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Breaking: Broken Bells

March 3, 2010 2:14 PM ET

Who: The Shins' singer-guitarist James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton), who've taken time off from their usual gigs to team for a new self-titled disc of left-field psych-pop. (Read the RS review here.)

Sounds Like: Spooky psychedelia with a British Invasion flavor. Burton outfits Mercer's beautiful melodies and with analog-synth swooshes, slo-mo kick drums and horn breaks. The mellow punch of "Vaporize" features zippy organ and rolling snare, and Mercer goes for a T-Pained falsetto on the catchy, electro-kicky "The Ghost Inside."

Vital Stats:
• Recording sessions for Broken Bells resembled a budding bromance. Mercer moved into Burton's L.A. bachelor pad, and they'd go to the movies, listen to records (Love, the Zombies), drink at dive bars and talk about relationships and life. "We definitely had separate rooms," Burton tells RS.
• One of the main reasons the two musicians linked up was a search for fun. Mercer says he wondered, " 'Do I still have the curiosity and enthusiasm' " to be the sole songwriter and frontman for the Shins. Burton felt less like a collaborator than a hired gun on projects with Gorillaz and Beck. With Broken Bells, "I was free to express any idea I had," the producer says.
• Both Mercer and Burton say they're focusing on Broken Bells right now, but the status of their day jobs seems a little up in the air. "There's been no discussion" of another Gnarls Barkley LP, Burton says, and Mercer notes, "I'll probably, you know, find the time at some point" to make another Shins record.


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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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