The Shins
Heartworms


2.5
average

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
March 11th, 2017 | 110 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The disease of more.

The Shins have come a long way since changing your life with an acoustic guitar and some tinny drums, a fact that’s quickly driven into one’s skull in the first half of Heartworms. Running the gamut from space-age chamber pop to Broken Bells-esque psychedelia to relaxed alt-country, the group’s first record since 2012’s Port of Morrow and fifth overall is their most expansive record yet. It’s the sound of a band confident in their ability to stretch the limits of a well-worn sound and an expensive studio, content to indulge every little gee-whiz effect and track upon multilayered track. As the elder statesman of indie pop, James Mercer has earned his right to wiggle his toes in previously undisturbed waters, but too often on Heartworms he sounds less like a genius gracefully growing old and more like Wayne Coyne in full mid-life crisis mode. It’s difficult to see the Mercer who made a song like “Saint Simon,” a carefully constructed clockwork of pop composition, allowing something like the cluttered, clattering “Painting a Hole” out of the recording room. The muscular songwriting that defines a Shins song is gussied up with so many effects and unnecessary technical claptrap here that the indelible hook driving a single like “Dead Alive” collapses instead of propelling forward, the victim of more synths, more ghostly harmonies, more carnival keys, more more.

Frankly, Mercer’s unfiltered production makes Heartworms an exhausting listen. Maybe it’s because the Shins have a relatively small discography, despite having been around seemingly forever, that every new release sounds like a jarring readjustment to what’s come before. Or perhaps it’s the failure of anybody to say “no” in the studio. Mercer produced every song here except late highlight “So Now What,” a standout likely because its relatively restrained production finally allows a stirring anthem to breathe and because it has been floating around since it was featured on a 2014 Zach Braff (who else?) soundtrack and consequently feels divorced from everything else. Mercer’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink ethos is exacerbated by the track listing, which places a murderer’s row of offenders – the incoherent “Painting a Hole,” the self-consciously weird “Cherry Hearts,” the overstuffed if well-intentioned “Name for You” – at the beginning. “Fantasy Islands,” a similarly widescreen epic, is more tolerable, if only because its instrumental forays feel earned and its heartbreaking lyrics seem authentic rather than canned.

That tendency to dip into cliché is at fault here too; where the subdued Americana of “Mildenhall” starts by painting a refreshingly honest portrait of Mercer’s teenage years overseas as a military brat, it settles on one too many trite turns of phrase. “Name for You,” a paean to Mercer’s daughters, is the kind of progressive potshot at the patriarchy that almost makes up for the crowded production, but it’s a red herring for the rest of Heartworms. Instead, Mercer is content to hew close to his most experienced subjects, lamely lamenting unrequited love in the title track and tackling obsession in the winking “Rubber Ballz.” “I take the drugs but the drugs won’t take,” he sings in the bouncy new wave of “Half a Million,” a turn of phrase that feels written more for its cleverness than for any particular import, like too many here. One of the best songs, closer “The Fear,” is perhaps the only one that successfully straddles the line between the flowery production and Mercer’s more introspective lyrics. It’s overwrought, certainly, but whether it’s the almost funereal pace, the soothing, warm melody, or Mercer’s narrative of anxiety problems, the combination is something of a perfect alchemy, the apex of the album’s desire to stretch the Shins further than anything they’ve done before. Sadly, it comes too late to make Heartworms any more than a brightly colored mess.




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user ratings (70)
Chart.
2.8
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
March 11th 2017


11555 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"Name for You" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnQKb2lHGes

danielcardoso
Contributing Reviewer
March 11th 2017


10786 Comments


Had been meaning to give this a spin but not looking too promising huh, nice one Rudy.

Gyromania
March 11th 2017


21704 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This album blows. Not a single great song tbh

theBoneyKing
March 11th 2017


8044 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Nice one Rudy. Only spun this once but it didn't do much for me.

Digging: Spoon - Hot Thoughts

Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
March 11th 2017


54833 Comments


good work

Digging: bansheebeat - Techo Deluxe

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 11th 2017


23129 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Awesome work on the review. I enjoyed this a bit more than you but I agree with the premise of your arguments against it. It is overproduced and unnecessarily bogged down; one of my few gripes with this other than the fact that The Shins are little more to me than lighthearted indie pop for a quick mood-lifter.

Digging: The Shins - Heartworms

Gyromania
March 11th 2017


21704 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I've only heard this album once but I can't remember a single highlight, which is pretty weird for a shins album. Port of morrow wasn't amazing but at least it had some highlights. As it stands this is probably my least favorite shins album.

jtswope
March 11th 2017


5079 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Figured this would be meh.

2X17
March 11th 2017


19 Comments


I'm under the impression that every artist Dangermouse rubs elbows with ends up going down the drain

Digging: Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me

Sinternet
March 11th 2017


12242 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this was ok

Digging: Blonde Redhead - Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons

bigguytoo9
March 11th 2017


370 Comments


"I'm under the impression that every artist Dangermouse rubs elbows with ends up going down the drain"

It's the truth!

klap
Staff Reviewer
March 11th 2017


11555 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

lol 2X



thanks all. sowing ya i think the songwriting here is pretty uniformly strong but it gets bogged down unnecessarily imo

SandwichBubble
March 11th 2017


1633 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@2X17 not even wrong sadly

Digging: Ilhan Mimaroglu - Wings Of The Delirious Demon

theBoneyKing
March 11th 2017


8044 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Actually Michael Kiwanuka's album from last year produced by Danger Mouse was quite excellent.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
March 11th 2017


12212 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I had arse worms once, incredibly itchy

Digging: Dark - Round the Edges

SandwichBubble
March 11th 2017


1633 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@theBoneyKing not even wrong sadly*









*with a 1% margin of error

ZippaThaRippa
March 11th 2017


9217 Comments


Damn that is a sweet album cover

FullOfSounds
March 11th 2017


13636 Comments


apparently that's where all the talent/creativity went

Digging: Bebe Rexha - I Don't Wanna Grow Up

ZippaThaRippa
March 11th 2017


9217 Comments


It's unfortunate man. I think there should be some kind of committee that prevents shit bands from using cool names / covers.

conditionals
March 11th 2017


115 Comments


I'm going to check this out, but it's a huge turn off how far Mercer has been swallowed into his own asshole.

e.g.: "“Mercer’s ability to create two totally divergent albums from the same underlying compositions not only highlights his immense capability as a songwriter,” explains the press release, “but also functions as a reminder of what it means to be an artist, how an artist acts as both the master and facilitator of his artistic product.”"



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