Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Broken Bells

I sit here and listen to a record like the new Broken Bells (James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse of, well, Danger Mouse) and I can't help but be a bit disappointed. Every once in a while something new comes along that seems like it might be a bit different than the stuff around it. This was certainly one of those cases, as both the Shins and Danger mouse had consistently sat just beyond the realm of artists I listened to on a 'regular' basis. (This is where I really want to tangent down the path of talking about how today's music industry makes it nearly impossible to regularly listen to anything without being made to feel like you are severely missing out on countless other works. But I shan't!) I love Mercer's voice, and I have always been a sucker for an unlikely musical union, which up until only recently, had me drooling stupidly over mash-up trash like the ten year old version of me drooled over the new graphics for the 32-bit Sega Genesis expansion. I got to the point, however, where mash-up sounded like an angry stay-at-home mother trying to jam two puzzle pieces together that clearly didn't fit, but "dagnabbit all the friggin puppies look exactly alike."
So when this album came out with immediate favorable reviews, I was genuinely excited. I pulled the big vinyl disc out of its sleeve and lowered the cheap little plastic needle onto the outer edge. I sat and watched the arm work its way into the first groove and Danger Mouse danced out his playful intro. Mercer, in no hurry, joins in and the first track quickly settles into a refreshing experience. The album plateaued quickly, however, and the result is an interesting experimentation, a thought-piece compiled by two people that in the end seemed too different to be together relevant. Indeed, the eclectic duo turned out to be exactly what they had originally claimed to be, broken bells.
But what the album reminded me of (you be the judge as to whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that it has virtually nothing to do with music) is that we are all broken bells, put simply, and that there is something rejuvenating about that.
I am a wretched, rusty old thing, clanging and vibrating noisily when struck. Rest assured, you are nothing better. Lined up and sectioned off, we stand as a miserable, defunct orchestra of broken drumsticks, dented horns. And yet somehow, if only even for moments at a time, God impossibly composes beauty from what is otherwise garbage. Whether its Danger Mouse and James Mercer coming together in "The High Road", a stranger holding the elevator door, or a dandelion growing through a crack in the sidewalk, it' always wonderful seeing the way God overcomes.
I can't help but end pretty much every piece of writing with God. He looms over me, sometimes like a spinning ceiling fan, refreshing, replenishing, and welcome; other times like a storm cloud that never rains. Nevertheless, He is undeniably there, penetrating even song tracks that more than likely had no intention of having anything to do with him. Yeah, a storm cloud that never rains, circling overhead; that sounds just like something i would say.
God, I'm ready for the rain. I'm a broken bell.


  1. Danger Mouse's real name is... Brian Burton! NPR's All Songs Considered had a recent show where they talk to both James and Brian about the album. It puts a lot of it in perspective. You might appreciate their dialogue on various sounds coming from old, decrepit instruments, that won't likely ever be reproduced in the exact same way.

  2. Amazing sentiment, sir.

    I definitely agree that we are each a broken bell.