Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Shins - James Mercer Strikes a Chord

Funny how you learn about things. I was reading through the March 26, 2012 issue of the New Yorker and discovered a story on the Shins. Because it was in the Music section and on the opposite page I noticed a flowery photo of bandleader James Mercer, I read the article and learned a little about them--including getting a review of their new album, Port of Morrow (pictured).

The Shins, which is James Mercer's songs and singing with various musicians, sounded like a band worth exploring. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico but now situated in Portland, they have been active for 16 years. I had heard a little about them before and the story was compelling but it wasn't until I happened to see the CD sitting in the rack at Starbucks that I plunked down my $12.95 and grabbed my own copy.

Funny--the packaging looked shiny, with dark photos of Mercer on the front (surrounded by positive blurbs from music industry reviewers and him with his musicians on the back with the song list. Dark and sober. It turns out, that's a fake cover--the real paper sleeve has a gray and black design that, it appears, was deemed too dull to market at a coffee place. In any case, I slipped it into my car's CD player and the fun began.

The Rifle's Spiral starts it off quickly, and then Simple Song and It's Only Life keep the momentum going. Simple Song reminded me of something by U2. Mercer was presented in the New Yorker story as being a quiet, modest performer, but the material on this new album has plenty of power and impact.

As someone whose first set of favorite songs dates from the Lyndon Johnson administration, it's always good to find new artists that I can relate to. Last year it was a fling with Owl City--also the workings of a single person, only in that case, there isn't even a backup band--Adam Young does it all on his songs.

Who does James Mercer sound like? I hear some John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Gerry Rafferty--and Jon Anderson of Yes. A little David Bowie in the final track? The chord changes are exciting and satisfying and the little details of production make for a musical adventure.

I've already played through the CD several times in the car and had a couple of headphones-in-the-chair close examinations. Very worth it--and it's good to live in the 21st century at least part of the time.

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