Album: The Shins, Port of Morrow (Columbia)



The Shins' first album for Columbia, Port of Morrow is not quite as immediately likeable as its predecessor, 2007's Wincing the Night Away – but then, not being immediately likeable is one of the things that sets Shins albums apart from the routine run of rock'n'roll.

James Mercer, the band's songwriter is rather like the anti-Noel Gallagher, perversely discarding melodies that might seem too obvious in favour of serpentine ones that take the longer, more picturesque route into one's heart. But once there, they're that much harder to dislodge, occupying as they do a position entirely their own, uncrowded by anything vaguely similar.

"The Rifle's Spiral" opens proceedings with a typically oblique melody, harnessed to a typically enigmatic lyric that bucks against attempts to wrestle it to clarity. "Primitive mirror on the wall, to fortify your grim resolve," sings Mercer at one point, "And made the glitz of a shopping mall another grain of indigent salt to the sea."

It could be a cut-up, for all the immediate sense it makes. But as the album progresses, the accumulation of similar apparent non-sequiturs sketches a vague outline of a theme, something to do with disillusion, with being let down, or afflicted with a tendency to read things that way. It's an outsider complex that suits Mercer's style perfectly.

As he notes in "It's Only Life", "you wanna hop along with the giddy throng through life – but how'd you learn to steer when you're grinding all your gears?" That sense of operating at a different speed to those around you, with different goals and hopes, pervades Port of Morrow.

And not just lyrically, either. Even the single "Simple Song" begs its own question by being far from simple, with woozy keyboards gliding over pert guitar chords, and Mercer's vocal slipping into falsetto just when you least expect it.

Yet by the second listen, it's somehow found its place in one's affections, despite its lack of obvious hooks. The bogus simplicity recurs in "Bait and Switch", where he protests he's "just a simple man, cursed with an honest heart" – though the song's scudding pop style, with a little Latin twitch to the groove, displays an elegant complexity that's the 21st-century equivalent of Steely Dan, without sounding like them.

Elsewhere, mellotronic strings and a twangy guitar motif lend wistful melancholy to "For a Fool", while a flugelhorn solo underlines the poignant reminiscence of "Fall of '82". Everywhere you look there are striking images vying for your attention, my favourite being the observation, "You feel like an ocean being warmed by the sun", a line replete with its own oceans of meaning.

By the Fleetwood Mac-style soft-rock harmonies of the penultimate track, "40 Mark Strasse", the various strands are being more sturdily braided together, with further intimations of disillusion and further reflections about "Is it all so very simple, and horribly complex?" Maybe, like life itself, it's not a case of either/or, but both at once.

DOWNLOAD THIS Simple Song; Bait and Switch; 40 Mark Strasse; For a Fool

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing