My first listen to The Shins happened during my junior year in high school. I had picked up a copy of Chutes Too Narrow and upon that first spin I was immediately hooked by its catchy melodies and pessimistically upbeat lyrics. Almost nine years have lapsed since the release of that album, and it’s been five years since that of the underrated Wincing The Night Away, and, for that matter, a lot has happened within the band since then. Several members left (one started a taco track in Portland), James Mercer kept busy with Broken Bells, and break-up rumors abounded, which Mercer nonetheless quashed.
Mercer’s resurrection of The Shins couldn’t have come at a better time. While I’ve never been a huge Shins fan, despite being enchanted by their excellent sophomore release, hearing the band return to their classic, traditional pop style is certainly refreshing. While there have been some line-up changes over the band’s recent hiatus, The Shins has always been about Mercer. Right from the beginning, Port Of Morrow presents itself as both an inviting and gorgeous album. “The Rifle’s Spiral” draws the listener in with layered keyboards and simple guitar
Melodies, while “It’s Only Life” is a simple ballad reminiscing on personal failures as Mercer sings, “It’s only life, it’s only personal,” custom fit for a melancholy montage in a Pixar movie.
“Fall Of ’82” is another reflective standout, which probably would’ve made a better addition to the otherwise lousy Garden State. I can already hear “No Way Down” as the summer jam blasting from every hipster’s busted car speakers with its catchy guitar hooks and lyrics, and “40 Mark Strasse” is one of the true highlights, a ballad which has left me with reminiscences of leaving home, pure nostalgia and good feelings.
The worst part about Port Of Morrow, if one can really call it that, is that it has to come to an end. The album’s closing title track ends on a solid note, as Mercer adds in some playful vocal change-ups during the song’s chorus. Mercer’s return to The Shins was definitely long overdue. Hearing new music from the band again just reminds me of the first time I listened to Chutes Too Narrow. While a lot of our lives may move in one direction, looking back sometimes can be a nice thing.
Video: The Shins – “Simple Song”