Well, they’re back; or, more specifically, he’s back. It’s been five years since The Shins came out with anything new, and a staggering nine years since the release of the magnificent Chutes Too Narrow. So, has the frontman of this outstanding pop-rock outfit come up with anything fresh this time around?
In case you don’t know, James Mercer – the sole remaining member of the
original Shins lineup – is awesome. With appearances in countless kitschy sketch shows,
ranging from the Independent Film Channel’s Portlandia to a recently released Funny or Die video tied to this album’s release, the one thing this captivating frontman isn’t is boring. His lackadaisical demeanor aside though, there’s one thing Mercer’s always been good at and that’s constructing a wistfully cheerful, oftentimes overwhelming pop-rock song around his fantastically witty, at some times morose lyrics. That being said, 2005’s Wincing the Night Away did away with a lot of what I personally thought made The Shins so enigmatic in the first place. Port of Morrow still retains some of that album’s mysterious production value, but mostly does away with a lot of Mercer’s macabre-ness in favour of straight up catchy tunes akin to an album revolving around Belle & Sebastian’s fantastic track ‘We Are the Sleepyheads’.
What Mercer’s 2003 album and this one don’t have in common, though, is most definitely a sense of ridiculous production value, and I’m extremely interested to see how any of these tracks making up the sweetly concise 40-minute album would play out in a live setting. Knowing Mercer, it would be somehow awesome. Stand-out tracks that both exemplify this album’s heightened production value yet highlight the indie rock roots of the band come in the form of the fantastic single ‘Simple Song’, followed by ‘Bait and Switch’ and ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’. That being said, it’s exactly this sense of production value that begins to drive me away from that typical Shins experience I get when listening to tracks like ‘So Says I’ from Chutes Too Narrow. It works to benefit tracks like ‘Simple Song’ and ‘Bait and Switch’, but makes songs like ’40 Mark Strasse’ seem… not out of place… but stale. It’s as if only one type of song should be attempted with his new lineup, but an album’s worth of them would either take too much time and effort or make it seem more or less derivative. Thus, instead of fleshing out the album, slower songs like the title track serve to simply provide a mediocre stop-gap between nuggets of indie pop brilliance.
All in all though, this album should be worth your time if you like bopping along to some
chilled tunes during sunny spring days. If you don’t, well I don’t quite understand how you
couldn’t. ‘Nuff said.