Port of Morrow by The Shins (Columbia Records/Aural Apothecary, 2012. 40 minutes)
The Shins are an indie rock band originally from Albuquerque, NM, now located in Portland, OR. The Shins consist of James Mercer (vocals, guitar), Joe Plummer (drums), Jessica Dobson (guitar), Yuuki Matthews (bass), and Richard Swift (keyboards).The band is most widely known for their third album, Wincing the Night Away, which debuted at number two on the Billboard Charts and nominated for a 2008 Grammy award, as well as the Garden State soundtrack.
Ok. Port of Morrow is good. It shows sometimes a purge is necessary, as only one of the original members of The Shins remains. In 2008, when the band announced their contract with Sub Pop was up, it became evident that the next album, Port of Morrow, would be produced on lead singer James Mercer’s Aural Apothecary label. With the new backing band featuring Jessica Dobson (Deep Sea Diver), Richard Swift (Starflyer 59), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), and Yuki Matthews (Crystal Skulls), the overall sound is much more refined and detailed than past albums.
I had trouble finding a track on the album I didn’t enjoy. Port of Morrow has a more downtempo feel in general, but there are some inspiring upbeat tracks in the album as well. Port of Morrow refers to Portland, Oregon. Because it refers to Mercer’s adopted hometown, the album has more personality and meaning than his past albums, which I think makes it much more intriguing and exciting to listen to. The sense of place provides personality by housing the songs in reality. These aren’t banal love songs but semi-biographical works of art.
Overall the album carries a similar tone throughout, but I’ll highlight what I consider the “best tracks”. The opening track “The Rifle’s Spiral” is one of particular note. Starting with ominous atmospheric filigree, the track then explodes with a catchy pop guitar riff and simple snare hits. With introspective, complicated lyrics, this song thoroughly thought out to say the least.
“Listen, now, we won’t tell anyone/But you gonna tell the world/This whole life ain’t been any fun,/Let your viscera unfurl “
The song then dissolves almost seemingly into the next track, the single “Simple Song”. One of the strongest tracks on the album, it reverts back to previous Shins albums, especially the album Wincing the Night Away.
Thankfulness for a Sister
“Fall of ’82” is one of the more catchy tunes on the album taking influence from Bob Dylan in the lyrical content and The Beatles in the intermediary guitar riffs and vocal melody. A Chuck Mangione-like trumpet occurs during the half point in the song. Telling the story of Mercer and his sister while they grew up, and how his sister saved him from himself in the fall of ’82, Mercer is the man he is because of her. This song is a must-listen.
“I do relate to you in so many ways/But, I didn’t go through what you must have in those early days/You had to be strong at such a very young age/A new life from lemonade. So won’t you listen to me now?/There’s something I never told you./And I’m about to try,/See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding”
Another favorite track is “40 Mark Strasse”, the nickname for the street where American servicemen at Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany can pick up prostitutes to relieve them of their “pressures” during their long service to their country. The song tells the story of a local German in love with a girl who whores herself out willingly to the servicemen. Her mom isn’t there for her; her dad is a drunk; she has no future. The man (singer) says she doesn’t know what she’s getting herself into; she needs to not let the American boys put another dent in her life.
To go deeper, the lyrics are a metaphor for how James Mercer feels about American foreign policy—he believes it to be destroying the lives of people around the world with their childish notions, and how they inevitably allow the Americans to put another dent in a foreigner’s way of life.
“Cause every single story/is a story about love/both the overflowing cup/and the painful lack thereof/You got the heart of a dove./But you play in the street at night,/blow just like a broken kite./My girl, you’re giving up the fight,/you’ll have to lose all them childish notions/if you’re gonna let these American boys/put another dent in your life”
I’ve highlighted just a few of the songs (my favorites) on Port of Morrow, and have hopefully showed how lyrically deep and expressive the entire album is. I think the band member purge helped focus the album. With freshness came a sense of new inspiration for the band. Mercer puts just as much thought into the musicality of each song as he does the lyrics, and it shows. Port of Morrow is thoughtful, and only gets better with each listen. I think you should try it out.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson