There has always been one name in the indie rock scene that carries a lot of respect. Of course, we are talking about The Shins.
James Mercer has been in a state of constant evolution since the release of the band’s 2012 album “Port of Morrow.” This is evident in their latest release and fifth studio album “Heartworms.” This time around we see an almost completely new lineup in the band and, for the most part, it adds a unique freshness.
The Shins can be traced back all the way to 1996 when they started out in New Mexico. Mercer formed the band after performing with another band. The Shins released their first album “Oh, Inverted World” in 2001. From there the band came out with two more albums before taking a five-year hiatus beginning in 2007. By the time the band got back together, Mercer was the only founding member left and the band was signed to Columbia Records, losing the charm they once had as the little indie band that could. It has been five years since we have heard anything from them and now we finally have “Heartworms.”
“Heartworms” is a 42 minute long, 11-track record. This record is different in a way you would not expect it to be from past works by The Shins. While it does look back and reflect on the band’s now twenty-year career, this is not the primary focus. Instead the band uses the record to focus on the future and where they are going. We are starting to see some really creative pieces from Mercer as a songwriter and there are plenty of chill tracks to listen to. There are a lot of fun and fast paced tracks to enjoy as well. This record has just about everything you would expect from a modern day Shins album.
This is a soft rock album through and through with a focus on synthetic elements. That is apparent right out the gate with the lead track “Name for You.” The album starts off crisp and clean with plenty of well mixed tracks. Then it starts to slowly evolve into a more psychedelic vibe. Tracks like “Fantasy Island” focus more on the melodies. You get some tracks that nail progression and rhythm like in “Dead Alive” or “Rubber Ballz.” While the sound is reminiscent of older Shins works, it pays homage rather than showcasing a direct callback. This is probably one of the best features of the entire record.
This album shows that Mercer is most comfortable writing lyrics. Tracks like “Mildenhall” tell us a complete story. There are a lot of tracks were Mercer turns the pen towards himself in a more meaningful way than previously seen. When you listen to something like “So Now What,” you can not help but feel some sympathy for the man. While it serves as a nice slow jam, it is immediately followed by the closing track on this record “The Fear.” It does not take a lot to guess what this track is about, but it does have a more subtle and relaxing quality about it that keeps you coming back time and time again to listen to it. Overall, it is evident that songwriting comes easy to Mercer.
Should you listen to it?: Maybe.
While “Heartworms” is a pretty good album by The Shins, it is just that: pretty good. Obviously if you have been a fan of the band for a while, you are going to pick up this record and enjoy it with no problem. But it is not exactly the album I would suggest if you are trying to get into The Shins for the first time. While the band may be trying to focus on the future with what is to come, the past holds back this album from taking off.