Making one of its first live appearances, and playing the new album in its entirety, Broken Bells blew away fans at NPR Music's SXSW showcase. For many in the audience, this was their introduction to the music of Broken Bells, and the band did not disappoint. Danger Mouse displayed his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, starting off on drums, and jumping back and forth from guitar and keyboards throughout. James Mercer fronted the group with a greater vocal range than ever before, employing his newly discovered falsetto on songs such as "The Ghost Inside". The freshly formed six-piece band delivered a tight performance, swathed in enormous, abstract black and white patterns that were projected onto the stage. These visuals, including the giant, textured orb from the Broken Bells album cover, pulsated and swirled around the band as they recreated the album with great precision.
Since rumors of a collaboration between The Shins' James Mercer and Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) first leaked in late 2009, the duo — working under the name Broken Bells — has shrouded itself in mystery. Anagrams of "Broken Bells" were used to create URLs for Web sites containing looped audio snippets of songs taken from the duo's forthcoming album, and the record's March 9 release date was "announced" in the form of a file name — 03092010 — with a silhouetted image of the band members that made its way around the Internet. The pair made its live debut at L.A.'s Bootleg Theater after announcing the show earlier that day, and any and all live recordings from the concert that leaked to the Internet were removed promptly thereafter by Broken Bells' label. In an age of seemingly boundless transparency, Mercer and Burton did everything in their power to stay hidden until they see fit to poke their heads out.
For all the efforts to keep it hidden from the public, Broken Bells' self-titled debut sounds pretty much exactly as fans might expect a collaboration between James Mercer and Danger Mouse to sound — and that's not at all a bad thing. The album finds Mercer marrying the tight pop craftsmanship he's spent more than a decade honing as The Shins' ringleader with Burton's spacious, layered production. The result is a record that adorns the classic pop sensibilities shared by the two with the spaced-out retro-soul sound with which Burton made his name as part of Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley.