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This is a new Shins, not the band that gave us the delicious acoustic-pop of Chutes to Narrow and Oh Inverted World. Nor the band that released Wincing the Night Away five years ago. The landscape has changed; members have been replaced, leaving James Mercer as the sole-surviving Shin.

Port of Morrow finds Mercer and his current cohorts ferreting through new sounds and rhythms and finding what works. The overall result is a lovely record. Mercer still has a gift of crafting unique melodies. There are times when they fall short (the pre-chorus of “It’s Only Life”), but overall they mold potent, memorable hooks.

The new band sounds relaxed, familiar with each other. On “Bait and Switch,” playful worldly rhythms drive over a bed of subtle electronica and Mercer’s voice soars powerfully in the chorus. On “September‚” we recall some of the slower earlier Shins balladry, but beneath the familiar is a feel of soft tropicalia, as Mercer whispers “Telling stories of our possible lives/ and love is the ink in the well where her body writes.” The message of his poetry is more tangible than the abstractions of the past. The opening to the track “No Way Down” sounds like cliché modern pop, but then the song settles into itself and sounds more natural. On “Fall of ’82,” one can almost hear Steve Miller talking through “Take the Money and Run.” One of the highlights is the sprawling closer “Port of Morrow.” Mercer’s falsetto is confident, giving the cadence of the verses swagger, and the music is a moody, spaced-out anchor to the vocals, conjuring curiosity as to what this new Shins will take on next.

  • Album: Port of Morrow
  • Artist: Shins
  • Label: Columbia
  • Songs: (1) The Rifle's Spiral (2) Simple Song (3) It's Only Life (4) Bait and Switch (5) September (6) No Way Down (7) For a Fool (8) Fall of '82 (9) 40 Mark Strasse (10) Port of Morrow
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