These days it can sometimes seem
daunting to find new music with spritely, get-up-and-dance energy, solid,
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
"Port of Morrow" opens
with a big sound - a synthesizer and the pulsing drums of Janet Weiss (from
"Wild Flag") 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 KINK's 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
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
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
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). They'll be appearing in concert at Bend's
Les Schwab Ampitheater on Friday, May 25.
Take a listen to the new CD, and
be forewarned: after listening to it, seeing The Shins perform live may no
longer seem optional.
You'll find more from Cynthia on Twitter `Dave Scott