Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Shins – “Port of Morrow”

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Usually when I’m this far behind on reviews (I recently moved my whole life from Ohio to Arizona, in case you missed the travel blog, so I have a good excuse), I go ahead and just let it slide. But something important happened during the thick of my trans-American shift: The Shins released Port of Morrow. During the closing period of time in Ohio, all across this entire beautiful country, and throughout the awkward and uncomfortable transition into a new state, job, and house, The Shins have soundtracked it all. And it’s been an amazing thing.

Now to be fair I must put a disclaimer here. The Shins are my “favorite band”, at least in the sense that they’d be who I chose if I had a gun to my head. They generally make what I consider to be my personal favorite style of music. I love the collision of indie and pop in general, and what The Shins present is what I believe to be the perfect balance. A while back I did a Top 100 Albums of the Decade list, and The Shins’ first three albums came in at #2, #6, and #13. So yeah, I’m probably not a good person to trust I suppose. So take this five-star review from the perspective of a Shins fan who is so far away from disappointed it’s absurd.

The Shins scared me a little, what with all their changing of band members and James Mercer’s side project Broken Bells. But all doubt was quickly erased when they released “Simple Song” ahead of the album’s release. The track is so rich, powerful, moving, fun, and uplifting that it knocks you back on your rear end. I’m almost glad I delayed this review a little bit because it allows me to say something I thought was true but was scared to say: “Simple Song” is the best Shins song of all-time. Yes, that’s right, despite the utter amazingness that is “Caring is Creepy”, “New Slang”, “Pink Bullets”, “Saint Simon”, and “Australia”, they’ve all been beat. And yes, also better than “The Past and the Pending”, and I named my blog after that one! The Shins, who explored darker sounds on their previous album, instead burst forth with lines like “I know that things can really get tough/when you go it alone”. Mix in a gorgeous piano, guitar, and electronic works, and you have a masterpiece. If it’s not the #1 song of 2011, I’ll be one thrilled guy, because I want to hear the song that beats it.

But that is hardly it on this album. Album opener “The Rifle’s Spiral” is a perfect toe-tapping table-setter. The song present the first hints that the more electronically based Broken Bells (with Dangermouse) project means some great sonic additions to the album. But The Shins aren’t completely boldly moving forward with their sound. Reaching back to the heartstring-pulling sound of their first two albums, songs like “It’s Only Life” and “For a Fool” are vintage Shins, taking me back 7 years in the process. Another winner of the softies is “September”, which would have fit wonderfully on Chutes Too Narrow.

Short of maybe the capably average (but fun) “Fall of ‘82”, there’s not a single miss here. “Bait and Switch”, with the personally timely opening line “I finally had all my ducks in row/Peace and quiet by means of subtraction”, uses some of the old school reverb-y sound. A falsetto honed in Broken Bells emerges in the excellent, dreamy title track “Port of Morrow” (the song also features some wonderful Portland imagery: “Through the rain and all the clatter/Under the Fremont bridge I saw a pigeon fly”). “No Way Down” is equally as excellent, adding an extra pep to its electronic step and twang to the guitar, and bursting forth with one of most sing-a-long inducing group of lyrics. And if that all wasn’t enough, “40 Mark Strauss” may have the best hold on melody of the bunch, making for a beautiful and accessible track.

There’s something amazing and unique about everything Mercer and company has done to date. Oh, Inverted World’s lo-fi simplicity, Chutes Too Narrow’s emotional breadth and depth, and Wincing the Night Away darker mood and lusher sound, all produced exquisite album. Even the Broken Bells side project, which expanded the electronic capabilities and range of Mercer’s vocals, added nicely to the catalog. Port of Morrow isn’t so much a bold new step for The Shins as it is the absolutely perfect synthesis of every correct step that they have already taken. Port of Morrow is nearly flawless and has barely escaped my grasp since it’s release, and I recommend you add it to your collection as soon as you get the chance.

Spotify link to whole album: http://open.spotify.com/album/7bRzPsZ5ODf8STVgpFIQsS

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Travel Blog Day #5 – One of the Prettiest Things I’ve Seen

Good morning, all! I failed at getting a blog up in the evening, and instead find myself sitting alone in the breakfast area of a Hampton Inn in Kayenta, Arizona typing away. But reality continues to sink in, and last night Holly had the computer mostly to herself as she searched the internet for houses near the air force base we’re headed to. When it comes down to it, we’re trying to make this a fun road trip, but we’re moving after all. I don’t prefer my road trips to be done with cats and fully loaded cars with all my valuables.

Speaking of cats, we partially changed day #5 because it was decided that detouring way out of the way to Moab to barely be able to see Canyonlands and Arches was not worth it. Instead we jetted west across Colorado on our way to Four Corners and Monument Valley.

We immediately knew we were not in Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma, or Texas anymore as the snow started dumping on us. (pic fail, can’t seem to get it to work. Picture snowy mountains and a road.)

Once we made it through the mountains we jetted down towards southwest Colorado to the area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet in one perfect corner. This allows for fun pics like this!

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And back in 2009 Holly discovered Navajo fry bread. When she saw a stand selling fresh fry bread, she jumped at the opportunity. Look at that face of happiness!

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From there we jetted slightly northwest in order to see Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley near the Utah/Arizona border. We started at Valley of the Gods:

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Holly felt that she needed a shot behind the wheel in this environment.

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That was pretty beautiful, but we had no idea how incredible Monument Valley would be. Frankly, if this park wasn’t in Navajo territory it would not only by a national park, but it would be one of the very prettiest national parks. I was blown away.

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The road down to it all. Thanks, Saturn Ion!

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The obligatory cat shot:

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For this shot of the sun starting to go down we literally sat in the car for a while with Holly playing soothing music. Watching this while she played Paul Cardall’s “Come Thou Fount” might be my favorite moment of the whole trip.

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For all this, I have one other thing I have to thank and mention. It may not be the flashiest car. It may be covered in smashed bugs from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. It may have a dented license plate from pulling too far up in the garage. It may be covered in brown dirt. It may not even have electronic windows. It may chirp when the A/C runs. But hey, if it gets me to Phoenix today it will have have gone from Idaho to Texas, Texas to Idaho, Idaho to Ohio, and Ohio to Arizona.

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Today we head down to Luke AFB and start our new life. I’m starting to get a little anxious as house searching and a new job await. Tomorrow morning I walk into the office of my new boss and introduce ourselves. And maybe in the next couple weeks it will truly sink in that we live in Arizona now.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Travel Blog Day #4 – Return to the West

What better way to return to the west than to climb a mountain? And is it still climbing a mountain if you do 95% of it in a car? Seeing that I did it with a cat on my shoulder, I’m saying yes.

From Dumas, TX we headed northwest towards Raton, NM where we started the day by hitting up the Capulin Volcano, which arose in the distance like a beacon of freedom to those of us stuck in Texas flatness! Capulin actually has a road that take you nearly to the top, so we pulled off the road to check it out.

Here’s Holly posing by a sign that literally says “Superb Crater View”. Thanks, sign!

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Posing with your arms wide is apparently a Rubino thing. I’m guessing that Jalapeno over there in cage is probably doing the same pose.

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Speaking of Jalapeno, I couldn’t help but wonder how many cats had ascended Capulin. I bet not many. Oh how it took me back to the days of me and a tinier Jalapeno ascending Independence Rock in Wyoming. This cat has seen more states than a lot of people.

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We thought we’d hit up Arby’s in Raton, NM for a quick bite to eat after that. Unfortunately, it took an hour. I think video explains it all better.

We left behind our bad memories of Raton and headed into Colorado, where we very quickly felt the warm embrace of actual mountains. Finally, no glorified hills! There was even some lingering snow. Our big destination of the day was Great Sand Dunes National Park in southwestern Colorado.

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Tomorrow we scoot west to Utah before finally dropping south into our new home of Arizona. More to come tomorrow night!