On the title track and opening song of Broken Bells‘ new album, INTO THE BLUE (out Friday, October 7th), James Mercer sets the stage by singing, “Overlapping lines in time/ cross and fade and intertwine/ where love and loss combine.” It’s a grandiose image to kick off the first Broken Bells album in eight years, but it’s also a beautiful metaphor for The Shins’ James Mercer and prolific producer Danger Mouse (AKA Brian Burton)’s friendship.
In between their many projects, Mercer and Burton have travelled the world, worked with numerous other musicians and mediums, and continued building out their extensive legacies. But as Broken Bells, there’s a mutual love and respect that radiates from their cosmic concoctions, a tenderness that makes their psychedelic songs into full-hearted gems. INTO THE BLUE picks up where Broken Bells’ last album, 2014’s After the Disco, left off: the songs feature lush, cinematic arrangements, choirs and orchestras and sonic odysseys, and a classic pop spirit that echoes The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and ELO.
But not all is the same for Mercer and Burton; for one, they’ve used samples for the first time on a Broken Bells record, frequently swapping Burton’s crystalline drums for homespun loops, and coloring out their sound with a nostalgic palate. The album also contains some of the oldest tracks in Broken Bells’ existence — Mercer names “Invisible Exit” as the oldest song on the album, dating all the way back to their first tour in support of their 2010 self-titled debut.
Dusting off their old gems was a big theme in the construction of INTO THE BLUE. “Some of the songs are things that we had sitting around for quite a while and just hadn’t finished,” Mercer tells Consequence. “Since we started fairly late in our careers, we had never had the opportunity to do that, go back to things we had come up with in the first couple of years we were together.”
Though many of the tracks’ origins date back to Broken Bells’ formative years, their exquisite craftsmanship is well on display. There are no choices that feel half-baked, no catharsis undeserved. As for the album’s title? Well, Burton thinks it “sounded cool,” while Mercer thinks the “blue” represents “oblivion — but not in a horribly negative sense.” Upon listening, it’s clear that the “oblivion” that Mercer refers to is built from love, and represents the freedom and delight that two friends feel when making music.
Ahead of the release of INTO THE BLUE, Mercer and Burton sat down with Consequence to discuss making their first album in eight years, the origins of certain tracks, what the collaborative project represents in both of their lives, and much more. Check out the full Q&A below.