By Jack Bragg, Courier Editor in Chief
One of the most popular indie bands in the world, New Mexico’s The Shins, have come back with their first album since 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, as well as the first on the Shins own record label, Aural Apothecary. Port of Morrow features a great mix of new sounds, especially those that revolve around the use of electronic influences and synthesizers. The band however stays very anchored to their classic indie sound and acoustic based music.
The album was largely the brainchild of frontman James Mercer, who not only writes, sings, and plays on all the songs, but also helped to co-produce the album and give criticism on the album’s artwork. It’s Mercer’s essential return to the Shins after a brief hiatus with his side project, Broken Bells, in which he performs with producer Danger Mouse. Port of Morrow is heavily influenced by the electronic style that Broken Bells was based around.
The album’s leading track, “The Rifle’s Spiral” provides a strong intro to the album. It’s one of the heavier songs on the album and carries a lot of the classic Shins sound that helps to assure listeners that this is a Shins album and not another Mercer experiment.
“Simple Song” is the first single off the album and again is heavily characterized by the strong resemblance to earlier Shins work. The song tells a tale of past love and childhood daydreams. The song’s use of falsetto coupled with synthesizer melodies provide a unique feel from past Shins work though, and as such gives a good introduction into the general sound of the rest of the album.
“It’s Only Life” is one of the most melodic songs the Shins have ever written. It sounds almost like a song to reassure a child’s fears, which isn’t entirely out of the question given Mercer’s recent transition into fatherhood.
“Bait and Switch” heavily features the electronic influences that have been melded into the band’s sound. While “September” is a light acoustic track that contrasts heavily with the upbeat electronic feel of “Bait and Switch”.
The next track, “No Way Down”, feels very much like a classic Shins song and even seems to make an allusion to The Shins’ first big hit when Mercer sings “Is there no way down/ from this peak to solid ground/ without having our gold teeth/ pulled from our mouths” which may very well be an allusion to “New Slang” in which Mercer sang so long ago, “Gold teeth and a curse for this town/ were all in my mouth”.
“Taken for a Fool” is another ballad, that seems to have a light sound that feels almost like it could be from the 40’s. The beautiful flowing lyrics and accompanying music flows so seamlessly from verse to chorus that it’s hard to not want to rest your eyes while listening. “Fall of ‘82” is a unique track that almost feels like Elvis Costello could have written and performed it. This track leads nicely into what is primarily an acoustic track in “40 Mark Strasse”. The flowing lyrics of the chorus are wonderfully led into a unison chorus that features Mercer’s brilliant falsetto.
The final track, “Port of Morrow”, bears the album’s namesake and is probably the most jazzy feeling track on the album. The unique blend of styles is brought to fruition when led by Mercer’s extensive use of falsetto and the flow of the song is almost split between two separate voices, one with and one without this falsetto.
Port of Morrow is definitely an album that can be added to the Shins’ extensive list of great albums. The songs are memorable and varied and the new influence of styles does not in any way clash with the band’s already established sound. If anything, Port of Morrow can be seen as a sequel in the band’s story.
Port of Morrow and The Shins earn a 5 out of 5.