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60 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can the Shins Age Gracefully?
A new Shins release is bound to be a big event, since the Portland-based band has only produced three earlier albums: "Oh, Inverted World" in 2001, "Chutes Too Narrow" in 2003, and the breakthrough "Wincing the Night Away" in 2007. Add a five-year hiatus, a new label (their own, a subsidiary of Columbia called Aural Apothecary), a new producer (Greg Kurstin, half of The...
Published on March 20, 2012 by Thomas E. Davis

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62 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Smooth Sounds of James Mercer
I have to admit, I was really looking forward to this album. "Wincing the Night Away" was in my CD player (remember those?) for months--"Phantom Limb," "Girl Sailor," "Turn On Me"...there was something about the album that was simultaneously new, yet tapped into 50 years of R&R history.

Having listened to "Port of Morrow" a couple of times, I'm immediate...
Published on March 23, 2012 by Stuart C. Hancock


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60 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can the Shins Age Gracefully?, March 20, 2012
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This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
A new Shins release is bound to be a big event, since the Portland-based band has only produced three earlier albums: "Oh, Inverted World" in 2001, "Chutes Too Narrow" in 2003, and the breakthrough "Wincing the Night Away" in 2007. Add a five-year hiatus, a new label (their own, a subsidiary of Columbia called Aural Apothecary), a new producer (Greg Kurstin, half of The Bird and The Bee), and a completely new lineup of bandmates (frontman James Mercer is the only constant), and fans are understandably curious as to whether the magic is still there.

The answer is yes. Mercer, one of the high priests of indie pop, is the heart and soul of The Shins. As he's entered his 40s and settled into domestic bliss (two kids), his music has inevitably changed. But since I've aged along with him, I can understand wanting to try new things and work with a variety of people. Gone -- or fired, if you prefer -- are the musicians he once played with: Martin Crandall on keyboards, Jesse Sandoval on drums, Dave Hernandez on bass. The new crew includes singer/songwriter Richard Swift, guitarist Jessica Dobson, Crystal Skulls bassist Yuuki Matthews, and Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer. Why didn't he simply drop the old name and call his new group the James Mercer Band? He clearly hoped to avoid losing Shins followers in the transition.

Perhaps as a result of maturity, "Port of Morrow" has a bit less energy, surprise, or spontaneity than the first three Shins albums, in which Mercer was discovering his gifts and exploring different ideas. This is more of an adult record, complex and layered, carefully calculated and orchestrated. As a consequence, some fans will surely deride it as mainstream, derivative, or dull. Yet on songs like "It's Only Life" and "No Way Down," memorable hooks are still firmly embedded within Mercer's unerring, achingly beautiful melodies and bright tenor voice. His love-themed lyrics are clever but genuine, both literate and passionate.

The album falls very squarely in the Shins tradition. The vibrant, irresistibly hummable Beach Boys harmonies that so dominated their first release are present at many points, as are the rawer, more intimate sounds of the second album (check out two of the new collection's best tracks, "September" and "40 Mark Strasse"). We even hear some of the ambitious, anthemic sonic experiments that characterized the third release, particularly on the opening track, "The Rifle's Spiral," and the first single, "A Simple Song."

On the whole, though, "Port of Morrow" is a kind of re-examination or restatement of Mercer's musical world. He manages a subtle, subdued reworking of the themes he's employed over the past 15 years, including bits from his 2010 collaboration with Danger Mouse, "Broken Bells," which I also recommend. While I wasn't as excited about this album as I was about previous ones, it's grown on me. It's not groundbreaking, but it's comfortable and honest and really good.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a new direction, April 10, 2012
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This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
I see this record getting a lot of hate on here, and some misguided praise. NO, this is NOT the same Shins that exploded with indie-pop bliss on "Oh, Inverted World," twinkled with young-yet-wise cheekiness on "Chutes Too Narrow," or soared with symphonic scope on "Wincing the Night Away." Obviously, it isn't supposed to be. After "Wincing...," I doubted whether any further work by the Shins could surpass the masterful union of melody, instrumentation, and lyrical edge that was achieved on that third album. I was a little bit right. Truth is, the trajectory of mad energy and spontaneous musicality that marked the Shins' early years could not continue forever. There is a time for all artists when youth and restlessness inevitably fade; greatness lingers for those who stay focused on the craft and allow their art to change with them, while lesser performers continue to rely on a style they can no longer pull off convincingly. With "Port of Morrow," James Mercer lands himself squarely in the former camp, which should be a relief to Shins' fans everywhere. Come on guys, of course the music was gonna change! Is "Port of Morrow" a bit slicker, more produced, and lyrically transparent than former "all killer no filler" efforts? Yes, yes, and yes. But if you can't get down with the likes of "The Rifle's Spiral," "Bait and Switch," "September," and "40 Mark Strasse," then you're just plain not listening.
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62 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Smooth Sounds of James Mercer, March 23, 2012
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This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
I have to admit, I was really looking forward to this album. "Wincing the Night Away" was in my CD player (remember those?) for months--"Phantom Limb," "Girl Sailor," "Turn On Me"...there was something about the album that was simultaneously new, yet tapped into 50 years of R&R history.

Having listened to "Port of Morrow" a couple of times, I'm immediate struck by how, unlike earlier albums, all the rough edges have been sanded away, which is great from an easy listening point of view. Nothing to offend, nothing especially harsh (well, except for the falsetto on the title song). It's the sort of album that I imagine improves with repeated listenings.

However, unlike previous albums I don't hear the sort of band interplay that makes a great album. No terrific guitar parts, no sense that there was any input from other musicians. Like the whole thing sprung from Mercer's head complete and every part was crafted under his dictatorial command. Which is great as far as that goes, since Mercer is inventive and imaginative. Just not imaginative enough in my book when compared to the other albums. I don't have the sense that this is an album that will be on my heavy rotation list.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best of 2012 when you don't try to hear it for more than it is, April 29, 2012
This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
I consider myself an absolutely huge music nerd, and I love bands as complex as Radiohead and dream-pop sensations, Beach House. In fact, most of the music I listen to is semi-experimental.

I also absolutely adore the Shins, or should I say, James Mercer. Their last two albums, Wincing & Chutes, we're filled with so much personality and creativity, so therefore, when I first listened to Port of Morrow, even knowing that most of the band had departed, I still expected more of the same whimsical melodies and unique sound that had made The Shins who they are. Unfortunately (at first) I was sadly disappointed. It felt like Mercer was selling out and trying to blend in with the money making crowd of Alt-pop bands.

But then I suspended everything I typically listen for when I listen to an album, and after about 5-10 listens, this turned into my favorite Shins album, and my favorite album so far in 2012. The minute you realize that this new Shins doesn't HAVE to be excessively unique like old Shins, you'll really hear how personal this album is, and how enjoyable it truly is. It's essentially Mercer growing up, and the sound grows up with him. I won't get into the lyrics too in-depth, but when you combine the more matured, toned down sound/production with the clearly personal lyrics (specifically on the later tracks about letting go of youthful habits and lessons learned Mercer intends to pass on to his children), you'll understand the reasoning and thought process behind Port of Morrow.

Also, the melodies themselves have never been better, specifically on "Simple Song, "It's Only Life," "No Way Down," and "40 Mark Strasse." (The album's best track) and after listening to this album probably a good 30+ times, I get attached to different songs each time.

Port of Morrow is a true example of a grower. The Shins are different 4 years later not because the band is different, but because James Mercer is different, and that's okay. Sit down, forget about everything else you listen to, or The Shins you know, and just enjoy one of the best melodic rides in recent years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "And you feel like an ocean made warm by the sun", January 25, 2013
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Lunar Boulevard (Jefferson City, MO) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
It's hard to believe that it's been five years since the last Shins album, Wincing the Night Away. A lot has changed in that amount of time, including the band's lineup. Frontman and songwriter James Mercer is the only original member, disbanding the rest and replacing them with new session players. Mercer has always been the driving force behind the group and opinions have been divided about whether he was justified in taking even more control. I'm not here to debate that or give my own opinion on the situation; I don't know enough about what happened behind the scenes and in the end this review isn't a commentary on the actual band but on the music. Thankfully, Port of Morrow delivers in this area, giving us a taste of what we've come to love about the band while simultaneously throwing some curve balls into the mix as well.

Wincing the Night Away is, to my humble ears, a masterpiece through and through. It's one of my all-time favorite records and it got me through a very difficult time in my life, a favor for which I will always be grateful. That's a lot of pressure to live up to and Port of Morrow isn't on the same level. Each Shins album is different and follows its own trajectory and sound, making it a bit difficult to compare them to each other. This record has been labeled as a James Mercer solo project by many and I can certainly understand that claim to some extent. However, I also got that feeling from their previous records as well so maybe I'm not too surprised. In any case, this album continues the sonic experimentation that Wincing the Night Away began and there are some really wonderful moments to be found in the soundscape of this record.

"Simple Song" was a smart choice for a first single. It's extremely catchy and more reminiscent of the band's previous work. Mercer has a great ear for melody and that's always been one of the biggest staples of the band: simple songs that are extremely melodic and smart. I have to admit that this song is a also a bit of red herring, as there's nothing else on the record that's quite as catchy and accessible as this. The opener "The Rifle's Spiral" features some fantastic instrumental work and it continues to push the band's sound in more obtuse and daring directions. I personally love this change but fans looking for another "Caring is Creepy" or "Pink Bullets" will probably be disappointed, as there's nothing quite as direct here.

"Bait and Switch" contains a funky melody that hides some subtle Caribbean influences. "No Way Down" is about as close to a mainstream pop song as Mercer has ever come, yet he makes it work by throwing in some great guitar work that anchors the song in more familiar indie territory. "It's Only Life" and "September" are tender ballads that look on the bright side, a nice about-face compared to Mercer's more sombre and, at times, less optimistic lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, they're strong here but also lacking some of the wit and clever wordplay of the past. They're still thoughtful but also more direct and simple this time around, something that doesn't affect me too much but will probably disappoint fans looking for the lyrical twists and humor of past albums.

The second half of the record feels more familiar. "For a Fool" is a sauntering country-esque number that might have fit in on Chutes Too Narrow. "Fall of '82" features some keyboard work more reminiscent of their debut, Oh, Inverted World , and then randomly throws in a trumpet that lifts the song to exciting new heights. "40 Mark Strasse" reminds me of something Elvis Costello might pen and the album's title track feels like it's channeling Radiohead, adding even more diversity to the end of the album. The ten tracks on this album are all good, though there aren't really any songs that stand out, with the exception of maybe "Simple Song". It's much more of an album experience and I really like that about it. In a day and age of cherry picking and people downloading only one or two songs, it's great to see an artist still devoted to making the album a complete and immersive experience.

Port of Morrow isn't Mercer's strongest work but it's still a welcome breath of fresh air. Five years was a long time to wait and no doubt this album will be judged more harshly because of the buildup to it. Mercer's work with Broken Bells and other projects has definitely influenced this record and those expecting a traditional Shins album will be sorely let down. If you approach this one with an open mind and are willing to accept the change and growth that this band is experiencing then you'll find a great summer album that reminds us why we were drawn to this band in the first place.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars James Mercer does Air Supply, April 6, 2012
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This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
I have not been so disappointed by an album I've so anticipated in many many years. Gone is the jittery energy and witty lyrics that I loved about the prior releases from The Shins.

This is an adult contemporary album for the 21st century. I wondered what the reformed group would sound like, and if this is it, I am all out of love for The Shins.

Danger Mouse could not even save this had he been brought in to produce. I really really wanted to like this album, but repeated listens just further my distaste for it. It is a snoozer. When "Simple Song" is the standout track you know you are in for some easy listening.

I give a second star purely for nostalgia reasons. A band under the same name made 3 previous albums that will always have a place in my playlists, but let's be honest...this is not The Shins. It's James Mercer's new band.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DEAR MUSIC APPRECIATORS, March 28, 2012
This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
Dear Music Appreciators,

The last time The Shins put out an album my five year old son didn't exist. In the time it takes a human being to progress from birth to finger painting and learning to wipe his own arse, Pacific Northwestern immigrants James Mercer and company have finally produced their fourth full length studio album. And of course a term like "James Mercer and company" is relative isn't it - The Shins as a band is really James Mercer and whoever he wants to work with at the time. Mercer is the brain and the puppet master behind it all. The Shins may never be a Beatlesque "Band" made up of consistent, distinct personalities, but that's alright - the front man has good taste in friends and more than enough musical talent to go around. And so, approximately 1,883 days have passed since WINCING THE NIGHT AWAY and the big question about PORT OF MORROW is:

Was it worth the wait?

And the answer is:

Yes.

Here's why:

While the new record does not have the kind of over hyped "The Shins will change your life" excitement many fans will never stop pining away for, PORT OF MORROW is home to a trunk full of songs that will fit the flexible, open-eared listener like so many timeless and comfortable clothing classics. Big, warm, radio-friendly "Simple Song" is at the album's heart and as such it throws out its arms and declares just what exactly is on ol' James Mercer's mind these days - the answer, it seems, is love and home - he is getting older after all and is now the father of two ("Might be there`s nothing else in our lives so critical as this little home").

But the neat trick with Shins songs is how they so often seem to arrive to the listener as malleable materials that can be what they are, or, whatever the listener wants them to be. Which is why no matter what Mercer is going through there will always be room for fans from all walks of life to follow. Take the feel-better comfort of "It's Only Life" - "I've been down the very road you're walking now / it doesn't have to be so dark and lonesome / it takes awhile but we can figure this thing out and turn it back around." This may not be Mercer at his most lyrically edgy, but just like his more challenging early work there is (fortunately) room for interpretation.

As the group's major label debut (is that even a big deal anymore?) the album as a whole definitely contains less knotty brilliance and more sanded smoothness than its indie-darling predecessors, but there's enough variety and craft (and reminders of why we love this band) on display here to command attention for the entire forty minute running time. The new record is not another walk down the indie-pop runway. It's a weekend in classic jeans and shirts - and maybe a jacket with a collar to turn up against the wind of all the unfortunate fair-weather friends - fans who choose not to grow with a brilliant band like The Shins through all the phases and stages of bandhood.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Shins - latest, January 17, 2013
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This review is from: Port Of Morrow (MP3 Music)
I'm not a follower of The Shins development or "de-volvement", since this new lineup is not the same band, except for Mercer, that played on earlier Shins albums. I first listened to James Mercer on his collaboration w/Danger Mouse (Broken Bells) which was great! I loved the sound they created on that cd. This is different from that, but Mercer's is still able to pull it off for me. His voice is great and there are some wonderful sounds on this cd as well.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best album I've bought in the last 4-5 years., August 14, 2012
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This review is from: Port Of Morrow (MP3 Music)
Earlier this year I went to the Bonnaroo music festival. I had a list of bands that I wanted to check out, with a bit of a priority list in my head. The Shins were on that list, but if I'm being honest, they were near the bottom. I was a casual fan of The Shins; I'd give "Wincing the Night Away" about 3 stars and, as much as I've tried, I could never get into "Oh Inverted World" (I don't yet own "Chutes too Narrow"). In any case, it wouldn't have ruined my weekend if I had missed them... but thankfully I didn't. The Shins were absolutely TRANSCENDENT that day. It was one of the most moving shows I've ever seen in my life.

I left Bonnaroo feeling indebted to James Mercer and his band. It wasn't just a feeling of "that was a great show, I definitely got my moneys worth". It was more like I was sitting on the side of the road in a car with no gas and The Shins came up to me with a big red fuel canister, filled me up, shook my hand with a friendly smile and sent me on my way. It was as if I'd accepted some great kindness from a stranger seeing them that day.

I left the show with the the thought that I HAD to get "Port of Morrow" - not just because I suspected it would be great, but because I felt that I OWED the band that purchase. A few days after I got home I saw the MP3 version of this album available on Amazon for a whopping $5, making this one of the greatest $5 purchases I've ever made.

So that brings me here...

Upon 1st listen, "Simple Song" and "Fall of '82" stood out from the crowd as very accessible and catchy. Both are great compositions with wonderfully hooky refrains. As I spent more time with the album I quickly fell in love with "September", "It's Only Life" and "Bait and Switch". After a month with this album I can say that it's entered the rarefied air of a select few albums that I thoroughly enjoy from beginning to end without skipping a single song. That's a VERY short list of albums in my book.

This record represents a significant evolution in James Mercer's song writing and the sound of Shins recordings as far as I'm concerned. Lyrically the album is much more optimistic and hopeful than their previous records. It reminds me of Modest Mouse's "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" in that way. We're listening to a often morose songwriter who quite obviously has reason to see a bit of light and happiness in his life, and he's looking back with reverence to those who have shown him love and support along the way. Sonically the album is brighter and given more room to breath than previous outings. Mercer's vocals are much more forward in the mix than The Shins previous works. There's a certain vocal confidence in these recordings that hasn't been on Shins records in the past.

The Shins have always been great at creating beautifully layered compositions, with no one instrument dominating the music. Like a good orchestra, every instrument has it's place in The Shins' music, and this album is a perfect example of that. It's masterfully composed and masterfully produced in so many ways.

To me this album features The Shins with improved posture... like someone told them to stand up straight, throw their shoulders back and hold their heads high. The resulting songs were recorded with a little less muddiness and a little more assertiveness. Maybe a touch less pretension and self pity as well. This may not be seen as an "evolution" to ALL Shins fans, but for me it's a great development for them as a group. To my ears this album is James Mercer and crew powering through an album with a conviction they've never shown. They're shining bright at this point in their career and it's the best album I've bought in many years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mercer, Becker, Fagen, June 4, 2012
This review is from: Port of Morrow (Audio CD)
Once upon a time, Steely Dan was a band. Built around an axis of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen that duo eventually decided the sounds they were thinking of could only be achieved by a rotating crew of musicians, but continued on under the Steely Dan moniker. Not so long ago, there was another band, called The Shins. Recently, their leader, one James Mercer, decided roughly the same thing. The records he wanted to make would only be created if he jettisoned the previously assembled band and rotated assorted musicians into the line-up per the songs' requirements. Thus is born "Port of Morrow," and he still calls it an album by The Shins.

This is not a bad thing. Steely Dan became a major force in modern music, and The Shins may just find their way onto the same pantheon. Mercer's ongoing fascination with perfection via dreamy and lush pop-tunes still makes for an affecting listen. I'm guessing the Broken Bells project got his experimental urges out of his system, because these songs are rich with choruses and memorable melodies. "Simple Song" pokes fun at the whole system, while there's even a song called "Bait and Switch" to tease the Broken Bells crowd with its airy intro, before breaking into a melody worthy of prime REM.

"Point Of Morrow" walks a tightwire between alt/indie pop ("No Way Down") and sweet love songs ("40 Mark Strauss"). The precision and perfection of the album (especially in the production) may have fans whimpering sell-out, but this sounds like James Mercer growing up and into his own music. I am already feeling this may be one of 2012's best albums.
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Port Of Morrow
Port Of Morrow by The Shins
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