It’s been five long years since James Mercer’s brainchild, The Shins, released an album and a lot has happened since 2007′s Wincing the Night Away. The band changed its lineup, with some saying that Mercer fired former Shins members. In 2010, the auteur took a step out of his norm and teamed up with Danger Mouse. Together, the two created Broken Bells, releasing an album and EP. Now, finally, after years of waiting, Mercer has returned to the place we love him most, as the driving voice of The Shins.
Port of Morrow is possibly the best Shins album to date. It’s a beautiful blend of the group’s earlier work, containing both the playfulness of Oh, Inverted World (2001) and Chutes Too Narrow (2003), as well as more serious, darker, subject matter that is found on Wincing the Night Away. Stand alone, nearly every song on the album is a gem. Together, they create the most cohesive, and listenable, record Mercer’s group has ever released. You’ll find yourself repeatedly saying “man, this is a good song!” from the first single, “Simple Song,” to “It’s Only Life,” to “September,” to “No Way Down,” to “For A Fool,” to… Get it?
The sound of Morrow isn’t too surprising. It’s The Shins, and it sounds like The Shins. This doesn’t mean that the group sounds the same as they did back in 2001. Its sound has evolved, but has done so in a gradual way that isn’t off-putting. The most obvious difference on this record is the work of producer Greg Kurstin. Unlike other Shins albums, all the instrumentation on Morrow blends smoothly, and feels as though it has a reason to be there. The eclectic instrumentation is maximized at the perfect times, but never overpowering Mercer’s vocals, and minimized at the perfect times. The effect is stunning, and highly evocative. On album standout “For A Fool,” Kurstin’s production mastery is especially evident. The song opens with hushed guitars, allowing for Mercer’s voice to shine in what may be his best performance on the album. As the song progresses, so does the instrumentation, leading to a sweeping and grandiose chorus as Mercer sings, “taken for a fool, because I was a fool.” Everything works together to create an emotional experience for the listener. And it works. Port of Morrow is one of the best sounding albums of 2012. Continue reading