Mercer reunites with The Shins, sort of

by Conner Cox

James Mercer has reshuffled The Shins ahead of the new album. | Courtesy of Annie Beedy
James Mercer has reshuffled The Shins ahead of the new album. | Courtesy of Annie Beedy

It has been five years since The Shins released its breakthrough record “Wincing the Night Away” and fans have been eagerly awaiting its follow-up. It is surprising the indie-rock pioneers have sustained a high level of anticipation and name recognition considering the frequent rise and fall of major artists in this age of music. However, during the hiatus, frontman James Mercer kept the excitement going for his fans. Broken Bells, his side project collaboration with acclaimed producer Danger Mouse, became a huge success and a defining moment in Mercer’s career.

After the long break, Mercer seems happy to be working with The Shins again – even though he has replaced some of his original bandmates, which he explains was an act of developing a new sound. It definitely shows. “Port of Morrow” is an optimistic fresh start for the group. Compared to previous albums, the latest is more concrete. The Shins’ first two records, “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow,” had some good songs that didn’t quite reach their full potential. “Wincing the Night Away” had a strong start but lost momentum as the record progressed. But in the new album, each track is composed of minimalist chords and riffs layered with sonic chimes and dreamy ambiance that builds a greater complexity of sound.

“Simple Song” and “Bait and Switch,” the two announced singles, are a perfect representation of the entire album. The songs demonstrate lyrical maturity from innocent poems to songs of greater substance. The 41-year-old singer reveals parts of his personal life in the lyrics, such as coping with growing while reflecting on the past. Unlike past records from The Shins, “Port of Morrow” avoids a melancholy edge. Mercer shows contentment and happiness rather than the distress of a midlife crisis.

It’s difficult to say the Portland-based indie rockers have finally discovered their sound, considering the band’s change of members, but “Port of Morrow” is definitely a step forward in the group’s history. Its production is more technical and complete than any of The Shins’ other records. With every spin the listener discovers something new and interesting about each song. Although it was worth the wait, hopefully the next The Shins record won’t take so long.