All Hands on Deck – the Shins are Back and Nerd(ist)s Are Afoot

The ShinsPort Of Morrow

“We all spend a little time going down the rabbit hole…” – James Mercer

News of a new record from the Shins brought this indie fan-boy a great deal of delight. The stories from the Northwest suggested that James Mercer and his original band mates had been estranged and (gulp) perhaps the indie-darlings of Garden State fame were no more. And, with the release of his Broken Bells collaboration with Danger Mouse it appeared that the Portland by way of Albuquerque foursome was but a footnote in the career of a very gifted songwriter – happens far too often (e.g. The Smiths, Blur, 10,000 Maniacs). Well, the Shins are back, sort of. The newest incarnation of the Shins contains only one carryover from the group that wormed their way into your heart with “New Slang” and the phenomenal Chutes to Narrow and Wincing the Night Away: James Mercer. But, if Port of Morrow is any indicator, the Shins are James Mercer with accompaniment (or expressed in logical terms: If Shins, then James Mercer). Okay, but is the record any good? Yes, quite.

Now, we have all seen bands we adore in their nascent stages win our hearts with their unique sound and creativity, but then disappear gently into the night of musical also-rans (see Weezer). For all its exemplary constituent parts, Port of Morrow is less innovation and more craftsmanship; however, it is by no means a retreat. In all fairness, this Shins record is much like a sonnet – a well-orchestrated rhythmically precise piece of versification, which on its surface appears like perfectly crystalline and impenetrable self-contained world, but upon further inspection unfurls with powerfully submerged layers of emotion. This record will not necessarily hook you as quickly as the previous Shins offerings. Don’t fret, it has all the components of previous Mercer/Shins releases: (1) plaintive and contemplative songs (“It’s Only Life” and “Taken for a Fool”); (2) upbeat, peppy pop songs with introspective lyrics (“Simple Song” and “No Way Down”); (3) soft, cowboy/southwestern infused-indie pop (“September” and “40 Mark Strasse”); and (4) James Mercer’s gorgeous falsetto-like vocal style along with complimentary Beach Boys-esque mini-choral harmonies (see all). This album reminds me a great deal of Death Cab For Cutie‘s Plans – a drastic shift away from epic, sprawling dada-like compositions to shorter and (arguably) more conventional pop songs. But, like Plans, Port of Morrow rewards its listeners with little gems of insight, working with subtlety and eye-wink charm. So, there is a lot to love about this record and, over time, I believe you’ll grow to enjoy.

Click here to listen to The Shins’ Port of Morrow.

2012 Records Vol. 3 

A bit late but the following playlist, 2012 Records Vol. 3, contains records from the past two months I’ve been really enjoying and/or spotlighted here including records by Tennis, Andrew Bird, Now, Now, Lost In The Trees, the Shins (see above) and Odd Future (forthcoming).

Nerd(ist) Alert!  (Or, My Friends Do Some Really Cool Stuff!)

Aside from spotlighting great new (and old) music, I like turning your ears and eyes to exciting and interesting things that are going on in the cultural sphere and fortunately I have a number of friends doing some great things across the country (and interwebs) to which I will draw your attention. For example, one of my friends, Paul Grellong, who is a phenomenal writer for stage, film and TV, appeared on the Nerdist Writer’s Panel to discuss his experiences as a writer for TV, specifically his gigs on Terra Nova and Law and Order: SVU. For the record, the Writer’s Panel is a great series that will introduce you into the realities and inside-stories about the TV business and the current state of TV (which for TV outcasts like myself is helpful to stay in touch with the predominant cultural memes).  In addition, it offers great advice for writers who want to learn about working and getting into the business.

Listen and/or download the Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast here. (For the tech challenged, you have to go in to iTunes to download by searching for Nerdist Writer’s Panel, Episode 34.)

Also, if you are living in Chicago, The Nerdist with Chris Hardwick will be live tomorrow at the Vic Theatre. I’ll be there. You should be too!

Songs I’m digging on…

  • Collen Green’s “Nice Boy (I Want A)” – Things I know about Colleen Green: She’s (1) from L.A., (2) makes punky lo-fi music, (3) likes the Ramones, who doesn’t 😉 (see I Wanna Be Degraded), and (4) wants a nice boy. For fans of Best Coast and Sleigh Bells and lo-fi indie pop.
  • Anais Mitchell’s “Venus” (live recording via YouTube) – Folk songstress with a voice reminiscent of a young Rickie Lee Jones (if you’ve never listened to Pirates, go here now).
  • Chromatics “Kill For Love” — 21st century shoe-gazer rock with audible lyrics!!! If My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive had a child that was raised by M83, it would sound like this. Well even if the description is inapt, it’s an A-mazing song.

Great Mixtape! from the U.K.’s Charlie XCX entitled Supergirls, from the U.K.’s Charlie XCX featuring all sensational female artists past and present.  Seriously this is a great collection of songs to work your way up to the weekend.

For the sake of accurate compartmentalization (and so it doesn’t get lost “under the fold”), I will be discussing in a separate post some really great stuff happening in Chicago this weekend.

Hasta manana,

a.a.

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