Transient

the shins // port of morrow

by jared silva
03.19.12

It’s been five years now since we’ve seen any new material from indie rock vets The Shins, but frontman (and now the only remaining original band member) James Mercer has been pretty active during his time off. Most notably was his time spent collaborating with Danger Mouse as Broken Bells, releasing a self-titled LP in 2010 and a subsequent B-sides EP in 2011. Both albums brought forth a good mixture of James’ indie pop flair with Danger Mouse’s extensive producing prowess layered together in an electronic space rock motif. In The Shin’s fourth LP,Port of Morrow, there are some obvious borrowing of ideas between both projects and the end result has the band in a bit of an identity crisis, yet it’s one of their most solid efforts in quite some time.

Right off the bat, we need to talk about “Simple Song,” the album’s first single and easily one of the best Shins songs since “New Slang.” And no, that’s not an exaggeration or first impression hype. The song is literal in how simple a message it gets across: a simple plea to never give up and attain your true love at any costs. However cliche or corny, it’s uplifting and empowering bright power-pop guitars crescendo through every lyrical imperative James Mercer reflects upon with a strong sense of influence and conviction. It’s a powerful anthem that’s as truthful as it sounds. It’s easily the standout of the album and possibly the year at this rate. On the flip side is the next song “It’s Only Life,” a more sentimental song about the trials and tribulations of life as James showcases his viewpoint of someone who’s already been through the worst: “I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now / It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome.” This theme of inspiration and realization is present throughout Port of Morrow and offers a varying mix of high and low emotions for whatever mood you might be in.

Along with varying lyrical content, Port of Morrow dishes a variety of styles seemingly anywhere from their classic early 00′s records to music they’ve never ventured to make before. “September” holds the same vibes ofOh, Inverted World‘s passive indie folk standards, as well as “40 Mark Strasse.” Other songs like “No Way Down” give us a taste of a funk, radio pop Shins that’s never been heard before, “Fall of ’82″ with its classic soft rock sensibilities, and “Bait And Switch” sounding like a hyper retro 60′s psychedelic pop track. The good thing at least is that their memorable sing-along choruses, fantastic sense of rhythm, and melodies that stick are all present throughout the record. They’re at least keeping in touch with what’s made them so great for as long as they’ve been around, but some of the style choices don’t seem to fit within the context of the band as well as they might have been initially perceived.

It’s obvious this album caters to fans of The Shins fans for the past decade as well as the fans of Broken Bells who may just be listening to this band for the first time. The transition slightly affects who The Shins are known for as a band, but that certainly doesn’t affect the quality of the band. With a whole new band backing James Mercer this time around though, Port of Morrow may be showing a new side of The Shins that has changed either for better or worse, but there’s plenty of solid tracks and production on this record to enjoy for that to even be a problem right now.

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favorite tracks: “simple song,” “it’s only life,” “port of morrow”

Listen to Port Of Morrow now, via Spotify.