The Shins, known for their singles “New Slang” and “Phantom Limb,” released their fourth album, “Port of Morrow,” their first album in five years. Even with the break, the band has not sacrificed any of their appeal. This new album falls seamlessly into their signature style with calming narratives, James Mercer’s steady tenor voice and poetic lyrics. Though “Port of Morrow” does not branch out much to new subject matter, its melodies are varied. Because of this, nearly all the songs make good impressions. They are particularly rooted in memorable choruses and the themes of untraditional romances, the struggle against loneliness and revival of self.
The first track, “The Rifle’s Song,” starts off with a guitar, drums and an array of poetic imagery ranging from weapons to subways. Though the piece is charming to listen to, the lyrics of this song seem to get lost in the poetry. Listeners must rely on the melody to guide the message of the song. However, not all the tracks are hidden in obscurity. Most of the tracks, including “Simple Song” and “Bait and Switch,” have a good harmony between the clarity of the lyrics and the pleasantry of the music. “Simple Song,” which was released earlier this year, focuses on a romantic relationship and self struggle. Mercer sings the memorable chorus, “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone.” This is a reoccurring theme of overcoming loneliness.
Perhaps what makes The Shins attractive to most is this ability to stay outside of cliché. The stories within this album remain as complex and relatable as they should be. “It’s Only Life” responds as the following track with a somber melody and hopeful lyrics, “I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now. It doesn’t have to be dark and lonesome… we can figure this thing out and turn it back around.”
Still, the album is not confined to dreary, love-recovery themes. “Bait and Switch” offers a lively tune in contrast to the previous songs. It focuses more on the individual. Good choruses continue through this track while reoccurring images of the sea and nature begin to emerge from the album. Furthermore, “September” and “No Way Down” focus more on narratives both romanticizing natural images and employing catchy choruses. There are some surprising quirks in this album such as the incorporation of an electric guitar in “Fall of ’82” and Mercer’s falsetto in the final song “Port of Morrow.” Unfortunately, in breaking their traditional boundaries, this namesake track seems to fall short. There are no memorable choruses to support its dive into darker images of “flowers in the garbage and a skull under… curls.”
Overall, the Shins’s genius collaboration of melody, poetic lyrics and voice satisfied fans in “Port of Morrow.” Though there are a couple of tracks that feel imbalanced, the majority are flawlessly entertaining and thought provoking. Regardless of the fact that this album is a continuation of what The Shins do best, each track is surprisingly individual. Though long awaited, “Port of Morrow” is a strong addition to the group’s previous work.