After a five-year hiatus following the release of Wincing the Night Away, after the addition of four new band members, and after two releases from James Mercer’s acclaimed side-project, Broken Bells, The Shins have finally made a long-awaited return to the music scene with their fourth studio album, Port of Morrow.
Devoted fans of The Shins may be slightly dubious of the dramatic changes to the band’s line-up, since founder and lead-singer James Mercer is the only remaining member of the band since its conception in 1996,. But Mercer succeeds in creating an album that remains loyal to their beloved, signature sound that has defined the indie genre, while building upon it enough to win over new fans along the way.
Port of Morrow begins with a bang. ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ immediately sets the tone for the album with an up-beat, vibrant introduction. It is as if the band is immediately out to prove that they haven’t missed a single beat since their last release. Interestingly, however, the song features synthesised electronic instrumentation, hip-hop drum beats, and vocal melodies that are far more identifiable as a Broken Bells track; James Mercer’s side-project with Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley producer, Danger Mouse, has invariably influenced Mercer’s approach to writing the Shins’ new album.
But, Shins fans, do not fear! ‘Simple Song’, the album’s first single, is an instant reminder of The Shins of old. Vibrant and zany, the guitar riffs are superbly quirky and James Mercer is at his absolute best. The chorus is stunning and will make any cynical indie bopper ashamed to be ‘only into their old stuff’. ‘Bait and Switch’ and ‘No Way Down’ are also personal favourites. They were the tracks that really clinched the album for me.
Don’t think of Port of Morrow as a revolutionary hit record or another indie staple like Wincing the Night Away, but more like coffee with a dear, long lost friend as they fill you in on all the exciting things they’ve been up to over ten warming, caffeinated tracks. And after wondering where on earth they’ve been all these years, it’s comforting to know that The Shins haven’t changed an inch from their quirky brand of indie pop you first fell in love with. This album won’t set the world on fire, but it’s a friendly reminder that The Shins, at least in spirit, are still alive and well.
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