Into the Blue

Broken Bells

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Into the Blue Review

by Heather Phares

After the release of 2014's After the Disco, Broken Bells' Danger Mouse and James Mercer took a healthy break from the project -- eight years, to be exact. During that time, Mercer released two albums and toured with the Shins, while Danger Mouse collaborated with artists including the Roots' Black Thought and further established himself as an A-list producer with clients like A$AP Rocky, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Karen O. From the sound of Into the Blue, however, Mercer and Danger Mouse also found time to stockpile songs and ideas to work on together. As on their self-titled debut album and After the Disco, the sweeping atmospheres are the focal point of Broken Bells' music, but rarely has their sprawl seemed so purposeful. "Into the Blue" is as much a statement of intent as a song so drifting can be. Tethered only by its deliberate beat, it's a space oddity that sounds sparse at first but gains altitude with massive clouds of keyboards, chimes, and backing vocals before it finally floats away. Danger Mouse and Mercer continue the trippy melancholy on "We're Not in Orbit," setting a galaxy's worth of regret to epic yet weightless rock that harks back to Pink Floyd. Similarly, the duo borrows from vintage R&B on the standout "Love on the Run," which balances stately strings and brass and one of Mercer's sweeter vocal performances in perfect harmony. However, as Into the Blue unfolds, its musical and emotional cohesion gives way to intriguing but more discrete tracks linked largely by their cinematic feel. The moody pulse of "One Night"'s synth pop feels like it was plucked from a montage in an '80s movie; "Forgotten Boy," with its trip-hop beat and smoky melody, could be the theme from a forgotten '90s spy film. Broken Bells' experiments deliver some ear-catching hybrids -- "Saturdays" gives Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles a futuristic sheen -- but also result in songs that could've used more editing. The towering keys and strings on "The Chase" feel overdone, especially when compared to "Invisible Exit," one of the album's simplest and finest moments. It may be a bit disjointed, but Into the Blue offers enough thoughtful songwriting and creative sonics to suggest Broken Bells has matured into the pleasantly offbeat side project it was always meant to be.

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