First listen: ‘Port of Morrow’ expands old horizons

“Port of Morrow,” The Shins’ fourth studio album, breaks the band’s five-year silence.

After a five-year hiatus, the Shins are finally making some incredible noise again. And I have to say that I released not a small amount of girly giggles when I found out.

“Port of Morrow” is the fourth studio album by the Shins, but it is the first to be released on frontman James Mercer’s new record label, ‘Aural Apothecary.’ I was a little nervous to find out that the entire band had been replaced—except Mercer, of course—but take it from me, there’s nothing to worry about.

Don’t be surprised if you think you recognize some of the tracks. The Shins have definitely embraced their old, familiar style that gained them fame in the early ‘00s, but they’re exploring new techniques and sounds that are setting them apart from what they once were.

The Shins have always been an evolving band. “Oh, Inverted World” started them off with a highly electronic and ethereal indie sound broken up by more organic songs like “New Slang.” Their second album, “Chutes Too Narrow,” brought to the foreground a raw, acoustic style while using subtle electronic layering. “Wincing the Night Away” was always a blend of the two, but it was much more surreal than either of the others had been.

I think “Port of Morrow” is an “in-between” album. It’s obvious that Mercer wants to hold on to some of the Shins’ old sound while trying to embrace where he is now. “September” sounds like straight homage to his former musical life; it could have easily been on any previous album. Influences from Mercer’s other projects, such as Broken Bells, are apparent in chord progressions in songs like “Port of Morrow,” while others like “40 Mark Strasse” have the skeleton of an alternative ‘90s song.

Some of the songs go back further than the ‘90s. “Simple Song,” the first single released from the album, has a bass line straight out of the early ‘80s: think Van Halen’s “Jump.” The guitar in “Fall of 82” sounds like a 1969 Beatle’s song, and the main riff has an eerie echo of “Lady Madonna.” And let’s not forget the trumpet solo, which is the first time, to my knowledge, The Shins have featured any type of horn.

I feel like “Port of Morrow” is an incredible start to The Shins’ new career. They are exploring new musical styles while using old sounds and techniques. As a devoted Shins fan, I was a little worried that the new album might be a ridiculous offshoot of Mercer’s creative ego that would distance its fans. I was wrong. This album is admirable in the way it will keep old fans happy and dedicated while enthralling a new audience. The name “Port of Morrow” is aptly chosen for a band that is redefining its horizons.