The last time The Shins put out an album the following was still true: Heath Ledger was alive, the Emergency Stabilization Act was an absurdity resting in the comfortably distant future, and Aaron Rodgers had not played a single game as the Packer’s starting QB. The year was 2007, the album was the successful but underrated Wincing the Night Away. We haven’t heard much from the band in the five years since (with the exception of Broken Bells – James Mercer’s collaboration with Danger Mouse) so the upcoming Port of Morrow is something of an occasion for us Shins fans.
“Simple Song” endeavors to mark their return a triumphant one. The track is built on a mechanized version of the barndance-ballad rhythm that The Shins test drove on Wincing (see tracks “Phantom Limb” or “Turn On Me” for reference, as well as any song off The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands.) “Simple Song” begins as an unadorned announcement of this beat, but it quickly erupts into something more audacious than we’ve seen from them before. The rhythm guitar sounds big (I’d go so far as to say arena friendly), and is overlaid by the hyperactive counter melody in the dew saturated lead guitar, which chirps and bubbles with diminutive insistence like a teapot boiling over.
The fanfare atmosphere carries out the rest of the song. It includes acrobatics (Mercer’s vocals alone are a spectacle, covering over two and a half octaves), and delightful diversion (the spectral comedown followed by a brief string quartet interlude.)
In short it sounds like a group of people who are happy to be playing together again, and who want to transmit this feeling as directly as possible. I wouldn’t expect, or want, the entire album to be quite this brazen, but I can definitely get into it for the occasion.