The Shins’ latest album has been five years in the simmering, and, in the manner of curries, bolognaise sauce and other slow-cooked concoctions, plenty of time has made it rich, tender and absolutely delicious. This is the best album I’ve heard in a really, really long while.
The group are, in some respects, not what they were – they’ve lost longtime members Marty Crandall and Jesse Sandoval, and opted for a new record label (Aural Apothecary, by way of Columbia) – but this should not be cause for concern. 2007’s Wincing the Night Away was characterised by Mercer’s own special brand of instrumentally dense, high-gloss pop anthems: Port of Morrow takes the formula and does much the same thing with even more panache.
If you didn’t like The Shins before, this album is unlikely to change your mind. But if you do, even a little bit, you can’t fail to appreciate that this album is doing what you liked before, but better.
Though first single ‘Simple Song’ (currently being played on BBC Radio Two about three times an hour) is an obvious stand-out track, the real corkers are to be found elsewhere in the album. ‘September’ is a pared back example of the band’s sound, with a gentleness and humility that is missing from some of the glitzier numbers, while ‘Bait and Switch’ is a high saturation, high gloss number with armfuls of oomph.
Much like the work of their New Mexico contemporaries Beirut, these are pretty, well thought-through songs made by ‘real musicians’ with an understanding of instrumentation that goes beyond the classic pop trope of boys with guitars. Mercer’s got the horn, and it shows.
I’m nowhere near as cute as Natalie Portman, but do believe me when I say (about almost all of the tracks on this release): ‘You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear.’