Album Review: Port of Morrow — The Shins

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Shins released Port of Morrow, its first album in five years, on Tuesday. And despite some changes in the group's lineup, fans will be pleased with what was created.

The Shins was an American indie rock band from Albuquerque, N.M. I say was because the band has since relocated to Portland, and the only original member left is singer, guitarist, and songwriter James Mercer.

But that's OK, because Mercer is The Shins. He has written every song to appear on a Shin's album, and its third, Wincing the Night Away, earned a Grammy nomination.

For Port of Morrow, Mercer corralled a capable bunch of indie rockers. A major addition to the group is drummer Joe Plummer of the band Modest Mouse, and (to the delight of longtime Shins fans) the album features contributions from former members Dave Hernandez, Marty Crandall, Eric D. Johnson, and Ron Lewis.

Port of Morrow does not disappoint listeners. Just like the band's composition, the songs on the album feature many new ideas mixed with the classic Shins sound.

A standout track early on the album is its first single, "Simple Song." The song, which Mercer dedicates to his wife, is built with piles of guitars layered atop one another. And like the entire album, it is easy to tell that this track took some meticulous work to produce.

But what makes the track so special is the explosive drumming by Janet Weiss, previously of Sleater-Kinney (the album credits are pretty much a Sub-Pop Records all-star roster). Hearing Weiss whale on her drum kit made me think Who drummer Keith Moon has been resurrected.

Perhaps my favorite track on the album is "Fall of '82," which demonstrates that Mercer is a sophisticated songwriter. He sings in appreciation for his sister, "I fell into dark times and you were there to help me through./You told me that the downturn would eventually improve/And you were right, so I'm thanking you."

Mercer's lyrics float over a beautiful and subtle bassline by Yuuki Matthews. And to add the nostalgia of the song's title and lyrics, "Fall of '82" features a fitting trumpet solo; the song perfectly achieves a comforting old-school sound.

In "September," a slow love ballad, Mercer recognizes the patience of his wife. While the lyrics of other tracks are sometimes ambiguous, it's easy to tell that "September" is different.

Over mostly just an acoustic guitar, Mercer sings, "I've been selfish and full of pride/And she knows deep down there's a little child/But I've got a good side to me as well/and it's that she loves in spite of everything else." Marking the halfway point of Port of Morrow, "September's" simplicity provides listeners with an opportunity to come up for air from the ocean of heavily (but not overly) produced tracks on the album.

Port of Morrow's two main themes seem to be love and appreciation. The album shows Mercer's maturation after starting a family and fronting a successful band for 15 years. And after five years with out an album, Port of Morrow was worth the wait.

— by Jordan Montgomery

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