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Friday, March 16, 2012

The Shins: Port of Morrow (Release Date: 3-20-2012)

        It's been a whole 5 years since The Shins last released an LP, 2007's Wincing the Night Away, but the cobwebs that these guys are shaking off go back even further. While Wincing was a big hit, flying off of shelves, and seeing them to greater fame, now that the dust has settled, it's hard to find anyone who really values the likes of Australia or Sea Legs on the same level as older hits like New Slang or Saint Simon. So, yeah, scrap comparisons to 2007, and rewind it all the way to 2003, 9 years, which translates to 27 in indie-buzz-band years. Suffice to say, The Shins that we all know and love, the ones who positively embodied the independent music scene in the early 2000's, are getting along in their years.

        If Port of Morrow is their attempt to turn back the clock, the disc is a woeful failure. Most glaringly, the album's second half gets stuck in a sort of mid-tempo rut, playing along pleasantly enough, but sounding disappointingly Dad-friendly (Sorry Dads!). September and For a Fool, in particular, appear completely oblivious to just how similar they are, slipping anonymously into and out of one another without distracting you from whatever else you're doing. Maybe that's the real problem here: With the exception of premiere single Simple Song, every track is far too content with being background music, opting for niceness over intrigue time and time again.

        That being said, one could find far worse songs to do homework to. As previously alluded, Simple Song is undoubtably the album's champion, with James Mercer's voice and lyrics slotting perfectly into the band's heyday canon, encased in guitar chords that wiggle in just the right way. Opener The Rifle's Spiral is no slouch either, employing the denser sound that they briefly visited on their Know Your Onion! EP back in 2002. But the tune with its finger most firmly on the pulse of Morrow is It's Only Life, a song that displays exactly how age has effected this band.

        It's not that The Shins haven't tried working with twang before, and Mercer's lyrics are no stranger to emotions that seem adolescent in nature, but he's never been 41 while delivering them. When he breaks from the track's near-constant falsetto to deliver the impassioned line, "Call you on the telephone/Won't you pick up the receiver?" I couldn't help but giggle, but I also couldn't help but kind of like it. It was at that moment that I realized what had just happened; The Shins have become Weezer, reliving past nerdy glories with one listenable cheese-fest after another, all improved by the familiarity of the band's sound, and the listeners' love of past accomplishments. There are worse fates, but just like that comparison that I made at the beginning of this, are you really ever going to pick Pork and Beans over Buddy Holly? I didn't think so.

Grade: C+


  1. I LOVE Sea Legs. LOVE. True The Shins fan know what's up. Sea Legs is a fantastic tune.

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