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