The Shins Tag

Mercer reclaims pop’s throne with Port of Morrow

It’s been a long time coming, but with the latest album from The Shins, Port of Morrow the “band’s” fourth long player, it becomes abundantly clear that James Mercer is a master songwriter – and the one in charge.

Who knows why it’s been five years since Wincing the Night Away – a solid, if not underappreciated album – after which Sir Elton John dubbed Mercer the most talented songwriter.

The fact is that, for true pop music lovers, it was worth the wait.

Mercer has currently created a musical kingdom (a part of Portlandia?) from which to explore his sonic adventures; Port of Morrow (an actual location in Portland) allowed him to bring in members of the original band (court jester Marty Crandall guests on keyboards, Dave Hernandez provides bass and guitar work) along with Pacific Northwest icons (Janet Weiss provides some solid drumming on the standout single, “Simple Song”, and a handful of other tunes).

Perhaps it is because of this mix of the old and the new that the record occasionally pays homage to some of the great sounds to be found on the band’s debut (Oh, Inverted World) on tracks like “September”…while still exploring Mercer’s fascination with country-bar balladry (“40 Mark Strasse”) and his continued inspiration via 60’s pop (“Bait and Switch”).

Even with the different players, and the sonic shifts, the album is one of the band’s most cohesive. Mercer’s combination of hooks you think you’ve heard before, along with lyrics that run the gamut from clever playfulness to melancholy memory, remind the informed listener that it is possible to have solid songcraft for an entire album.

Perhaps Mercer knows that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that in The Shin’s five-year hiatus, there really haven’t been any serious challengers to his throne.

Smells Like:

Great live music dies, while studio zombies like Lana Del Rey “live”

My friends – please excuse me while I shake my cane – but I was listening to the radio this Sunday morning, when the deejay (a younger fellow) reminded me about the sad news that The Woods (perhaps Portland’s most unique – and likely best – music venue) is no more…

The intimate space played host to a slew of artists off the promotional and hype-driven radar. The deejay echoed as much, and talked about a particularly memorable show delivered by a shy musician from Colorado.

Smells Like Pop was able to enjoy the venue, as well – one of our more memorable shows was watching our friend, and London’s musical gem, Alessi’s Ark perform her magic there. It didn’t hurt that the venue was run by Ritchie Young of Portland band Loch Lomond. His sincerity and welcoming attitude helped make The Woods a special place. The fact that it was a former funeral home, with its unique atmosphere, and haunted sound, only added to its mystique.

But it is no more.

Perhaps with a sense of irony, the same radio station seconds later advertised a visit for a live performance from Lana Del Rey. Only time will tell if she has any staying power (or talent) – but she seems to represent everything that The Woods was not…ostentatiousness (the rumors of “enhanced” lips), hype (if you haven’t already heard about her, crawl out from under that rock!), wealth (her father is apparently a dot.com billionaire), studio-wizardry (Damon Albarn – Gorillaz, etc. – is rumored to be working with her), glamour (her name was “inspired” by hanging out in Miami with friends) – a symbolic nod to our culture’s severe ADD, as much was made from her SNL appearance after all of ONE decent song to her credit.

The same local radio station will be hosting a live session from The Shins’ James Mercer – who at least has a few albums under his belt.

The Shins (with a new lineup) also have an album (Port of Morrow) due out in March (so do the Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea ); Field Music has a new album (Plumb) due out in early February, the Dirty Projectors have a new one due in spring, and Outkast has something coming out this year.

In the meantime, you might find me listening to music in the woods (you know, with real trees, plants, and stuff).

DBD David Bailey Design