Following the breakthrough success of 'Wincing The Night Away' James Mercer did what any self respecting musical despot would do, sack the band and start again. The results predictably are the same, only slightly different. Port of Morrow ticks all the boxes of the previous albums with lashings of happy/sad mock British cynicism and self-loathing set against bouncy bass riffs and breezy mid-tempo ballads. The Smiths, Belle & Sebastian, and Camera Obscura, remain the blueprint from which Mercer draws from. However there is a notable shift towards US folk storyteller style compositions which may divide listeners.
'The Riffle's Spiral' commences the album in a suitably wordy fashion as Mercer draws upon his seemingly endless vocabulary. The music however has a more bombastic electro dance-rock feel than previous offerings First single 'Simple Song' is a more traditional Shins effort, showcasing Mercer's classic songwriting skills with shimmering guitars and silky bass lines weaving below his falsetto vocal. Most of the songs hinge on Mercer's vocal. His ability to move between falsetto and baritone is world class and most of the singalong moments come in the higher male register. 'Bait and Switch' delivers such a moment of high pitched wonderment "I'm just a simple man cursed with an honest heart". Would be single 'No Way Down' stands out because of its bouncy bass and guitar interplay and witty lyrics such as "Apologies to the sick and the young. Get used to the dust in your lungs"
The album has a more mature alt country feel on many of the tracks, which seem more retrospective than the angry in the now angst The Shins built their reputation upon. For this reason 'Port of Morrow' is less instant than the previous Shins albums and must be labelled with the ominous charge of being 'a grower'. 'For A Fool' is the best of these mid-tempo offerings. A beautiful song with a heavenly chorus of "Taken for a fool, yes I was because I was a fool" There's a whiff of Steely Dan about "Fall of '82" which cements this move towards Americana, which may divide fans. Title track 'Port Of Morrow' a jazz fuelled mix of Portishead and Radiohead, closes the album in considerable style. The string arrangements combine wonderfully with Mercer as his gritty falsetto steals the show.one last time.
Port of Morrow, doesn't reach the dizzying perfection of Wincing The Night Away, but this is by no means a bad way to follow up your masterpiece.