The Shins : Port Of Morrow
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The Shins : Port Of Morrow

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Five years and a Grammy award later and the epitomical indie-rock group, The Shins, are back with a fresh LP and renewed gusto for life. An encouraging release from the Portland via Albuquerque-based project, following 2007’s highly acclaimed Wincing The Night Away and subsequent extended hiatus, The Shins have endured a few dramatic modifications to their musical make-up to produce a highly evolved and warm retrospective in the form of Port Of Morrow. In the interim leading up to their fifth endeavour, The Shins have more accurately morphed into front-man James Mercer taking the helm as primary songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, percussionist (and occasional glockenspiel player) in an ever-transposing lineup, that has now seen the full metamorphosis of band to solo project over the course of their recording career. Recorded mostly in Portland and Los Angeles throughout 2011, Port Of Morrow hints at a mandatory evolution of sound in its production and themes, but not so much as to greatly change The Shins trademark characteristics. With a little help from producer Greg Kurstin on keys and bass on certain tracks, what has materialised is a mature and diverse collection of stunning and heartfelt melodies that don’t fail to appeal.

With baited breath, the glittering intro to opening track, The Rifle’s Spiral, is an immediate welcome home to familiar Shins territory. With the inclusion of some spaced-out, almost psychedelic synth effects beneath the climatic chorus of the track, there lies the familiar boasting vocals of Mercer warming one to the new era of the band. It’s a confident opener that seamlessly transitions into the instant radio favourite, Simple Song, which falls nothing short of their signature sound, thanks to a cheerful execution of lyrics from verse to chorus. Five songs deep and tracks like It’s Only Life and September are early indicators of the diversity embedded in the album throughout; the soaring warmth in the upbeat openers turn into slower, more subtle numbers that feel somewhat reflective and thoughtful in their context. Lyrics such as ‘I’ve been down that road before / It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome’ are not only telling of Mercer’s developing wisdom, but also accentuate a positivity carried throughout the album’s duration.

The second half of the album’s ten track breadth is as equally contemplative as the first, with bursts of reverb on Mercer’s vocals, as well as playful guitar pedal effects making for a dreamy Californian vibe reflective of the album’s geographical birthplace. Gentle strumming continues to set a chilled-out, yet upbeat tone to the album, with Mercer’s soaring choruses as soothing as ever. The music, with licks of piano and guitar riffs used generously throughout the album, play only second to Mercer’s far-ranging vocal ability, while his lyrics become the focal point of tracks like No Way Down and Fall Of 82. Themes of love and family become inherently clear; while lines like ‘Getting used to the dust in your lungs’ again makes references to Mercer’s apparent realisation of fleeting youth.

A highlight comes in the form of title track, Port Of Morrow, with Mercer hitting falsetto range to bring the album to a close. The combination of swooning synth with its layered, reverbed vocals fades out leaving you with an unquestionable desire to listen to the album in its entirety all over again. Each track is distinctly it’s own, yet Port Of Morrow seems to perfectly glide from one chorus to the next. While mellow at times, Mercer has created an engaging release of hi-fi indie tunes that is both varied and familiar, and perfect to live life to.

BY TEGAN BUTLER

Best Track: The Rifle’s Spiral

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In A Word:  Mercer-ful