THE-SHINS-PORT-OF-MORROW

In listening to the fourth record from The Shins, I didn’t expect a great change from their previous, Wincing the Night Away, and that expectation was fair. Port of Morrow carries on in the comfort zone that James Mercer has established for himself as an artist. The songs are melodic, fully orchestrated, and everything carries enough sheen to feel like the work of polish was given its due. And yet throughout most of the record, Mercer’s voice sits close in the mix, so we can feel like he is singing to us from a singer-songwritery stool a few feet away. In general the sounds chosen to accompany him are a mix of classic (think electric guitars with plate reverb) and modern (synths and careful drum-tracking), as we’ve come to expect from The Shins. Port of Morrow doesn’t feature any of the unquestionably retro tendencies of Chutes Too Narrow, and few of the folksy tendencies of Oh, Inverted World. No, this is, like the record before it, an amalgam of those aspects with a studio rock sensibility. And, shit, the songs are just great. Try not to sing along with the chorus of “For a Fool” for example…a difficult proposal after the refrain has come around just once. Besides the general strength of melody and the character of Mercer’s vocals, the lyrics are also as intelligent as we’d expect. They aren’t great poetry, but they sound like Keats next to the kind of lyrics that we find in most popular music today.

Overall it’s a great record, and one I recommend highly, especially if you’ve enjoyed the more recent work Mercer has put out. It even has a song that I don’t particularly like, the final and title track. Which, in my mind, is the sign of many great records: it serves as an anchor against the highs you feel throughout the rest of the record, making them richer.

James Mercer is a gift, and even if his music evolves slowly, it would be a pleasure to listen to him sing the same note over and over.