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The Shins: Port of Morrow
The Shins’ last release, Wincing the Night Away, confirmed the band's success in the underground world with a collection of songs that were both eclectic and humanly relatable. The soft, enchanting musicality of the album is part of what came to identify The Shins. Returning after five years with Port of Morrow, original member and now the only one left, James Mercer, collaborated with production guru Greg Kurstin on his latest endeavour.
The Shins found their extent of mainstream success after Natalie Portman promised that ‘New Slang’ would change Zach Braff’s life in the film ‘Garden State’. Since then, the band has been reduced to front-man Mercer on his own. The newly released album invites several guest characters to complete its overall pop-rock sound, however it is Mercer that does all the singing and song writing, as well as playing most of the instruments. Different from previous releases, Port of Morrow, is the first album to be produced by a large-scale record label (Columbia) and as a result the sound is just that; more produced.
The opening track, ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ gives us Mercer’s signature, utterly recognisable voice but you can immediately tell how different this album is going to be. Unmistakably a mesh of pop, rock and distorted riffs, the overall sound is The Shins but in a different dimension; their psychedelic tendencies echoing in the background. ‘Simple Song’ is equally piled up with instruments and lyrics that give us advice like ‘you sure must be strong when you feel like an ocean warmed by the sun’ or he reassures us that ‘I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone’. Guitar riffs run back and forth, evocative of an 80s pop anthem; a piano appears jangling in the background before the whole song takes a step back; Mercer’s voice deepens, calms, and speaks more than sings. There’s an influx of sounds and varying musical approaches, switching from one to the other in no specific order or logic.
The hungry sounds of rock and pop infused together take a back seat with songs like ‘It’s Only Life’ where the beat is slowed and his singing almost romantic, with backing vocals oohing and aahing; as though someone is swaying a lighter side to side. ‘I’ve been down the road you’re walking now, it doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome’ are more words of guidance, however it crosses the line of sweet and endearing to almost become cheesy.
‘September’ speaks much of The Shin’s original language; mellow with wispy riffs and soothing strumming. Mercer sings in a much more attractive deeper key and their signature psychedelic nuances speckle the undertones. Having gotten married over the past few years, this track seems to speak of that experience, sounding much like a love ballad with lines like ‘love is the ink in the well when her body dries’. In a similar fashion ‘For A Fool’ is also more relaxed; rich in lurching riffs and reflective melodies.
There is no question that the official Shin, James Mercer, has an unequivocal sound and musical personality. While we would have to concede that his previous albums were more endearing and ultimately hooking, Port of Morrow is still a nice reminder that even though they’ve been under the radar for several years, there is always hope for a comeback.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
“I think of you...I haven't slept”; the opening lyrics to Coldplay’s sixth studio album Ghost Stories.
The opening track, Always in My Head, leaves little to the imagination when it comes to Chris Martin’s heartache. Released just two months after the band’s lead singer split, or “consciously uncoupled”, with his wife Gwyneth Paltrow, it is no coincidence that the album’s bursting with such despair-filled lyrics.
The album’s cover adds an element of creativity to it. At first glance, you see two angel wings etched over a gloomy, star-filled sky. Take a second look at it after listening to the melancholic track-list and you find yourself seeing a heart equally broken into two.
Magic, the album’s single, follows through with a humble yet achingly beautiful and consistent drum beat under Martin’s smooth vocals making this tune calm and soothing to the mind.
The same band that, almost 14 years ago, released the ever-loved 'Yellow' crooning that the “stars shine” for their beloved, now describe them as “a sky full of stars” in the second single of the album. 'A Sky Full of Stars' is a , peculiur, collaboration with Swedish DJ, Avicii, and is possibly the only track on the album that enticed us to move a few joints along with its hyper-electric tunes. The equally gleeful music video features a rather happy Chris Martin casually strolling through streets, strumming his guitar and carrying his drum set on his back as passer-by’s cheer him on.
'True Love' presents perhaps the most sob-worthy lyrics as Martin wilfully pleads “Just tell me you love me... if you don’t, then lie to me” along the chilled-out, mellow background beat. The same tone is set for pretty much most of the album with Another’s Arms, Oceans and Midnight all hosting the same theme of a shattered love. The songs’ slow, relaxed melodies offer quite the paradox when compared to Mylo Xyloto, the band’s fifth album’s feet-stomping, head-bobbing tunes; the likes of Paradise and Hurts Like Heaven.
'O', the final song on the sorrow-ridden album sent a chill down our spines as it sounded like a ballad straight out of a Bon Iver album. Martin’s high-pitched yet soft extended wails quickly reminded us of an old favourite; Bon Iver’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.
Ghost Stories, with its gothic tones and aching lyrics definitely, at times, made us flinch. The album’s chilled out vibe, however, make it quite perfect for listening to whilst calmingly lying on the beach, taking a lonesome walk or simply being in the mood for something a little more mellow.