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The Shins

Port Of Morrow

[Columbia / Aural Apothecary; 2012]

By ; March 20, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

One of the defining aspects of a rock band is the collaborative spirit that occurs when you put a bunch of artists in a room and ask them to create something. As The Shins have become less and less a band and more an outlet for James Mercer to release a certain type of song that he considers a “Shins song,” this kind of lens becomes useless when analyzing the music of the project. On the plus side of this, James Mercer is talented enough to release music of a certain quality no matter than the conditions, producing timeless tracks as a Shin in the form of “New Slang” and “Gone For Good” (among others) and creating a number of memorable tunes with Danger Mouse for both their Broken Bells project and Dark Night Of The Soul. But, as Port Of Morrow feels like the most “solo” album Mercer has ever created, the collection finds difficulty leaving its comfort zone, always reaching the water mark you would expect from a James Mercer collection and never pushing the boundaries much further than that.

There is plenty to admire, and even enjoy, about Port Of Morrow. First single, “Simple Song,” is clearly the most fully-realized track in the collection, taking Mercer’s knack for creating an ear-worm and using that as merely a jumping off point. Backing the vocals are some arena rock-ready guitar noodling that balance the line between being background noise and being an integral part of the song, in addition to ever-changing leads and crunchy rhythms. Album closer and title track “Port Of Morrow” may not be as instantly accessible as “Simple Song,” but the most Broken Bells-y song on the collection may be an even greater accomplishment (it actually sounds more like something from Danger Mouse’s Rome than something from Broken Bells), allowing Mercer to demonstrate some legitimate songwriting growth since the last time we met The Shins, proving that all of his endeavors are indeed strengthening his craft. Lead by a woozy organ and an unflinching falsetto, the song ends the collection on the highest notes, while unfortunately pointing out the severe lack of risks in the rest of the album.

On Port Of Morrow, Mercer shows his ability to still make his audience bounce with up-tempo winners “Bait And Switch” and “The Rifle’s Spiral,” while “September” and “It’s Only Life” tug at the heartstrings like The Shins of the past. But, other tracks falter in similar attempts. On “No Way Down,” Mercer strikingly sounds like Third Eye Blind’s Stephen Jenkins, both in sound and the delivery of his vocals. The dated-ness of the songs continue on “Fall Of 82,” in which the date is not the only thing making The Shins sound old. Indeed, Port Of Morrow finds The Shins at a similar place that we saw Wilco reaching on Sky Blue Sky, where a maturity in their sound was easily confused with being uninspired, or even tired. Port Of Morrow often finds James Mercer sounding less and less exciting and more and more comfortable. Sure, that may mean we get an occasional trumpet solo (the redeemable moment in “Fall Of 82”), but, hell, do we really want our Shins music with the occasional trumpet solo?

If Mercer’s aim was to create a record that sticks with the listeners, Port Of Morrow is successful in that goal, but not always for the right reasons. “For A Fool” has found its way into my consciousness throughout the week of listening to this new Shins album due to its simplicity and the familiarity of its chorus. But, the song, and the collection as a whole, doesn’t approach the consistency of the early Shins albums nor the frequency of high points reached by the more recent Mercer efforts. Above all, Port Of Morrow seems an unnecessary asterix on an already successful career, and one that I fear future Mercer albums will mimic. Sure, it’s nice to hear such a talented songwriter working with ease and precision, but it’s just not always that interesting.

Lyrics by Rap Genius

The Shins – 40 Mark Strasse Lyrics
The Shins – Bait And Switch Lyrics
The Shins – Fall Of ’82 Lyrics
The Shins – For A Fool Lyrics
The Shins – It’s Only LIfe Lyrics
The Shins – No Way Down Lyrics
The Shins – Port Of Morrow Lyrics
The Shins – The Rifle’s Spiral Lyrics
The Shins – September Lyrics
The Shins – Simple Song Lyrics


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