These days it can sometimes seem daunting to find new music with spritely, get-up-and-dance energy, intricate musicianship, and most of all, clever, poetic lyrics. Finding entire albums that offer all three is rare-to-impossible. By and far, most every track on the Shins‘ latest release succeeds in delivering to us the goods we so crave.
“Port of Morrow” opens with a big sound — a synthesizer and the pulsing drums of Joe Plummer on “Rifle’s Spiral,” a much bigger rock sound than previous Shin’s stuff. With its “Don’t take me alive” theme, it’s hard to know if the song’s about a terrorist out there somewhere in the world, or just a metaphor for such. Either way, “Rifle’s Spiral” is a great opener begging to be played really loud — try not to blow out the stereo speakers listening to it.
“Simple Song,” the hit single radio listeners have been enjoying in recent weeks, follows in a similar vein. Well-orchestrated electric guitars soar alongside outstanding lead vocals and harmonies, and it’s all just pure pleasure and pure fun.
The consoling “It’s Only Life” is classic Shins, complete with a lush, mesmerizing arrangement and Mercer’s boyish, irresistibly appealing vocals.
It’s been five years since the band’s third album, “Wincing the Night Away,” was released. Despite the fact it was nominated for a 2008 Grammy award in the “Best Alternative Music” category, we’ve had no other releases from The Shins since then. (Worth noting: in 2009, frontman James Mercer collaborated with Danger Mouse to form Broken Bells; a byproduct of that effort was “The High Road,” a stunning hit single familiar to music lovers).
In 2008, the band proclaimed their next record would be released on Mercer’s new record label, “Aural Apothecary” (make that “Aural Apothecary / Columbia Records”). Since then, all band members with the exception of Mercer have been replaced with a different lineup. No matter the reason for the delay, Shins fans are sure to find “Port of Morrow” well-worth the wait. O.K., so the title track’s a little creepy… but there’s more, so much more — and besides, even the creepy title track will grow on you.
41-year old Mercer has cited The Beatles and Echo and the Bunnymen amongst early musical influences. Listen closely to the new release, as the lovely and reflective “(Taken) for a Fool” does indeed seem to serve up a pleasingly, very ample portion of Beatles’ feel and flavor; it isn’t difficult to imagine John Lennon’s voice chiming in on the chorus from somewhere in the ethers.
If forced to pick a favorite track from this exceptional work, I predict fans may cry out for “40 Mark Strasse” as much for its sound mix as for Mercer’s vocals and its haunting storyline as he addresses his love interest: “…every single story / Is a story about love / Both the overflowing cup / And the painful lack thereof / You got the heart of a dove / But you play in the street at night / Blown just like a broken kite.”
Your ears will also fairly drink up “September” – a melodic love song with a mythological feel, and guitar reminiscent of “A Comet Appears” from Wincing the Night Away; it’s another noteworthy standout.
To sum up: an amazing set of songs from a special artist in a niche we’re grateful to see hasn’t lost any of its luster.
The Shins are now based in Portland. Band members on the current tour consist of James Mercer (vocals, guitar), Jessica Dobson (guitar), Yuuki Matthews (bass), Richard Swift (keyboards), and Joe Plummer (drums).
Take a listen to the CD, and be forewarned: after listening to it, seeing The Shins perform live may no longer seem optional.