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