Mar 10, 2017 Web Exclusive
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It's been five years since James Mercer and co. debuted new music to The Shins' vast fanbase. On their fifth studio album Heartworms, the (now) six-piece shows them going a long way from their folky indie-rock beginnings crooning "Caring Is Creepy" and "New Slang" on the idolized indie soundtrack from Garden State. Instead, the band finds itself heavily influenced by world music, psychedelia, and spooky guitar riffs—something Mercer definitely lifted from his time spent in Broken Bells.
Throughout The Shins' latest record, the 21-year-old band experiments with electronics, moving further away from the more simplistic balladry and indie rock framework they began with years ago. The first three cuts of the record fool you into thinking its entirety will be synth-driven, psych-pop tracks, especially the feminist-driven opener "Name For You." The song—inspired by Mercer's daughters—is a fitting tribute given our current political climate. However, don't let the avant-garde indie-pop segment of the record fool you: Mercer eventually makes it clear that he hasn't entirely forgotten his roots rock background. In fact, you almost hear a bit of a twang on "Fantasy Island," "Mildenhall" and "Rubber Ballz," as he toys with The Shins' version of Americana. The dichotomy of the album doesn't exactly lend well to radio-friendly hits, but it does find one in the anthemic "Cherry Hearts." Something that does remain consistent with The Shins' music is the ability to combine reality and fantasy seamlessly throughout the lyrics. But Mercer goes for more of the reality this time around. On "Mildenhall," Mercer recounts his time spent growing up at the Royal Air Force base in Suffolk, England, where his father served in the U.S. Air Force. Mercer remembers the isolation he felt, but also how music was his saving grace: "Then a kid in class passed me a tape/an invitation not the hand of fate."
While Heartworms has its melodic pop moments and the band tries to remain indie-rock stalwarts, there seems to be a lack of cohesiveness between the songs. But one thing that remains strong is Mercer's ability to craft songs that are always interesting, otherworldly, and transport you to another universe. (www.theshins.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 7/10
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