Broken Bells find the disco beat

Brian Burton, left, and James Mercer, of Broken Bells. Photo: Jeff Christensen/AP/PA Photos
Brian Burton, left, and James Mercer, of Broken Bells. Photo: Jeff Christensen/AP/PA Photos

When James Mercer and Brian Burton announced their collaboration towards the end of 2009, they were already two of the most-respected named in music.

Mercer was the brains behind New Mexico’s indie-pop heroes The Shins - while not household names, they were, in no small part thanks to Natalie Portman’s character’s endorsement in 2004 film Garden State.

Burton, meanwhile, was one half of Gnarls Barkley with CeeLo Green, a world-renowned DJ largely thanks to his Grey Albumand producer, with albums by the likes of Gorillaz and Beck on his CV.

Their coming together as Broken Bells was always going to be interesting, and their self-titled debut was certainly that. A string of festival appearances and a world tour duly followed, although a year later they’d both returned to their day jobs.

“We knew about halfway through making the first album that we wanted to carry on working together,” says Burton. “We didn’t know there’d be another album as such, just that we’d do something again sometime.”

Somehow, they found time to write and record After The Disco, due for release in early February. Current single Holding On For Life perfectly sets the scene for its arrival, with Mercer’s unmistakable voice crooning a melancholic melody over Eighties synths and a thick beat you might find on a Dr Dre record.

There’s also a chorus which, if you squint, could easily be the Bee Gees at their harmonious best. Given the allusion to disco in the album’s title, that connection makes sense, even if it was accidental.

“The disco in the title’s more in the sense of a disco as a nightclub, rather than disco music, so we were naive for thinking people wouldn’t make that connection,” says Burton. “Then there’s those Bee Gees harmonies. But we didn’t plan any of it, honest.”