Though starting out in 1996, it wasn’t until the 2004 film Garden State that The Shins were introduced to a world-wide audience.  With Natalie Portman insisting that The Shins would change lives, songs like Caring is Creepy and New Slang were etched into the hearts and minds of indie-rock lovers and ever since, there’s been no looking back.

Five years after Wincing the Night Away, The Shins return with their fourth studio album, named after the industrial port authority in Oregon, Port of Morrow.  With the departure of Marty Crandall (keyboards) and Jesse Sandoval (drums), The Shins seem at ease in exposing their more ‘mature’ and ‘polished’ side.

Moving away from their regular keyboard-and-guitar-driven sound, The Shins have clearly put a greater emphasis on electronic instrumentation.  That being said, what makes this album a success is their ability to stay true to their roots and retain their unique, melodic, indie-pop sound.

Much has been made of the band’s decision to work with Greg Kurstin, an award-winning producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist on their latest release.

Larry Fitzmaurice of Pitchfork Media believes that Kurstin’s “multi-instrumental arrangements and behind-the-boards know-how are what make Port of Morrow one of 2012’s best-sounding records thus far.”

In numerous interviews, frontman James Mercer has stated that the main themes on Port of Morrow include love and the dual nature of life – the beautiful and the grotesque – being intertwined.

This statement is unashamedly echoed in the song, 40 Mark Strasse, “every single story is a story about love,” sings Mercer, “both the overflowing cup and the painful lack thereof.”

Margaret Wappler of The L.A Times Music Blog sums up Port of Morrow as feeling “like an announcement – exciting but unresolved – of what’s still yet to come.”  This seems like a perfect assessment of The Shins’ latest offering, a clear indication of a solid album and a band very much in a transitional phase.

 -Jeremy Bregman

Categories: Music