Shins release fails to impress

Music Reviewer
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Over the past few years, the Shins have fallen into shambles. By late 2008, the band was without keyboardist/bassist Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval. Whatever internal differences led their departure, it was nevertheless evident that this only cemented head songsmith James Mercer as the centerpiece of the band.

Five years after the release of their third album, “Wincing the Night Away,” the indie pop giants the Shins return with their first album in five years with the release of “Port of Morrow.”

The production is dense and deliberate – each instrument feels like it carefully weaved into the composition. On some tracks, it seems as though Mercer trudges along some of the sonic territory explored in his electronics heavy side-project, “Broken Bells.”

The album begins with a thundering one-two punch. Opening track “The Rifle’s Spiral” is a bouncing minor-key reverie that fires on all cylinders. It signifies a different approach for the band – incorporating subtle mix of airy reverb-laden guitar and ambient synth-pads. Yet, it never feels overproduced. Instead, Mercer uses these as building blocks, and the song seems to signify Mercer’s ability to tastefully incorporate these elements without teetering into pretentiousness.

The following piece “Simple Song” is by far the album’s best track and easily one of the best singles of the 2012. Dynamic, triumphant, and sublime, it is a fine example of Mercer’s downright mastery of pop melodicism. He fuses this with a sense of unfettered energy. True to the title, he drifts away from his usually clumsy, verbose lyrics, and as a result, they are rich, organic, and relatable.

Yet after these two tracks, the album seems to fall into a rut of mostly good but un-extraordinary filler. For the most part, the remainder suffers from the plight of being almost monotonously good. Sure, there are no bad tracks on this album, yet its scattershot moments of brilliance prevent it from rising to the level of the band’s previous albums.

“September,” a rather quiet acoustic number, begins with a lovely if unorthodox melody, but merely meanders along afterward. It takes no risks, breaks no boundaries. Instead, it relies of production to mask its lack of substance and feels like little more than slightly more than radio-friendly adult alternative.

It’s rather unfortunate, for any one of these songs has the potential to be great and Mercer is writing some of the best lyrics of his career. But, they are masked over songs that can just get downright boring. Sure, these songs sounds nice, but few are truly memorable.

This isn’t to say that there are not any remaining gems. On “For A Fool” and “Port of Morrow,” Mercer moves past this blandness and truly explores interesting sonic territory, but even then, they aren’t anything extraordinary or particularly striking.

As a whole, “Port of Morrow” fails to rise above ordinary and lacks the jovial energy present that made “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow.” When it is great, it is really great, but even a single as great as “Simple Song” cannot carry the album beyond this general flatness.

SCORE: 63/100