Mercer’s sounds reach new heights
The Shins – Port of Morrow (Columbia)
It took a couple of albums for me to work it out but The Shins is James Mercer, just as Bon Iver is Justin Vernon or Sparklehorse was Mark Linkous.
So it didn’t cause too much angst a few years back when The Shins combusted and the other band members were either punted or left to open taco stands.
Mercer remains and thus, so does the band’s soaring sound – though it is evolving.
Arriving five years after Wincing the Night Away, Port of Morrow fits somewhere in the middle between the clamour of The Shins we knew, and the smoother, soulful pop of Broken Bells – Mercer’s recent collaboration with Danger Mouse. This is mostly good news. Port of Morrow is a warmer, more focused and intimate record than Wincing – but also offers plenty of surprises, from the lush horns on Fall of ’82 to the experimental noodlings of opener The Rifle’s Spiral.
The first single Simple Song is the most gorgeous track I’ve heard in 2012 and probably comes closer to the classic Shins sound than anything else on the album.
Underpinned by evocative, heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics, Mercer triumphantly moves between registers and, as always, knows the perfect point to crack the falsetto and raise the hairs on the listener’s neck.
I still rate the uncanny, energetic Chutes Too Narrow as The Shins’ finest 35 minutes, but Port of Morrow is certainly further proof that James Mercer is one of the most tuneful and inspirational songwriters in pop. Matthew Dallas INDIE: Ben Kweller – (Shock)
It’s hard to keep away from the
Go Fly a Kite staple power pop adjectives – ‘‘ summery’’, ‘‘ sugary’’ and ‘‘ fuzzed- out’’ – when describing Ben Kweller’s sound. Put it down to his youthful lyrics and attitude – although, now 30, he has been touring since he was 15 and already has five solo albums to his name – and a knack for crafting catchy guitar riffs.
But Kweller has also struggled for consistency across a record and his playful lyrics can be too twee or just plain silly. Go Fly a Kite continues in this vein.
The song Full Circle will hook you on the first listen and buzz around your head all day but nothing else comes close, and a couple of tracks will annoy the hell out of you. The mindnumbing lyrics of Jealous Girl made me want to stick sharp things in my ears. There’s a song or two like this on every album.
I love Kweller’s enthusiasm and that he wears his heart on his sleeve, and I’ll look forward to the day he puts out a ‘‘best of’’ – or I compile one myself.
Expanding sound: James Mercer takes the sweet pop of The Shins to intriguing new places on Port of Morrow.