I had really, really high expectations of this album based on the strength of its harbinger, ‘Simple Song‘, not to mention the unequivocal (musical) success that was Wincing the Night Away. I submit as evidence:
The triumphant guitar riff, elemental piano backing, and Mercer’s iconic vocals make this song the complete package, and leaves you wanting more.
Mercer’s time away on the Broken Bells project, highly thought of around here, was seemingly time well spent, right?
I’m not sure. Ten listens in, and I’m still not quite set what I think of the album. Working backwards, there’s the eery and out-of-place title track, some AM sounding songs with numbers in them (40 Mark Strasse, Fall of ’82), and a real slow jam that is mostly just slow (Taken For a Fool).
Things aren’t all bad, though. ‘No Way Down’ has a fun bass line as well as the lyric “lost in an oscillating phase,” which is pretty cool even at face value, and a catchy chorus.
‘September’ is the best slow track on the album, hands down. Subdued and acoustic, it still demands your attention, and in the grander scheme, makes a lot of sense as a pacing element among songs like ‘No Way Down’ or ‘Simple Song’.
‘Bait and Switch’ is another upbeat jaunt with some clever guitar runs and the classic Mercer lyric, “I’m just a simple man / cursed with an honest heart.” It’s preceded by ‘It’s Only Life’ which I maintain is a bit trite and not that interesting of a tune.
So now we find ourselves back at the beginning of the record. The purpose of this ass-backwards review structure is to save the absolute best for last, and that’s the opening track, ‘The Rifle’s Spiral‘.
I suppose I like this song the best because it bears the strongest resemblance to my favorite material on Wincing The Night Away and Broken Bells. Solid beats and space-age melodies structured into a three-and-a-half-minute mini epic of a song. And also, for the love of god, if you haven’t seen the video, by all means:
The evocative, Burton-esque short film is a match for ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ every bit as unlikely as it is perfect.
So, where does that leave us? The album starts of with two flawless tracks, and slowly deviates from there. If you like your LPs with a wide range of more experimental tracks, then by all means, Port of Morrow is what you seek.
I prefer a more focused collection of tracks, and I really only got half of what I wanted. Even still, the high points are on par with any previous output of Mercer’s, so I remain content with the work, if not as blown away as I’d hoped to be.
I love you’re track-by-track review!! I have to say I agree with you. Although, I’ve been listening to The Shins for a while, so anything they put out I’m instantly a fan of of 🙂 They’re new video for “It’s Only Life” is just another reason why I’ve continued to follow them for so long. Definitely check it out if you haven’t seen it yet: http://bit.ly/S5isCl
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