Street Sounds: Break in some new Shins

Dean Gordon-Smith reviews The Shins' just released fourth album, Port of Morrow.


here’s always something to be gained or considered by taking several years away from your main gig to do a solo project or two and then returning.

This is what Shins frontman/leader James Mercer did with his stint in Broken Bells with Danger Mouse.  He returned to a new Shins lineup to record their fourth album, one that glows with a bright electronic sheen.

Mercer sings and plays for the melody, mixing the soft psychedelia of The Beach Boys and The Beatles with the sterling song craft of Neil Finn and Crowded House.

From there, Mercer and the newly constructed Shins move into new retro frontiers with Mercer’s high hooks to the fore.

On Port of Morrow, Mercer and The Shins are masters of weaving ethereal sounds into solid, evocative melodies.

This talent utilizes studio savvy to deliver lush songs that are otherworldly and lively (Simple Song).

Whacked-out gadgets like the theremin could be manipulated successfully into a Shins song – the band is bursting with an eccentric musicality that skirts the edges of pop sensibilities.

It’s Only Life uses this ringing layering technique to lift it up to a gorgeously crafted potential single that’s resonant with dreamy imagery.

Mercer’s high and clear near soprano reach is a singular sound today.

The arrangements on Port of Morrow aren’t conventional and match Mercer’s voice to inspired guitar/keyboard atmospherics.

The recording is clean. The music shines and the songs are over the horizon (No Way Down, For a Fool). One can hear elements of light psychedelia and progressive rock, ‘70’s style, presented accessibly.

The big sounds of reverb, ringing guitars and unidentifiable keyboards are familiar and new, but could have several different points of origin.

The whole album, especially 40 Mark Strasse and No Way Down, successfully dodges the pinpointing of any specific year or era.