The Shins started playing music together in 1996, that’s 16 years ago. To give you an idea, that was when Tupac debuted his music and was shot, when MC Hammer filed for bankruptcy, when Phil Collins left Genesis, and when David Bowie created the first song to be a free digital download. In terms of music and history it’s been a long road, and somehow The Shins have stayed strong. Through all that crazy history and nonsense The Shins have come out strong with their new album “Port of Morrow” and created music that is still awesome.
The very first listen of the album was both comforting and strange, as it had notions of The Shins with reminders of what bands have borrowed from their sounds. Just listen to the opener, “The Rifle’s Spiral” and you can hear the sounds of Arcade Fire echoing with the heavy drums and cool guitar rifts. With the bass drum kicking it is a comforting reminder that not only did The Shins influence much of the music I love but that they can still do it just as good 16 years later.
“Simple Song” is much more heartfelt and straightforward. With an opening that reminded me of early music by the band Mercer’s voice blasts through the song with a sound that is reminiscent of 80s vocals in the most positive of ways, it really kicks ass. “It’s Only Life” feels more like a ballad to death itself with Mercer knowing how to fix a problem but being unable to do so. It’s like watching life pass you buy, realizing your mistakes, and being unable to fix those mistakes in a younger person’s life. As Mercer says “Time will wash every tower to the sea…” The idea of helping is clawing through the hold song but no matter how hard he tries Mercer can’t get his listener to see what’s true.
From there we get into “Bait and Switch” where the beat is uplifted and it seems like everything is better. The background vocals are beautiful while Mercer sings of a girl he can’t seem to understand and has no way to handle. The guitar brings about beach and surf tunes with the tropical oasis is created and Mercer seems to lose faith in his love. He’s afraid that his honesty and simplicity won’t be enough to keep it all afloat, a truth many of us faith. And that’s what is so great about this album, it hits on the troubles we all face in love and life.
From the acoustics of “September” to the questioning of “No Way Down” The Shins dig out what we all question in life. How the rich seem to have all the fun and yet are the smallest of the population. Also, how the poorest of poor don’t often realize their predicament because to them it’s just life and there’s nothing to worry about. Mercer and the music behind him relates the feelings we all have when we’re confused about life and what makes us really happy.
Is it the material things that make us smile and cheer? Or instead, is it the people and the relationships we build in life that create the happiness we seek on a daily basis? There’s no “right” answer because what seems right to one may be wrong to another, instead it’s just something to contemplate. In “For a Fool” the band plays it slow and questions what good honesty is in this world. Mercer says he was an honest fool who was taken advantage of, and how often we all can relate to that feeling. The times that we just try to be honest and sincere but instead those around us take us for granted or take advantage of our ways.
The questioning of love and death intertwine in the album as the most beautiful parts of life are met head on by the worst and most gruesome points of life. When someone can be another’s “lifeline when the world was exploding” is what The Shins are talking about. Those points when it’s all bad and all good all at once. When the person you love most shines even when life is ridiculous and crumbling, or when everything is going in the best way but that one true love isn’t following along with the pattern.
Life takes a lot of turns and The Shins combat those turns by acknowledging them and asking, why? Why is it the good must be met with the bad, or that love must always precede death? There is a lot of great music to listen to on “Port of Morrow” and there is also a lot of deep meaning behind each song. Whether you study each song for its essence or listen to it for some good tunes it’ll suffice either way.
Standout Track- “It’s Only Life”- What a great song. It’s one that really capitalizes on the fact that we don’t listen enough to others who know what we’re going through, and that often times we take life too seriously.
Listen to it if- You want to philosophize the crap out of your music, or just want some relaxing tunes.
Don’t listen to it if- You prefer your music to not question the big stuff, but instead question how to get a girl home fast.
Overall opinion- The Shins have been around 16 years, and I’d be happy if they were around for 16 more.