By Jessica Mitchell
After nearly half a decade, The Shins are back with new members, a new album and a completely new sound. “Port of Morrow,” released Tuesday, is a surprisingly upbeat, poppy variation of the quiet and melodic band that has plagued our music libraries since the early 2000’s.
James Mercer, founder and front man, placed The Shins on hold for five years while he dabbled in side projects and with different sounds. With the completion of the Sub Pop three record contract in 2008, Mercer decided to create and release the next Shins album via his own label, Aural Apothecary. Having complete musical freedom and craving something new, Mercer let go of band mates Marty Crandall, Dave Hernandez and Jesse Sandoval. In their place, Mercer has been touring and recording with the likes of singer/songwriter Richard Swift, Yuuki Matthews of Crystal Skulls, Ron Lewis of Grand Archives and Fruit Bats, Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse and Jessica Dobson.
The new sound and new faces may throw stable fans into somewhat of a culture shock but Mercer’s talent has not diminished and everything we loved about his style is still very prevalent. Lest we forget Mercer is more than a founder and front man. He is The Shins.
With the assistance of producer/songwriter Greg Kurstin, Mercer drew forth an element of maturity and constructed a completely new version of The Shins to display in “Port of Morrow.” Even though the band has gone through rounds of serious changes, the raw talent and genius of Mercer still shines through the poppy and disappointing songs that make up the album.
The corny “No Way Down” literally sent shivers of disgust down my spine and my undying respect for Mercer urged me to stop and never replay the song again. Mercer’s talent and legacy is still noticeable in “Port of Morrow,” it is just masked with cliché background music.
For the few horribly un-Shins-like songs that make up the album, there are some diamonds in the rough. “September” and “Port of Morrow” take on the likenesses of songs on “Wincing the Night Away” and “Oh, Inverted World.” “September” is a classic acoustic-style Shins’ love song, while “Port of Morrow” ends the album on a positive note with Mercer’s genius lyrics and intoxicating falsetto. As much as Mercer wanted to stray away from The Shins’ vibes and music styles, he could not push away his natural talent for haunting and melodious music making.
It is true that “Port of Morrow” displays an enhanced version of the band that, as Natalie Portman claimed in “Garden State,” could “change your life.” However, if Mercer was desperately trying to rid of The Shins and alter the style, maybe he should have never resurrected them in the first place. This album, even though well written and catchy, is night and day to the previous three. This could either be the album to save The Shins or the album to ruin The Shins.
Contact Jessica Mitchell, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.