The Shins | Port of Morrow

Aural Apothecary/Columbia (2012)
By ZETH LUNDY  |  March 13, 2012
3.5 3.5 Stars


Meet the new Shins. Same as the old Shins? Kinda sorta. Version 2.0 of the Albuquerque-via-Portland band (made up of musicians from various Pacific Northwest bands along with founding singer-songwriter James Mercer) make their recorded debut on the heels of their dear leader's stint as one-half of Broken Bells. Port of Morrow, the band's fourth album — their first since 2007 — is marked by typical Broken Bells elements: lush neo-pop arrangements, '60s and '70s pop allusions, and increased willingness to take songs out on a limb. This new widescreen canvas is welcome, and plots Mercer's current tack halfway between robust power-pop and dreamy pop-psych. It's arguably Mercer's and the Shins' most satisfying achievement. That's not a slight toward the band's previous incarnation(s), just a fact.


Changes are apparent in the first 30 seconds of the opening track, "The Rifle's Spiral," with its icy synths, chugging spy-movie guitar, and unfailing propulsion. "Bait and Switch" and "No Way Down" ratchet up the record's infectious energy, squeezing Mercer's idiosyncratic style into a catchy, sleek frame. The band even shoot for the lighter-waving rafters in mid-tempo tracks like "It's Only Life" and "40 Mark Strasse." Lyrically, Mercer remains the realist, the pragmatist, the defeatist. "Make me a drink strong enough to wash away the dishwater world they said was lemonade," he sings in "No Way Down," while the band bounce blissfully along, as if they didn't get the dishwater memo. It's melancholia, blunted. And as much as you can argue that the Shins have become a vehicle for Mercer, they sound, now more than ever, like a band with tricks up their sleeves. "A creature of habit has no real protection," he sings on "Bait and Switch," and the lesson, if you can call it that, seems to be this: take comfort in that which keeps things interesting.

Related: KT Tunstall | Tiger Suit, Kings of Leon | Come Around Sundown, Elizabeth and the Catapult | The Other Side of Zero, More more >
  Topics: CD Reviews , Portland, Columbia, Albuquerque,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BROWN BIRD | FITS OF REASON  |  March 18, 2013
    Brown Bird, a boundary-pushing Americana duo from Rhode Island, make music that touches upon that can't-put-my-finger-on-it amalgamation of past and future sounds.
  •   NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS | PUSH THE SKY AWAY  |  February 20, 2013
    Much like the similarly low-key The Boatman's Call , Cave's highly anticipated 15th album with the Bad Seeds manages the puzzling feat of making a great band seem inconsequential, if not entirely absent.
  •   SCOTT WALKER | BISH BOSCH  |  November 27, 2012
    Scott Walker's late-period about-face is one of the strangest in the annals of pop music.
    Bill Withers has always been the down-to-earth, odd-man-out of the '70s soul brothers: he's the one who came bearing a lunch box on the cover of his relaxed 1971 debut, Just as I Am .
  •   R.E.M. | DOCUMENT [25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION]  |  September 19, 2012
    Fans of R.E.M. enjoy arguing over which album was the band's true shark-jump, but 1987's Document was inarguably the end of a groundbreaking era.

 See all articles by: ZETH LUNDY