck,” arrived in September 2019 as they continued to work toward their next full-length. Following a Shins tour and Cheat Codes, Burton’s collaboration with the Roots’ Black Thought, Broken Bells released their third album, October 2022′s Into the Blue. Their first album to incorporate samples, it also incorporated psych-rock, trip-hop, and ’70s rock into their sound. ~ Heather Phares