The Shins
Port of Morrow


3.0
good

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
March 20th, 2012 | 160 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Don't call it a comeback.

For all the press lauding this as the comeback of one of modern indie’s more venerable acts, Port of Morrow sounds strangely suspended in time, caught in between the ghosts of its past and a far more promising future. Ostensibly it’s an album that showcases everything that made the Shins great; maybe not change-your-life amazing, but certainly one of the defining acts of the ‘00s, workmanlike indie pushed over the top by frontman James Mercer’s distinctive tenor and his remarkable melodic talents. Yet the James Mercer who was beginning to emerge on 2007’s underrated Wincing the Night Away does not always sound like the James Mercer in rare indie pop form on Port of Morrow, except perhaps in the slinky, sexy titular closer, which is so distinct from the rest of the material here that it almost seems like a tacked on bonus track. “Simple Song” has been derided for being just that – with the punchy guitars, Mercer’s trademark shift to a higher register, and clever wordplay, it seems like a Shins song concocted in some hellishly cheery, Zach Braff-run indie pop factory via carefully worded specifications (insert backing vocals here, add a dash of piano throughout). “Simple Song” is near flawless as a pop song, but it’s that inevitable feeling of déj* vu that makes it and much of Port of Morrow predictable rather than truly stirring.

Mercer’s more recent work with Danger Mouse in Broken Bells and even much of Wincing the Night Away foreshadowed an accomplished songwriter finally stepping out from his own considerable shadow. A song like “Red Rabbits” or “Sea Legs” from the latter reveled in different textures and a more experimental take on indie pop, and in doing so it revealed a Mercer who was comfortable in growing as a songwriter, still an ace with those hooks and a pristinely recorded guitar but more interested in seeing where these studio explorations would take him. His later remarks that he had felt stifled working in the Shins, recruitment of an entirely new backing band, and enlistment of producer Greg Kurstin (of fellow indie poppers The Bird and the Bee) pointed to a continuance of that more expansive direction, but for the most part, Port of Morrow slips in neatly between Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow on the CD rack. This is not a bad thing when Mercer is able to recapture the intimate spirit of those records, as he does on the lovely “September,” which, for all of “Simple Song’s” inherent craft, is the most quintessentially Shins song here. The light strum of Mercer’s acoustic guitar and the dreamy haze that drifts around the song like a summer dew gives it a nakedly honest feeling of newfound romance that “New Slang” nailed so perfectly, a feeling summed up in a classic Mercer line: “love is the ink in the well when her body writes" (Braff would totally love that).

“September” is quiet and thoughtful, and in the context of the rest of Port of Morrow it jumps out at you for precisely that reason. The flip side of Mercer’s studio proficiency is the double-edged sword of perfectionism, which was never a problem when Mercer was laying down a couple backing vocals and a guitar track but tends to overwhelm on MOR-fluff like the schmaltzy “For A Fool” or the even cheesier “It’s Only Life,” which features lyrics that drip clichés and a short guitar solo that can be seen coming from miles away. It’s hard to fault Kurstin here for doing what he does best, and combining his production skills with Mercer’s songwriting is bound to lead to some stunners – opener “The Rifle’s Spiral,” for instance, is just the kind of stomping pop that Kurstin does so well, an incessant guitar riff and some bouncy drumming pushing one of Mercer’s better melodies forward. Where “The Rifle’s Spiral” surges, however, other songs merely sound exceedingly well produced; the cheerful, ringing guitar on “No Way Down” and the festive percussion and funky guitar on “Bait and Switch” are all well and good, with polished hooks and a production sheen that practically sparkles in the higher tones and kicks hard and cleanly in the lower. Yet, whether it’s because of Mercer’s so-consistent-it’s-almost-boring vocal excellence or the fact that the hooks tend to blend into one another after a series of up tempo, vaguely rocking pop master classes, Kurstin’s focus on a glossy, slick aesthetic rarely serves to enhance Mercer’s songs.

Then again, this is James Mercer, and these songs are nevertheless uniformly outstanding, another ten Exhibit As (in a long line of them) in the case for Mercer as one of the best songwriters of his generation. For all its AM dial affinity, “40 Mark Strasse” has the kind of soaring, overwhelming chorus that one can’t help but smile at, even if the idea of soft rock makes one sort of queasy. And that title track is a necessary revelation that Port of Morrow takes too long in getting to – in its ghostly synth work and the delightfully weird effect on Mercer’s falsetto throughout, it’s the logical heir to Wincing the Night Away’s oddball moments and Broken Bells more chromatic hues. Yet Port of Morrow seems much more a step sideways than forward for Mercer, not so much a dramatic comeback but more a compilation of greatest hits masquerading as new songs. We already knew Mercer could write a great Shins album – the question now is if he can ever become more than just the Shins.



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Chart.
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Comments:Add a Comment 
KILL
March 19th 2012


71796 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

shitty

Digging: Invisible - El jardin de los presentes

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
March 19th 2012


15981 Comments


pretty good though in reality

Digging: Maybeshewill - Fair Youth

KILL
March 19th 2012


71796 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

no you just like every queef album released

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
March 19th 2012


15981 Comments


hey just b/c this doesn't have shredding doesn't = shit

KILL
March 19th 2012


71796 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

haha good one you got me there!

explain why this is good

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
March 19th 2012


15981 Comments


I would but

KILL
March 19th 2012


71796 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

!

Ponton
Emeritus
March 19th 2012


5793 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

all reader please take detour

http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/8746/A.C.-Newman-The-Slow-Wonder/



pizzamachine
March 19th 2012


12571 Comments


Where have I read that summary before...

luschlotz
March 19th 2012


993 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

EXCELENT review, I really mean it. Congrats

klap
Staff Reviewer
March 19th 2012


10418 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@pizza, LL Cool J?

PistolPete
March 19th 2012


3608 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It's not aoty but just something nice to listen to, I definitely enjoyed this. Opener and "For a Fool" are amazing, even though the review disses the latter song.

Nothing on here tops "The High Road" off Broken Bell's S/T, that song is better than anything I've heard from Mercer.

Digging: Banks - Goddess

rmill3r
March 19th 2012


167 Comments


It's a comeback, and it's a damn good one.

aok
March 19th 2012


4422 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

pretty much agree with you rudy. nice writeup -- might do my own in the next day or so if work is slow

Digging: Aphex Twin - Syro

Ire
March 20th 2012


41779 Comments


Album is weak. Good review, Klap.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
March 20th 2012


7338 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Good review.

This is a strange one for me. It's not their best my any means and is maybe a little disappointing, but it's just so easy to listen to - and every time that I do I really enjoy it.

ohfoxxxycole
March 20th 2012


4353 Comments


ive never listened to this band potsy

aok
March 20th 2012


4422 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

dam tater -- why you gotta be insulting my manhood like that?

AggravatedYeti
March 20th 2012


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

love this rudy.

still have to get around to hearing this, I've been behind this month :

robin
Emeritus
March 20th 2012


4248 Comments


if i want the shins i'll listen to rogue wave thank you VERY MUCH



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