The Shins, a band known for bridging the gap between mainstream music and indie music, became a household name when they were first heard in the movie “Garden State.” From that point on, The Shins was no longer referred to as “that band you have probably never heard of.” Normally, when a band crosses this line, the “hipster” community turns on them. Curiously, though, The Shins have managed to maintain a balance between both of these parties. The music from The Shins encompasses so many musical tastes, few dislike them. Something in their music speaks to every listener. For this reason, when lead singer James Mercer kicked all of the old members out of the band and brought in an entirely new line-up for the fourth Shins album, the world was worried.
Mercer lead the band to success and made all of the artistic decisions. This method worked well for the last three Shins records, but changing the process threatened to destroy their consistency. The new direction taken in “Port of Morrow” allowed for lyrical complexity and dynamic musical development. The Shins even managed to stay true to their previous styles and melodies.
“Port of Morrow” starts with “Rifle’s Spiral,” which follows the style that gave The Shins success in the first place. The second song “Simple Song,” hit stores a few months before the album’s release, but because of its musical flair, it sounds fresh and new. “Simple Song” blends Mercer’s classic love-centric lyrics with a more upbeat melody. The album then moves to the slower “It’s Only Life,” a mellow song the old lineup did not develop the skills to play. The second slow song, “September,” contains some of Mercer’s best lyrics to date. He describes one of his daughters’ bedtime stories about their futures with the poetic lines, “And love is the ink in the well when her body writes.” “No Way Down,” the sixth song creates a warm moment for the listener. The line, “Make me a drink strong enough / To wash away this dishwasher world they said was lemonade,” captures the idea of moving past life’s greatest disappointments. The album closes out with “40 Mark Strasse” and “Port of Morrow,” both of which showcase the electronic side of the band.
Mercer creates the best music when he controls every aspect of it. His past lineups created a prison of mundane sounds. “Port of Morrow” allows him to express his true talent as a musician. Normally, bands that appeal to both mainstream and indie fans fade out as they grow older. Pleasing the musically inclined hipster and the mainstream audience is an often impossible task. However, The Shins continue to develop in both directions. “Port of Morrow” is an album that catchy, yet complex, and nuanced, yet universal in the themes it addresses.