Review Summary: Solid return, with new flavor.
The indie rock band The Shins’ fourth album Port of Morrow is their warmest, most polished album, and the easiest to listen to yet. It’s been five years since The Shins’ last album Wincing the Night Away and the only constant member of The Shins has been frontman and vocalist James Mercer.
Mercer started up a side project, Broken Bells, with Danger Mouse, which gave significant influence to the new album, although it added to the length of time between The Shins’ albums. Port of Morrow stands apart from previous albums as refreshing with a beautiful balance between the typical melancholy that has pervaded The Shins' past albums, and a newer, happier side.
Some of the best moments in the album capitalize on this dichotomy -- from the more footloose and happy slide guitar in background of the opening track “The Rifle’s Spiral” to the eery falsetto intro into the final track of Port of Morrow, “Port of Morrow.” Lyrically, James Mercer also focuses on the tightrope connection between beauty and sadness.
Port of Morrow opens with the driving track “The Rifle’s Spiral” and follows with the album’s single “Simple Song.” “The Rifle’s Spiral” lets the cat out of the bag early and gives listeners a taste of the more electronic feel Port of Morrow exhibits in comparison to The Shins’ previous albums, Danger Mouse’s influence is obvious right off the bat. “Simple Song” builds over thirty seconds then comes Mercer singing, “Well this is just a simple song, to say what you done.” The song is partially about his relationship with his wife when they were newlyweds and partially about Jesse Sandoval and Marty Crandall leaving the band. It has the one of catchiest chorus of the album, sung in falsetto. The second slow song of the album, “September,” has the most personable feel of the album, with hand percussion really tying it together well and separating it just enough from the rest of the album. The last track, which shares the name of the album, has a kind of psychedelic feel to it much like The Beatles song “Mr. Kite,” but in a more electronic style. The Shins have an impeccable track record, and with Port of Morrow, it doesn't seem like they will be slowing down anytime soon.
Don’t just enjoy the music. Enjoy the tangible album as well. The album art was created by Jacob Escobedo, who has also done art for musicians like Gnarls Barkley and Vampire Weekend. Influenced by Eastern European and Native American New Mexican art styles, the cover features a spirit made of feathers with a Native American style mask on top of a mountain. If you pay attention to the smoke floating about the mountain you will be able to pick out naked ladies and a skull. It all fits in a paper case with a four page booklet filled with handwritten text and more art contiguous with the rest of the album. The album currently comes on 180g black vinyl, and is sleeve packaged with a single sheet for the lyrics sporting a different, but tighter and better looking layout for the lyrics.