The Shins – Port of Morrow

Rating: ★★★★☆

If you seriously still don’t know who The Shins are and call yourself a person interested in music I would have to call you a liar! Well, not exactly, but if you’ve been anywhere close to the indie scene since the turn of the 21st century, you should recognize James Mercer’s usually scruffy face as the front man of this band. Whether you’ve known about it or not, the Shins made indie pop classic, releasing three albums that gained them a cult following that has been dying for some new tunes since their five year hiatus. With such a long period between the last release, you walk a tightrope. Stay with what you know and be labeled boring, or move into sacred, fragile new ground and run the risk of not sounding like yourself?

Yes, it’s the fourth album from the The Shins, but it feels the most youthful with respect to energy. Mercer’s voice is louder; it’s in your face, whereas it used to blend so tightly with the guitars. The guitars are more active, exploring twists and there’s an element of jangly that you just can’t really find on prior releases. Take songs like opener “The Rifle’s Spiral,” the single “Simple Song,” and “No Way Down” as testaments to this heightened energy. Each one explores a new and different level of bursting brightness. “The Rifle’s Spiral” gives you layer upon layer of guitar hooks and tinkling high notes embedded into the synth noise. “Simple Song” goes for the prominence of Mercer’s voice that commands the song as it moves through at its confident and collected pace that is expected of this band. “No Way Down” explores a faster pace, with less synth noises and a reliance on sharp-witted lyrics as its champion. All of these songs explore the old Shins style in an updated and fresher filter.

But it’s not all sunshine and daises—there are slower, subdued moments. For me, I feel nods of nostalgia for the older albums of this band on a song like “September,” whose simplicity is well placed and crafted amidst a sharper than expected grouping of songs on the primary half of the album. Another slower number, but by no means boring track is “Port of Morrow,” on which a falsetto’d Mercer leads you twisting through the tale he has crafted.

And in the end, Port of Morrow is a tightrope walked fairly well. Mercer doesn’t fall into the pressures of being anything he is not, he just pulls more quirky yet insightful material from his past and weaves them together with a brighter overall tone, which may stir mixed feelings from past fans and newcomers. It’s unfair to expect “New Slang” Shins after all this time; things have changed. However, you can still expect a relevant and resounding collection of classic indie pop tunes on this album.

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