For all the critical hosannas and fans the Shins have racked up over the years, they’re not much fun. They’re not so musically adventurous either. Which makes Shins frontman James Mercer’s role in Broken Bells all the more surprising. As the voice on top of the audacious beats supplied by Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse), Mercer has never sounded so loose and funky on record. Substituting Mercer’s usually reserved indie-pop with hazy hip-hop and smoky soul, Burton opens a whole new world for the often aloof songwriter. Like he did with the Black Keys a couple of years ago, Burton pulls and tugs at the corners of the music, drawing out a rash of sounds you’d never associate with Mercer. Opener “The High Road” shuffles along a flowing rhythm pierced by continuous drum hits. “Vaporize” combines acoustic guitar and ’60s R&B organ for a sing-along that stops for a misty psychedelic break. It’s like that throughout Broken Bells: Songs start here, end up there, with detours along the way that add up to some of the best music Mercer and Burton have ever made. — Michael Gallucci
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