Port Of Morrow
SCQ Rating: 81%
Zach Braff's hyperbole sort of damned the Shins, sure. James Mercer’s quirky underdog songs may have fit well into Garden State’s sad-sack hum but they hadn’t the shoulders to bear the big budget indie flick’s over-the-top assertion that The Shins could “change your life”. Likewise, the makers behind Garden State didn’t have to concern themselves with sponsoring 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, still two years off, which would lament insomnia over a collection of mostly low-key chamber-pop arrangements. The pressure had peaked and a collective burnout was overdue; in what would amount to no big surprise, Wincing the Night Away was handled delicately, indecisively and mostly forgotten.
Whether I too was subconsciously suffering ‘Shins Burnout’ at the time, I can’t really say, but it’s clear that I underestimated Wincing the Night Away beyond its underwhelming role as breakout clutch hitter. Quite honestly, I cannot call to mind many records that have unguarded themselves with the patience and mystery of that moody outing; it reveals as much in a post Broken Bells universe as it did back in the winter of 2007. One thing I can say without hesitation is that Port Of Morrow won’t engage such a debate-rich discourse.
For all of the questions that encircled an imminent Shins album in 2012 – above all, whether the entirely new ensemble surrounding Mercer could maintain The Shins’ distinctive sound – Port Of Morrow has a humbling effect on listeners; it’s as tuneful as the best Shins’ material and yet eclectic enough to rarely stay in one spot for long. Every bouncy, radio-rock candidate like “No Way Down” or “Bait and Switch” gets balanced by Mercer’s songbird sensitivity, which makes highlights of “It’s Only Life” and “September”. And with ample doses of playful choruses and sonic revelry at play, Port Of Morrow earns its keep more as a welcome return than as a cohesive masterstroke.