I would like to open this review with a brief observation. The Shins is a terrible band name. It epitomises an irksome trend in 20th Century music groups simply believing that choosing a noun and putting ‘the’ before it constitutes a good name. See The Rakes, The Cribs and The Antlers for further proof of this hypothesis. However, there is fortunately no correlation between the sloppy band-namesmanship and the song writing capabilities of such collectives. (The Rakes being a notable exception.)
But I digress. The Shins’ fourth studio album Port of Morrow came out eleven years after the band released their first entitled Oh Inverted World in 2001 and sixteen years after the group originally formed in Albuquerque New Mexico. Wikipedia tells us that they have accrued numerous different genre classifications over the years from Dream-Pop to Surf-Rock. The over-complications don’t stop there; in the review corresponding to this one that appeared in the NME several weeks ago the journo talked of ‘wafty folk-pop’ and ‘haze-pop’. Aside from being virtually meaningless these descriptions really are unnecessary, for Port of Morrow really isn’t that hard to describe. It is simply a bloody entertaining indie album. Opener The Rifle’s Spiral starts the album off with plenty of purpose and optimism. One of the few electronic tracks to make an appearance, it is eminently listenable due to the bustling bass line and the curious hum of the organ. This song really wouldn’t be out of place as a forgotten album track on any of the best LPs of the last decade.
Yet perhaps this is where things all hit a snag. As far as ambition goes Port of Morrow is more of a Tim Henman than a Martin Luther King. Tracks like Bait and Switch inspire one to tap their toe but do little else. It is the same with September, a sleepy and wistful acoustic number in which singer James Mercer sings about ‘The shining face in a million reflections’ – an image that, while pleasant, is hardly passion personified. Suffice to say that if you put too much expectation into this album, you are going to be disappointed. It would be the equivalent of sitting down to watch Cool Runnings and expecting The Shawshank Redemption. Instead, if you listen to it with nothing more than an open mind, it will be worth your while.
Leadoff single Simple Song is a great example of this. Vocally set somewhere between Queen and the Scissor Sisters and musically at around about Arcade Fire you can’t help but feeling uplifted by it. Equally, album best 40 Mark Strasse combines a juicy refrain with a soaring guitar that is just pure pop brilliance. What it all amounts to is good, even very good, but not great. Those looking for the salvation of guitar music are not going to find what they are looking for here, and hopefully their next release will include a little more passion and a little less filler, but for the time being Port of Morrow provides a very enjoyable selection of tracks.
Image credit – Nan Palmero.