Not that James Mercer and company aren't well renowned. On the contrary, the band is one of indie's leading lights, still exciting fans for an album release at a time when heavy release date promotions seem increasingly redundant. Mainstream crossover eludes them, however, and they certainly won't be the name on your Mum's Christmas list (only 274 shopping days left folks).
And that's just fine.
Having The Shins in our own litle circle of indie royalty works for the selfish bastard in me, who doesn't want to hear 'Simple Song' in every strip maill from New Jersey to New Mexico (surely they're both old now....I digress...)
New release 'Port of Morrow' rams that point home beautifully, residing happily in the suburb of gorgeously addictive, sunshine indie, rather than moving to the disparate and shallow city centre that is mainstream popular music. It is a safe place to which we can retreat, when keeping up with the latest fused sub-genres of the music we so love becomes confused to the point of fatigue.
That's nice Ste, so what about the songs, eh?
Well they're everything you've come to expect from The Shins, including that slight dose of the unexpected. The aforementioned 'Simple Song' has been hovering around preview listening for a couple of months now and provides the familiar face introducing us to this new group of tunes, as did 'Phantom Limb' and 'So Says I' on previous records. Before that, though, there lies the pleasing entry point of 'The Rifle's Spiral', a bounding, reflective song with a celestial underbelly. It contrasts exquisitely with its more ebullient neighbour, familiar yet intriguing in equal measure.
September by The Shins
Therein lies one example of just how Mr Mercer skillfully juxtaposes varied emotions, including the more downbeat, from song to song, whilst still managing to elicit an overall feeling of wellbeing as the last tracks spins out. There are lyrical cases in point as well, ranging from the wistful nature of 'September' ("I've been selfish and full of pride / She knows deep down there's a little child") to the seemingly bleak ("See you were my lifeline when the world was exploding / Footholds eroding") but tending to a more optimistic delivery. 'Fall of '82' in particular, from whence the latter couplet springs, is springing, spritely, and would barely hint at the underlying melancholy, were it not for their life through Mercer's words.
The Shins have only ever delivered consistently splendid albums and 'Port of Morrow' is a fine addition to their impressive canon. In my own personal rankings it probably places firmly behind 'Chutes Too Narrow', nestling comfortably alongside 'Wincing The Night Away' for a second place photo finish.
Such is the quality of all the albums, though, that these placings are akin to picking out diamonds; there are important differences under the surface, but they're all strikingly shiny to the naked eye. Whether new to the band or a long time admirer, I can only envisage most who listen to 'Port of Morrow' to find it quite the gem.