Well worth the wait.
It seems a little odd to make the connection now, but the Strokes and the Shins wound up entering the music-minded internet consciousness right around the same time in mid 2001 but for very different reasons. The Strokes were everywhere that summer, a high concept group cobbled together to save rock music at a time when rape rock and boy bands ruled. The Strokes WERE actually pretty great for their time, and Is This It did seem like it might save something, even if it was just what little bit of cool was still left over after Kurt blew his brains out. There was this other band at the time too, The Shins, and while they had a terse, one syllable’d band name like the New York brats, the two could not have been more different.
Where the Strokes were badass (always seemed like they wanted to be East Coast Guns n’ Roses), the Shins were decidedly not. They were from Albuquerque for crying out loud, and the only band name worse than their own was the band’s previous incarnation, Flake, which they later padded with the suffix “Music” so that people could at least understand they weren’t a laundry detergent or cold cereal. Admittedly, while the Strokes DID spend a lot of time on the stereo those 11 years ago, the Shins weaseled their way onto a lot of mixtapes, and even onto a McDonald’s commercial. The Shins seemed like the babes in the woods while the Strokes were banging models and developing drug addictions. However, the Shins were the tortoise in the race, releasing a new album every few years or so, and earnestly building a fanbase like it was a case to be made, based on (get this) the songs.
Of course main Shin James Mercer pulled the rug out from under all that. Following the band’s merely solid 2007 effort, Wincing the Night Away, Mercer decided to Mag Earwhig! the rest of the band and start anew. One particularly awful, wince-inducing side effect of this purge was a Spin magazine feature about rock stars “After the Band” which detailed drummer Jesse Sandoval’s new life running a food truck, wherein he bemoaned being blindsided by the whole ordeal. Not soon after, Mercer really started acting the rock star part by making the Broken Bells album with Danger Mouse, which sounded suspiciously like a Shins record with some light hip-hop accouterments. Then, well, silence, and quite a bit of it.
I really did not consciously expect a lot from Port of Morrow, but I realized after getting my hands on the album that I had been aware of a few singles off the record months in advance, and that I had gone to some lengths to not listen to them for reasons that fell somewhere between not wanting to see an old favorite fail and still believing that a band’s output is best heard in the long-player format. When I saw Port of Morrow was up for dibs to review, I signed up with enough to zeal to surprise myself and quickly realized I wanted the album to be good while assuming it wouldn’t be.
Thankfully, I am able to come clean when I am wrong. And I may have been right to be worried, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to be. Port of Morrow is a true return to form for Mercer and his new set of Shins, maintaining the upbeat charm of Chutes too Narrow, along with the dreamy but jumpy legged restlessness of Oh Inverted World. Mercer is, as he has always been, a wordsmith of the highest caliber, and as has always been the case, narrates the top-notch, catchy tunes with the voice of a wizened oldster, reminiscing about the past, which he did not appreciate for its good qualities while he was experiencing it. If any band fit the phrase, “Youth is wasted on the young”, it would be the Shins.
Like I said earlier, the Shins have always been about the tunes, cuz it’s never been an image thing, and Port of Morrow is really the equal of the band’s best previous efforts in that respect. “Fall of ‘82” evinces a mellow, jazzy, Steely Dan vibe, and “40 Mark Strasse” owes as much to 70’s AM radio as it does the Shins’ indiepop tradition, all without a bit of insincerity. If there is any mark against Port of Morrow, and this is a stretch (I admit), it would be that Mercer and co. are looking back while, um… looking back. Some of the songs on Port of Morrow come across as much as new takes on some of their old fan faves, but when you are talking about such a small but rich back catalog and the albums come so far apart (see you again in 2018?), it’s not so much a complaint as an observation. It doesn’t interrupt my enjoyment of the album one whit. Port of Morrow is purely enjoyable, and the sound of the most successful indiepop band of all time cementing their legacy, in the slightly guileless way that always suited them.
Purchase: The Shins – Port Of Morrow