It was exciting when James Mercer and Danger Mouse first collaborated as Broken Bells in 2010. Mercer's sweet, signature songwriting shone through the tight and innovative production underneath, and the result proved to be easy, enjoyable compatibility.
But their new, four-track EP is more of a challenge. First of all, it's dark. The first 30 seconds sound like they could be the backing track to some kind of industrial, dystopian Mario Kart. Then, lyrically, it's equally bleak. Mercer, whose vocals are doubled with some pitched up version of himself, sings what sounds like an indictment of both one person (former lover?) and Society in General. "Your body and soul will call a grave you've been avoiding," he sings. "This city, your culture, your modern-day suffering is over." Danger Mouse" (if you're to guess at the division of his duties and Mercer's) sounds perfectly comfortable in his role as gloomy-doomy mix master. The next three tracks are experiments in genre for Meyrin Fields' brownfield soundscape. "Windows" brings the psychedelic funk party to the album, and then "An Easy Life" works some boopty-doopty reggae into the mix. But the last track, "Heartless Empire," is the clear success of these ventures. Here, instead of just mushing their different sensibilities into one dark, beat-complex pop song, Danger Mouse" and Mercer try something different altogether. "Heartless" drops the clean, tight synths and keys and goes for something sweepingly shoegazey, which is refreshing compared to the rest of the very, (at times uncomfortably) produced EP.