Please don’t be mad baby. I’ve just not been very enthused. Ever since the passing of Scott Hutchison, frontman of easily my favourite band of all time “Frightened Rabbit”, I have struggled to find the enjoyment in being glib or enthusiastic about my listening habits. When one is moulded by an artist’s back catalog, it is devastating when tragedy befalls them. When music becomes as much a part of our self-definition as our hair colour, and as much a part of our history as love affairs great or small, artists transcend their position as producers of music. They are a best friend, confidant and inseparable narrative forces in our personal histories. A pin on a board upon which we hang our lives.
Some artists, however, you simply grow up with. They are the neighbour’s kid who you’d kick a football around the road with, who came to your Birthday Party when you were small and always seemed to be in the same class as you. Somehow always being present in the larger friendship groups, parties and get-togethers that when you find yourself inviting people to your wedding, you can’t believe how many memories you’ve shared and just how they’d managed to become so significant.
For me, “Broken Bells” fit the description. Originally introduced to my library out of loyalty for The Shins, their music began to narrate my life in non-specific ways. Instead of immediate nostalgic memories, tracks such as “October” instead remind me of the smell of my university campus, sitting on an underground train three years later and will probably continue to do so when I’m attempting to get my future unborn child to sleep. “Shelter” is the new line in that narrative of evocative melding of experience with audio.
Broken Bells, the collaboration of Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame) and James Mercer from The Shins, have always felt like an unlikely marriage of brilliance. The tracks are a production of indie-pop through the sieve of a Tron soundtrack written by Neil Gaiman. All slightly digitised dreamscapes conjured by gifted musicians to send into the ether. Music made for late night festival sets and evening headphone commutes.
The new track, “Shelter” is unmistakably Broken Bells, with it’s soft nuanced production pairing with James Mercer’s relaxed vocal delivery. As the chorus hits, the similarities with the first record rise to the fore and continue onwards as it is followed by the jagged guitar rhythms that recall “Vaporize” from that very release. I missed the 2014 album release on account of not paying attention but if their back catalog is bookended by High Road and Shelter, it will be proof in the pudding in James Mercer as one of America’s most valuable pop songwriters and Danger Mouse as a world class conductor of perfect noise.