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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 12, 2010

Dense 'Broken Bells' distills artists' strengths

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Music reviews for this week's top releases.

Broken Bells, "Broken Bells"

If Zach Braff ever makes "Garden State 2," "Vaporize," the second track from this accomplished collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, will be the soundtrack to Natalie Portman widening her doe eyes at our next hapless hero. With dusty strumming and soulful organ, Mercer's ennui about wasted modern life makes soul mates, at least temporarily, out of anyone listening.

Cinematic, unexpectedly romantic and carefully curated, "Broken Bells" has the same appeal as Postal Service's 2003 "Give Up" record, another celebrated accord between indie pop and electronica powers, though it skews more toward sparkling but dense folk rock than meticulously minimalist electronica.

A short album of 10 tracks pared from 20 recorded songs, "Broken Bells" is a potent distillation of the strengths of its main players. Mercer's knack for twisting and turning melodies is impeccably served by Burton, who tempers and fulfills those melodies with laid-back but elaborate scores of synth, piano, organ and sometimes a full string section, the only instruments not played by Burton or Mercer.

Though a par excellence enmeshment, "Broken Bells" doesn't yield any surprises and might be controlled to a fault. On the last track, the urgent but ruminating "The Mall and Misery," the two loosen enough to get into a genuinely spontaneous groove, instead of like a brilliant but distant approximation. It gives the work a thrilling edge — one that the pair can soar off of for next time.

— Margaret Wappler

Ludacris, "Battle of the Sexes"

Is there any rapper who needs the genre's recent, rampant vocal-manipulation trend less than Ludacris? Chris Bridges has long been drunk on his own gleefully elastic patois, one of rap's most distinctive and ever-pleasurable voices.

On "Battle of the Sexes," his latest, he directs these pleasures toward the ladies through fizzy pillow talk and respectfully tawdry club fodder. Luda's always been a lover, not a fighter, and a dip in this particular lyrical Jacuzzi is a good fit.

The spooky "My Chick Bad" might be the first rap song with kind words for Tiger Woods' club-wielding wife, Elin Nordegren, with a cameo from the ever-delightful Nicki Minaj. "Hey Ho" is a go-girl ode to cheating girlfriends (well, presumably other people's cheating girlfriends) getting their needs met elsewhere, and "Sex Room" and "Feelin' So Sexy" are fantasias of loverman absurdity.

Some of the production work feels slapdash, as in the sopping-synth "I Know You Got a Man," and aside from the undeniable banger "How Low," it's hard to hear the next obvious hit on "Battle." But the album is another welcome occasion to listen to Luda enjoying the real love of his life — the sound of his own voice.

—August Brown