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A State of Shins

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed (I'm @justinsteiner) know how excited I am for this Tuesday. Why? The new Shins album, Port of Morrow, comes out. It is their first album in 5 years and the first since James Mercer let go of his original bandmates. Mercer has certainly been hitting the media in the run-up to this album release - granting interviews, appearing on Saturday Night Live, streaming a show of NPR, and going on NPR's World Cafe to talk and play. I've been soaking up every ounce and each new song has made me excited to hear the whole record. The record is actually streaming at iTunes right now but I've held off, content to buy it on Tuesday and experience it as a whole on the day of release just like we all had to do in the old days. In the meantime, I've been listening to the previous three albums quite a bit.

Oh, Inverted World (2001) - Their debut is justly celebrated and for a lot of fans remains the standard against which the other albums are judged. I am not in that camp, however. For me, it definitely feels like a debut, a really really good debut, but a debut nonetheless. All of the basic Shins elements are here - Mercer's falsetto, an unerring sense of melody, and lyrics that set a mood more than tell a story. The music sets a mood too, with some creepy tones balancing both the angular and strummed guitars. "New Slang" is the big draw, the song that Natalie Portman declares will change your life in Garden State, and it's pretty damn good. So too are "Girl Inform Me" and "One by One All Day" and the longest song, album closer "The Past and Pending."

Chutes Too Narrow (2003) - This album takes those basic Shins elements I was talking about and makes magic with them. The sound is bigger and the melodies crisper. The songs contain so many great lines as well, from "Just a glimpse of an ankle and I react like it's 1805" in "Turn A Sqaure" to "You want to fight for this love but honey, you cannot wrestle a dove" in "Gone For Good," which brings a country element to the music mix. "So Says I" becomes a rock rave-up at the end. "Pink Bullets" has this amazing verse: "Since then it's been a book you read in reverse, so you understand less as the pages turn, or a movie so crass and awkwardly cast that even I could be the star," which is set to a melancholy tune hung on a guitar lead. My favorite song is "Young Pilgrims," where the narrator want to "grab the yoke from the pilot and fly the whole mess into the sea." It's hard to argue with this album.

Wincing the Night Away (2007) - I associate this album with the spring; last spring I pulled it out and played it a lot. It has so much to offer. "Sleeping Lessons" takes off into an driving anthem partway through and I always have to raise my hands to the crescendo. "Australia" has this great bass line. "Phantom Limb" starts with a buzzy bass and has one of Mercer's best melodies. I love the skittering beat of "Sealegs" and the soul-searing sound of "Spilt Needles." This is Mercer at the height of his powers and ranks right alongside Chutes Too Narrow.

I can't wait to see what Port of Morrow brings this week. The lead track, "Simple Song," seemed thin on first listen but has grown to take up space in my head. I've heard some other songs as well but I'll save thoughts on them until I've played this record a dozen times in the next two weeks. I can't wait...


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