As ringleader of the Shins, James Mercer has left a busload of bandmates on the hard shoulder over the past two decades. His longest lasting act must be Broken Bells, this occasional project with best mate Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. The duo’s first two albums established a pattern of flirting convincingly with various genres (new wave, folk, prog, post-punk) before ghosting them entirely. Impressive, but weirdly hard to enjoy. Into the Blue is similarly promiscuous, but more frequently dazzling.
It helps that these songs better suit Mercer’s occasionally gauche, awkward voice, allowing him to stand firm amid the provocations of Burton’s stellar productions. Love on the Run could be the most powerfully pretty thing either has managed since the Shins’ New Slang – a prog rock psychedelic soul epic, which wears its seven minutes lightly. Like many Danger Mouse projects, the album doesn’t always work as a continuous listening experience, but it’s an absorbing journey. Tarantino-tinged gem Forgotten Boy is spikily entertaining, while The Chase, with its strings, synths and hip-hop heft, is surely the closest thing to a definitive Broken Bells mission statement since debut single The High Road.