Written by Austin Filbin
Listening to The Shins’ front man James Mercer mumble his way through “No Way Down”, one of the strongest songs on Port of Morrow, one pivotal verse of Mercer’s lyrics seems to surface.
“All of our working days are done, but a tiny few are having all of the fun.”
Hearing the man that has led the Shins’ since ‘92 sing out these words in his strained and timeless howl, fans pick up on two things. One–Mercer is, and forever will be, the name behind the Shins’ success. And two– The band’s high-spirited sound and mentality hasn’t changed a bit.
First it was rough, young and poppy. Their melodies were paved with raw garage band riffs while Mercer mumbled poetic verses of his grandpa telling stories with eyes closed and finding his childhood records at a Birmingham Mall.
The Shins have clenched onto this concept of pure lyrical bliss throughout every step of their careers. However, Port Of Morrow has thrown something completely new into the mixture—a backbone. If anything stands out on the new album it is The Shins’ (or just Mercer’s) newly found ability to keep a song on track and focused for the entire time.
The first song on the album, “The Rifle’s Spiral”, is a dark, paranoid and well-produced mix provides the same organized grace, it also offers a studiopolished kick, making it the anthem that could summarize the entirety of the Shins’ career and overall attitude.of screeches and murky drumming. It served as the perfect example of the Shins new, dimmed melodic persona.
The two most popular songs off the album, “It’s Only Life” and “Simple Song”, the prereleased single, both serve as evidence for the band’s structured creativity.
“It’s Only Life” is a colorful and uncharacteristically slow ballad that gauges just how far The Shins have come in their song’s melodic composition. And while “Simple Song”
The band’s first album, When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return was back when they were called Flake Music. Although creative, this glimpse of ‘early Shins’ carried no structured depth to their sound and instead offered quick melodies that were catchy enough to keep song after song afloat.
As they worked their way into a new band-name and through their first few albums, the band’s evolution took clear steps.
Through the Shins’ first official album Oh! Inverted World, released in 2001, Mercer led the band closer and closer to the studio, but still held onto to their lo-fi sound.
In 2003, the Shins released their second studio album, Chutes Too Narrow, which tidied up the Shins’ typical catchy clatter and gave back a multi-dimensional album that relied more on the use of guitars, both acoustic and electric.
With a four year part between albums, Mercer made the biggest jump to the band’s sound when he teamed up with Producer Chiccareli, an acclaimed studio producer, and recorded an initially solo-album, Wincing The Night Away, in Mercer’s basement.
After this album is when Mercer went on to Broken Bells, a studio-soaked side project that included the dark production work of Danger Mouse.
The last two projects before Port Of Morrow, although spaced over five years, showed clearly the direction the band was going in.
Port of Morrow applies all aspects of the Shins musical history, from poppy lyrics to ominous production, this band has accomplished change without letting any of their originality slip through the cracks.