The Shins – Port of Morrow [Review]

It’s been five years since the well praised Wincing the Night Away and The Shins are back featuring a new line-up with Port of Morrow, arguably their strongest record yet.

Mercers dabblings with Danger Mouse on the superb 2010 Broken Bells record is evident with a slightly more electronic sound bubbling away in the background throughout, it’s never at the forefront but it’s noticeably subtle – a nice evolution of the sound Mercer has crafted for The Shins. It’s also unmercifully catchy; something The Shins have always managed and over time has become apparently easier for Mercer judging by how many of the tracks have been jammed in my mind the last two weeks. Vocal melodies bounce effortlessly along with the music (check out The Rifle’s Spiral (below) & Simple Song for prime examples) and this is really one of my favourite elements of the album. James Mercer really is a genius when it comes to the flow of his lyrics. It’s pretty straight up Indie Pop but goddamn it sounds effortless and so very, very confident.

Five years is a long time and if the sound of Port of Morrow is anything to go by it’s not just Mercers vocal melodies that have been honed, the production is sublime and a leap forward from previous efforts. It’s smooth, warm and well balanced, nothing is lost in the mix and it sounds bright and summery. It doesn’t sound like it’s taking elements from any one decade of the past 40 years but blending carefully the best of all of them. Pacing is well managed with a comfortable blend of slower mellow tracks and more upbeat singles helping the albums rhythm and never really outstaying its welcome. If there was ever any doubt after the line-up changes and five year gap between albums, it is very clear that James Mercer is back. He is The Shins and he’s back, familiar yet better in nearly every way.

If you’re a fan of The Shins you should be checking this album out, I have no doubt about that. If you don’t fall into that camp and you’re on the fence, then you could do a lot worse than checking out this brilliantly catchy Indie Pop record. Finally, it also benefits from excellent artwork courtesy of Jacob Escobedo who also worked on the Broken Bells artwork.

Track listing is as follows (complete with highlighted highlights).

  1. The Rifle’s Spiral
  2. Simple Song
  3. It’s Only Life
  4. Bait and Switch
  5. September
  6. No Way Down
  7. For a Fool
  8. Fall of ’82
  9. 40 Mark Strasse
  10. Port of Morrow

76 thoughts on “The Shins – Port of Morrow [Review]

  1. Wow I adore the Shins but I haven’t listened to them for ages and shockingly I didn’t even know they had a new album out until I stumbled across your Freshly Pressed post… I’m now listening to Simple Song with joy and look forward to sampling the rest of the tracks… (I need perfect musical nourishment to write on my Blog you see). Thanks so much!! :D xxx

  2. Nice review. I agree with everything you say.

    I was lucky enough to get the bonus 4 track acoustic EP with my purchase. I guess because I used an independent record store (Birdland in Va Beach).
    The tracks are:
    1. Simple Song
    2. September
    3. It’s Only Life
    4. Young Pilgrim

    I do miss the awesome production work with the acoustic versions, but the striped-down versions hold up with their great melodies.
    I also like that James included a ‘classic’ track Young Pilgrim…which is genius.

    You can check them out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4cgRnUh2Po

  3. I reeeeeally love this record already. A few songs do stand out on first listen, but having played it solidly for two weeks now, I must say each track really is exceptional. The lyrics of ‘It’s Only Life’ made me cry today (it’s been a bad bad day!), only to be cheered up again by ‘Bait and Switch’. Whereas ‘Taken For A Fool’ – “you’re stuck in my head like a terrible song” … what a great lyric!

  4. Spot on review. Thanks for sharing! You and my husband would get along famously. Check out his indie mixes via soSpangled.wordpress.com !!

  5. I hate it, it sounds like bloody Snow Patrol. Go check out ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ (or the other two previous albums for that matter). ‘Simple Song’ for example is the worst kind of stadium/mainstream pap that should have been banned a long time ago (probably around 1989). Oh James, what were you thinking?

  6. Thanks for the review! I love, love, love The Shins and I was so looking forward to this new release. I ordered an LP and it sounds fantastic! My favorite song is “For A Fool,” by far. Thanks again for the great post!

  7. Thank you for the review. I’m a big fan of The Shins. Many bands are trying to replace them as indie kings. I’m glad they’re back to prove they here so others can bring it on. I see you made a strong statement right off the bat, and I’m sold. Actually, I have three of their pervious albums. I sure want to have this one.

    I miss them so much.

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  9. Saw The Shins a few years back right around the time they were blowing up with two songs on the Garden State soundtrack. They were such an awesome live show, energetic and youthful but retaining their complex and original style. They even had great openers (The Stars if I recall correctly).

  10. Being a Shins fan I was utterly disappointed with this album. I kept an open mind & just think it’s not what I’m used to because the whole group has changed except for Mercer. Kudos to him I guess, I like the older version of the band.

  11. Good review of a great album! I’m really intrigued by ‘Port of Morrow’ (the track). It hints at a more experimental (dare I say Radiohead-esque) side of Mercer that we haven’t heard before.

  12. Great album. While I’m not yet as attached to it as the others, I can tell we will become familiar old friends. Thanks for the review.

  13. The Shins put on a great show on the Google stage in Austin for SXSW. I reviewed the Shins with photos on my own blog, Extravagant Behavior. I’m glad they’re back and performing!

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  15. I saw the Shins a few years ago and it was one of the best shows that I’ve ever been to. I haven’t listened to this album yet, but I like the way that the earlier albums were both ethereal and whimsical.

  16. I like to think of this record as a fine whiskey after cask-oak aging. Whiskey in its infancy is more wild and more accepted among the younger generation because of its accessibility and uncommon tradition from that of their parents. Enter: the shins. In their younger albums, there was a rebellious edge to the music that most fans have clinged to. When trying to make the switch from the weaker fermented alcohol to the fine, rich gentleman’s drink it is a difficult transition. That being said, as a purveyor of fine whiskey, I like to think of this new record as a delicious brew that is deserving of stones instead of ice. It’s time to refine ourselves, friends, and indulge in the good stuff (aka. Port of Morrow).

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