The Shins are no longer dormant! New members- apart from James Mercer- but similar vibe. Their new album, ‘Port Of Morrow’ was released on the 20th March. It’s been half a decade since the band from Albuquerque graced the music scene with their tunes. Mercer has batted between ‘projects’ during this time: from The Shins, to the Broken Bells and back again. In no way does ‘Port of Morrow’ suggest musical neglect, more artistic hibernation.

The album is classic Shins, but better- more restrained. There isn’t a real rollercoaster of moods on the record. The album is cleverly produced so that, admittedly, Mercer leads it. The band is present in an extremely modest sense; this is not at the expense of the songs. The elevating melodies of previous hits such as ‘Australia’ are almost hidden, overtaken by slower, well-nurtured beats.

In the first  three seconds of ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’, the albums’ opener, I panicked slightly because the band used an electronic squeak (a bit War of the Worlds). This was not worrying over the well-being of their amplifiers, but because much of the new release chart have seemed to feel some form of electro-introduction necessary. Thankfully, this passed. The Shins have not merged with David Guetta, interesting though that may have been. The song moves into symmetrical, soft waves of drum and rhythm guitar- almost resembling ‘The Pixies’ kind of intro-style.

The album moves into ‘Simple Song’, already a hit with the good general public. The uplifting sound of The Shins returns further, demonstrating the bands reliance on the lyrics to carry the atmosphere. Mercer has a natural quirk to his voice that show cases his lyrics, tailor made to his voice. This carries on a few tracks later in ‘September’; which in a pleasantly unsettling way isn’t dissimilar to Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’. ‘For A Fool’ is pure performance.  Greg Kurstin and Nik Freitas deliver the most evocative guitar solos-which are few on this album.

’40 Mark Strasse’ is arguably one of the best songs on the album. It, with ‘Port Of Morrow’, tootles along like a stroll in the woods. No noticeable climax, the signature ambience of the album resounding; no fuss, no novelty sounds, reminiscing in ‘Wincing the Night Away’ but creating an entirely new set of tracks.

For original fans, it may be a disappointment that the original talent of the band is missing for the most part. However, with the album sounding as it does; the vital, recognisable traits of The Shins are there. Mercer sings ‘I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone.’ He doesn’t, any musician that embarks on an album with James Mercer is always going to have to succumb to the fact that his lyrics and voice will dominate, but the ensemble makes one of the most relaxing and grown up collaborations. The indie band with a strange collection of lyrics has matured into a subtle, poetic group.

Rating – 4/5

Review by Bryony Taylor.

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