Listen to this track by New Mexico originated, now Portland OR-based indie pop stylists The Shins. It’s “Simple Song” as taken from their most recent full-length LP Port of Morrow, their fourth, and the first release from the band for five years.
The record and the single represent something of a triumphant return for James Mercer, the principal songwriting force around which the Shins as a musical unit is based. On this long-awaited return, Mercer collaborated with producer, and performer and songwriter in his own right, Greg Kurstin. He also worked with a number of new musicians to make up the ranks of the Shins, as well as a number of sessioners to aid in filling out and building upon the sound for which the Shins is famously known.
The song itself is one that deals in transitions; a new relationship, a newborn daughter, and the evolution of a band as well, with former bandmates leaving the Shins to be replaced by new members. But, of course, there are other themes to be found here of a more universal nature.
Here’s a clip of the Shins performing their song “Saint Simon”, as taken from their celebrated 2003 Chutes Too Narrow album.
These guys gained some exposure from the film Garden State, which contained the line “the Shins will change your life”. And where they don’t necessarily create a revolutionary sound as that line might suggest, they certainly do what has been done before extremely well.
To my ears, they’re pulling from some of the touchstones of classic guitar pop as forged in the 60s – a bit of the Beatles, the Kinks, and the pre-Beggar’s Banquet Stones. Yet they’ve cast it in such a way that it doesn’t sound as if they’re trying to sound like anyone. This might have something to do with the fact that writer and vocalist James Mercer seems to work hardest in the area of lyrics, with words dodging and diving here and there between the lines of melody like Olympic figure skaters across freshly Zambonied ice. The touches of harmony and almost baroque textures on this song in particular made the album a big favourite with critics, and with fans like myself.