Album reviews: Broken Bells, Bombay Bicycle Club, Robin McKelle & The Flytones, Sarah Jarosz, Maximo Park, Seth Lakeman


Broken Bells "After the Disco" (Columbia)

As became the case with Damon Albarn, the Shins’ songwriter James Mercer’s little side-project may come to eclipse his original outlet – and as with Gorillaz, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton plays an important role in effecting the change of focus.

On Broken Bells’ 2010 debut, Burton’s dance/electro leanings were largely set aside in favour of a proper “band” sound featuring his own drums and keyboards alongside Mercer’s voice and guitar. But as the title suggests, those inclinations are restored on After the Disco, with the opener “Perfect World” effectively re-creating the sound of Factory Records circa 1981: the puttering sequencers and sleek-bleak synth lines recall OMD and early New Order, with Mercer doing a decent impression of Barney Sumner’s wan-but-knowing vocal style. Blessed with an infernally catchy hook, it’s the best thing they’ve done.

“Holding on for Life” extends the disco theme through Mercer’s Bee Gee-esque falsetto refrain, delivered here over a creepy theremin whine. While “After the Disco” itself plays a wild card with one of Mercer’s characteristic oblique melodies, its unexpected left-turns revealing endless further possibilities. The lyrical theme – “After the disco, all of the shine just faded away” – serves as a motif for the album as a whole, with songs like “Control”, “The Remains of Rock and Roll” and “Leave It Alone” all confronting disillusion and disappointment of some form.

The latter is the kind of contemplative number that others might treat as a standard Americana folk-blues, but here is transformed by Burton’s keyboard washes and string-synth, strangely congruent with the gospelly choral hook.

Ironically, given its disillusioned tone, After the Disco offers welcome confirmation of the vast and varied terrain available to pop and rock when it dares stray away from the mainstream or merely contemporary.


Download: A Perfect World; After the Disco; Holding on for Life; Leave It Alone

Bombay Bicycle Club "So Long, See You Tomorrow" (Island)

Continuing to change direction with each album, Bombay Bicycle Club shift into a sort of sample-pop/world music crossover with the diffidently different So Long, See You Tomorrow. “Overdone” and “Feel” both sound as if built from loops of Bollywood string samples, the latter going transglobal by blending in a samba shuffle; and the tabla loop underpinning “Luna” is echoed by a lovely marimba line. But for all their openness, there’s something underwhelming about the album. The vocals are nicely layered but unengaging, and the overall tone is soft, subtle and soothing, but rather colourless, with a lack of dynamism perhaps reflecting the absence of an outside producer. It sounds as if it’s designed to slip down as smoothly as possible, but accordingly, each song slips too readily from the memory.


Download: Overdone; Luna; Feel

Robin McKelle & The Flytones "Heart of Memphis" (OKeh)

Primarily known for her jazz work, Robin McKelle sticks to the trusted virtues of Memphis soul on this latest album. She eschews soul-diva vocal gymnastics in favour of terse, no-nonsense inflections. As she sings in “Easier That Way”, “Forget all this high fidelity, I like my records old and worn out”, an indication of the values at work here. There’s a swampy Muscle Shoals strut to the opener “About to Be Your Baby”, with horns punctuating its progress in classic Willie Mitchell manner; elsewhere, the slow-burn smouldering dynamic of “Forgetting You” recalls Otis Redding’s arrangement style, while an assertive version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” draws equally from Nina Simone and Eric Burdon. A secret soul classic in the making.


Download: About to Be Your Baby; Forgetting You; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Good Time

Sarah Jarosz "Build Me Up from Bones" (Sugar Hill)

With Build Me Up from Bones, Sarah Jarosz restores an earthy inventiveness to folk music – despite the violin and cello of her touring bandmates Alex Hargreaves and Nathaniel Smith tweaking the bluegrass settings with classical flavours that reflect the singer’s conservatory training. Smith’s pizzicato cello is the sole accompaniment on Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate”, adding another twist which, like the trio’s jazzy interpretation of Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right-On”, re-casts the song anew. Elsewhere, the stellar likes of Jerry Douglas, Chris Thile and Darrell Scott bring polish to several songs, the nimble threads of banjo, mandolin, violin and guitar illuminating the aesthetic musings of songs like “Fuel the Fire”, “Dark Road” and “Rearrange the Art”.


Download: Fuel the Fire; Over the Edge; Rearrange the Art; Simple Twist of Fate

Maximo Park "Too Much Information" (Daylighting)

Singer Paul Smith’s respect for books and reading continues on Too Much Information, with one song (“Her Name Was Audre”) celebrating the black poetess/librarian Audre Lorde, and another (“I Recognise the Light”) reflecting upon how reading helps you travel the world in your head, bringing you closer to places you’ve never been. A third, “Lydia, the Ink Will Never Dry”, is a tribute to the author Lydia Davis. But the music struggles to match the lyrical focus, sounding piecemeal and haphazard. “Brain Cells” is routine electropop, “My Bloody Mind” has the brittle, angular manner of old-school new-wave, while “Lydia...” is built around Johnny Marr-style ringing arpeggios – the most appealing stratagem here, but not enough to outweigh the passages of nondescript filler.


Download: Lydia, the Ink Will Never Dry; I Recognise the Light

Seth Lakeman "Word of Mouth" (Cooking Vinyl)

Seth Lakeman new album is dominated by the past, through celebrations or commemorations of old ways, occupations and disasters. “The Wanderer” toasts travellers following the “crucial common ways, these tracks of your domain”, a theme taken up with furious fiddle and drum in the Dartmoor-set “The Courier” and “The Ranger”. Elsewhere, the honest toil of stevedores and railwaymen is celebrated in “Another Long Night” and “Last Rider” respectively, while maritime disasters (Titanic and Slapton Sands) are commemorated in “The Saddest Crowd” and “Tiger”. But for all evident passion of his playing and singing, the most natural emotional impact here is wielded by the traditional song “Portrait of My Wife” – an affirmation of the power of old ways, but perhaps not in the way he’d prefer.


Download: Portrait of My Wife; The Wanderer; The Courier

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace