MERCER'S NEW ALBUM
Port of Morrow
As Natalie Portman's character in Garden State says “the Shins will change your life.” This was true for me as I'm sure it is for many other people. It seems that they come along at just the right time in the lives of people usually during a major change. For me it was the beginning of college. I was just starting to realize how big of a deal music was to me as I was going in to a field that had nothing to do with music. My first exposure to them was Oh, Inverted World and it blew my mind with its low-fi winding melodies, angsty tone and lyrics that had me pondering for hours.
Several years, 2 albums and a side-band later the Shins give us Port of Morrow. True to the Shins style, Morrow comes out during a time of change. Except this time its the Shins themselves that are doing the changing. James Mercer has decided to almost start anew, replacing everyone in the band but him. This change shows drastically in the album. Gone are the gritty guitars, mind twisting lyrics and sharp vocals of previous albums. This album is much more refined and produced. The guitars are clean and the lyrics less cryptic. The synths have a bigger role (which remind me a little of the synths from Oh, Inverted World, but sprayed with Windex and given a good scrubbing). It almost seems like this is a new band, but with bits of The Shins thrown in.
That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Its still got those Shins moments. “Bait and Switch” seems like it could have been on Chutes Too Narrow with its dissonant opening chord, and “September” is a great relaxing, introspective chill out song, perfect for singing around a campfire.
The songs that don't feel perfectly Shins-y are also incredibly good though. “No Way Down” and the Broken Bells influenced falsetto-filled title track are great surprises.
The reason for the score of 7 was a hard decision for me. Having loved the Shins so much it was hard to hear this new style. I like the fact that Mercer is changing things up and keeping his music fresh and original, not letting himself fall into a rut, but the Shins was such a good rut to be stuck in. I think I would have liked this album more if he decided to change the name of the band and start new, but the fact that he is passing this off as a Shins album felt weird to me. Again, not in a bad way, its just that the Shins are too sacred to me. Also there are a few “ehh” tracks on this album (“Its Only Life” and “40 Mark Strausse”) which isn't natural for a Shins album.
All in all though, a great album to listen to. Just be prepared to hear something entirely new, yet strangely familiar.