[sic] Magazine

The Shins – Port Of Morrow

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Shins have enjoyed a steady rise both critically and commercially in their career, most notably involving the prominence of ‘New Slang’ on the soundtrack to 2004 film Garden State , and the half-million selling second album Chutes Too Narrow . After relentless touring, they then released the splendid, Grammy-nominated Wincing The Night Away in 2007, but have since been very quiet.

The five years that have passed have been filled with side projects (Shins singer/songwriter/leading man James Mercer collaborating with hip hop producer Danger Mouse on the successful Broken Bells ), a departure from the much-celebrated independent Sub Pop label and changes to personnel within the band.

The record begins where Wincing… left off, ‘Rifles Spiral’ and ‘Simple Song’ reminding us of the infectious melodies The Shins are famous for. Mercer can still conjure some wonderful cinematic imagery with his words, and when this is married to the music as effortlessly as ‘It’s Only Life’ and ‘For a Fool’, where the slide guitar seems to be singing back to Mercer’s every line, it is a sheer joy. ‘September’ is a beautifully crafted acoustic number with a trademark Shins country-feel.

This record seems more disjointed than, say, the lo-fi indie of Chutes Too Narrow , which sounded like a band who had found both its sound and a collection of great songs; ‘Fall of ‘82’, for example, sounds a little out of place, with its 80s-American synth intro and trumpet solo, whilst ‘40 Mark Strass’ grows disappointingly into an uncharacteristically weak chorus. After several years in the writing, and with no consistent live band for them to evolve with, this may not be surprising.

This new studio approach has, however, also allowed Mercer and Greg Kurstin , the album’s producer and the only other musician credited on all ten tracks, to experiment with writing and recording techniques; as such, the haunting piano and falsetto vocals on album closer ‘Port of Morrow’ evoke scenery to prompt the proverbial shivers to the spine, as Mercer sings “ I saw a photograph, Cologne in ’27, and then a postcard after the bombs in ’45. ” This swirling, hypnotic outro to the song and album hints at exciting possible new territories for The Shins to explore.

Overall, this is a fine record, possessing all the charm that made The Shins so loved. Whilst not quite maintaining the consistent heights for the duration, it is certainly recommended for anyone yet to have this band in their lives.

The Shins @ soundcloud