Broken Bells

  • Record Label: Sony
  • Release Date: Mar 9, 2010

Generally favorable reviews - based on 31 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 20 out of 31
  2. Negative: 0 out of 31
  1. Broken Bells is the crown jewel of each musician's discography and is a necessity for fans of either one.
  2. 90
    Every moment on Broken Bells is necessary. James Mercer and Brian Burton, in this highly personal project, have nurtured a carefully multilayered array of pleasant sound with slow-moving vocals that capture the best of the worlds of both these talented artists.
  3. What makes Broken Bells such a compelling body of work is undeniably the result of the broad range of sounds that fill its palette. Although there are instances whereby each of the two conspirators come to the forefront, at no point does this sound like a Shins record with beats or a hip hop record with guitars.
  4. 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.
  5. Burton builds layered, twilit soundscapes for Mercer's pensive musings; these songs are the stuff of cloudy days and sleepless nights, and that's okay.
  6. The album finishes almost as well as it started with 'The Mall & Misery' (a bit of country, a bit of disco, lightening bolts of new wave guitar, harmonies to intoxicate), proving the album's effective inevitability is not tedious and the quality is clear whichever direction you approach from.
  7. Mojo
    The resulting 10 songs are an intriguing genetic mix of modern psychedelia and eccentrioc pop. [Apr 2010, p.93]
  8. Mercer's gently off-beam pop songs are lit up colourfully by the duo's choice of arrangements.
  9. It turns out the two pop-science geeks are a perfect match. Danger Mouse pushes Mercer's gorgeous, existential tunecraft outward with Day-Glo dynamics.
  10. In stretching the '60s-mining acoustic pop of the Shins over a cracked foundation of sonic-world-building, sometimes one plus one equals three. It's just weird enough to work.
  11. Little wonder that their "Broken Bells" (Columbia) project, on which they play all the instruments, packs 11 meticulously orchestrated songs into less than 38 minutes. Burton puts a little wobble on just about every sound he conjures and Mercer pushes his voice outside its comfort zone, particularly in the upper register, making this a chilled little side-trip of an album.
  12. He may have found the perfect partner in the Shins' James Mercer, whose moody pop sensibilities complement Mouse's muted time-capsule colors.
  13. 72
    What Broken Bells lacks in risk it makes up in tenderness. Aww.
  14. Unlike its creators' best prior accomplishments, Broken Bells doesn't seem prepared, or even attempting, to cross over. Nor does it feel like a new direction or outlet for either artist-- it's more of a nice detour.
  15. The album's dominant themes spread themselves thin in places, such as the bland, punchless stretch around the record's middle mark. When Mercer and Burton are on point though, it works, and works well.
  16. There's ample melody in the music, and the lyrics hold anguish and malaise. But Broken Bells' production numbs the songs. What could have been cries from the heart are turned into in-jokes.
  17. Despite the scrappy rhythm guitar of album closer "The Mall & Misery," this project rarely resembles a rock band. It does, however, really feel like a group.
  18. Broken Bells produces enough magic for one to hope Burton and Mercer don't move on quite yet, but stick around for another few dates.
  19. The singer matches Danger Mouse's inventive sonics with his usual complement of twisty-turny melodies and dense wordplay, though compared with the Shins' relatively high-octane 2007 release, "Wincing the Night Away," such jangly space-folk tunes as "Vaporize" and "Sailing to Nowhere" can seem a little snoozy.
  20. No doubt this will be a popular record, and Mercer and Burton's musical moods are hypnotizing regardless of what else is going on. But it's a mild disappointment that Broken Bells couldn't take better advantage of Mercer's songwriting skills.
  21. Broken Bells is an honest-to-goodness debut album--there are as many promising flashes as frustrating moments here. Mercer and Burton have obvious chemistry, but they need to blend more for true alchemy.
  22. Burton deserves some of the blame for the album's shortcomings as well, even if his creative engineering is the high point. He gives us some gorgeously layered textures and swirling atmospherics, but then backs those up with tepid and forgettable beats.
  23. Q Magazine
    This instant familiarity is their strength but also the source of the mild disappointment that nags through the rest of the record, since it mostly amounts to variations on a theme, few of which scale those initial heights. [Apr 2010, p.116]
  24. 60
    All three of these projects emanate a tasteful, bloodless efficiency. The songs appear to take chances--sweeping chord changes, symphonic progressions, darts into electronic sound--but there's little at stake.
  25. Uncut
    "high Road" is melodic enough, for sure, and Mercer is a clear-voiced singer, but the album's interest palls when Mouse's answer to life, the universe and everything proves to be "pedestrian breakbeat." [Apr 2010, p.83]
  26. The High Road and Vaporize are exactly what you would expect: exquisite collisions of Murphy's masterful, slightly winsome melodies and Danger Mouse's sonic skills, as also applied to Gorillaz, Beck and Gnarls Barkley. However, elsewhere the pair – who met in 2004 and have been talking about working together ever since – form too much of a mutual appreciation society to push each other beyond their comfort zones.
  27. The pace is so chilled it would make a trip-hopper give up valium, and once past Vaporise it's hard to take much notice. You suddenly find yourself at track seven, and don't remember what's come before. Things do pick up again towards the end, although by now the debt owed to other artists is piling up.
  28. Broken Bells is clearly a mood record, but even with so many textures, resources and talent, it all hits one stilted note. Either this is an indicator of where the temporarily Shin-less Mercer is headed or its little more than a curious footnote on his and Burton's careers.
  29. At its very best, when the collaboration clicks, Broken Bells boasts some truly marvelous songs, but these peaks are sandwiched between tracks that struggle to exceed colorless tedium.
  30. Individually, both men are astounding talents, but beyond a few solid tracks, the alchemy's just not there.
  31. Alternative Press
    The vibe on Broken Bellls is so mellow and laid-back that the album dissolves into mere ambient wallpaper. [Apr 2010, p.122]
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 77 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 10 out of 11
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 11
  3. Negative: 1 out of 11
  1. Sep 19, 2012
    Broken Bells is an album born from the collaboration of The Shins
  2. Feb 9, 2014
    Beautifully varied music. The combination of the Danger Mouse groove and Mercer's voice makes for a perfect album. Some songs are chilling andBeautifully varied music. The combination of the Danger Mouse groove and Mercer's voice makes for a perfect album. Some songs are chilling and others are amazingly catchy. It's perfect. Full Review »
  3. Dec 6, 2013
    This is much better than the score suggests. Innovative, catchy, haunting. An excellent debut from Mercer and Burton. These two have anThis is much better than the score suggests. Innovative, catchy, haunting. An excellent debut from Mercer and Burton. These two have an incredible chemistry. Mercer's brilliant melodies and Burton's grooves matched together is nirvana. Full Review »