The collaboration of Broken Bells was one that might have seemed like a left field idea at first, unknown how the two would work together from different musical backgrounds, but Danger Mouse’s extensive producing prowess mixed with The Shins lead singer James Mercer’s indie pop flair proved to create a pretty solid first album last year, the self-titled LP Broken Bells. The album, featuring singles like “The High Road” and “The Ghost Inside,” turned out to feature a great hybrid of the indie rock style of smooth guitars and vocals with the coating of an electro-pop and hip-hop production. Overall, the album was a critical success and everyone since then has looked forward to what’s to come in the near future, hoping that this first effort wasn’t just a one-off collab. In the meantime, the duo has decided to release Meyrin Fields EP, which is a collection of the B-sides and outtakes from the same session in which they made their first album. But is this compilation of extra oddities worth checking out, or is this just a culmination of a few throwaway tracks put together to show some sort of life from the side project?
To answer that, let’s start with a negative first: Meyrin Fields is only a collection of four songs, two of which have been released well-prior to this EP release; title track “Meyrin Fields” was an already existing B-side to the “The Ghost Inside” single and “An Easy Life” was already a bonus track on Broken Bells. So only half of the EP features newly released music, “Windows” and “Heartless Empire.” Even at $4 on iTunes, this seems like a bit of a bust for the die-hard fans of the band who already have these two tracks, but for those who haven’t explored that deep just yet, these songs will still seem fresh.
Taking that into account, this 4-song EP seems to do the right thing by not having it sound similar to cuts from their album, but instead they take their sound in a whole new direction from Broken Bells and make immediately clear as to why these tracks never made it on the official cut. Where many of the songs on Broken Bells heavily featured acoustic guitar and piano throughout, they are pretty much cut out of Meyrin Fields. Instead they’re replaced by a heavy dose of trip hop electronics that creates a strong, inauspicious space rock sound. Clean vocals from James Mercer are here replaced by distorted ones to the point where in “Meyrin Fields,” Mercer is accompanied by a high pitched embodiment of himself and “An Early Life” sounds like a John Lennon track circa 1970. The settling acoustic guitars transform into a amplified shoegazing performance on a song like “Heartless Empire” as well. There are still elements here from Broken Bells like the hip hop influenced bass and drums, which keeps them grounded and means that they don’t venture too far off the beaten path of what they’re used to.
The songs feature some great hooks, which the duo are known for, especially on “Meyrin Fields” and “Windows,” the two strongest tracks from the EP. Even though instrumentally it might seem like these songs might have been saved for a release like this, lyrically these songs could have fit on the record just fine.
For a 4-track EP to convey such an opposing dark atmosphere from the same session that a song like “The High Road” came from is pretty extraordinary. It doesn’t seem like a wasted effort to release these tracks on a whole new release rather than just as a four bonus tracks on a Broken Bells re-release. All things considered, this EP seems to be breeding ground for experimentation and possibly be what’s to come from a second LP.