The Shins – Heartworms
There's something kinda comforting about knowing pretty much exactly what a good band are going to deliver on a new record. James Mercer of The Shins gives us that in the opening seconds of the band's fifth record Heartworms.
He bangs out a perfect series of sweet, breezy, bouncy melodies over a wonderland of synths, guitar lines and electronic beats on opening track ‘Name For You’.
The very sound of his voice will either give you chills of joy or make you wince in pain – trust that initial instinct. There’s nothing here for Shins haters, move on to something else. But fans will revel in this long-awaited collection of new Mercer-penned gems.
It’s not fair to say the record is completely predictable. It’s clear Mercer enjoys spending time in the studio more than ever. There seems a larger attention to detail on the sounds used and arrangements concocted – it all gets very ambitious at times.
The maze of intense synths on 'Cherry Hearts' is rich and a little confronting, 'Painting A Hole' sounds all spacey thanks to its fuzz bass, Mercer's wheeling vocals and, again, those vintage synth sounds, while 'Fantasy Island' has shades of some kind of super cute, kinda nerdy computer game soundtrack.
‘So Now What’ is a bit of an outlier, with its sweeping strings and saccharine vocal hook. It's a well-constructed song – one of the best here (and screaming out for placement in another Zach Braff movie) – but it kinda feels a little tacked on after the wild sounds that come before it. Likewise, ‘The Fear’ also feels a little tacked on. These final two tracks perhaps suggesting a different record Mercer might've like to make if he hadn't been distracted by all those wonderful synths.
For all his sonic experimentation, Mercer's finest moments are his least adorned.
The opening verse of 'Mildenhall', the '80s power pop drive of 'Half A Million' and the jangly title track are all great reminders that his songwriting is a purer and more engaging talent than any of his – admittedly, still very good – musical explorations.
Mercer's hooks are consistently immediate and joyous. They still sound like he's taken Robert Smith's happiest moments and attempted to prolong them as much as possible.
James Mercer makes great pop records. Like all pop records some people will just revel in the shiny hooks and instrumentation, while others will find something deeper emotionally.
There's truly no point in listening to this record if you don't care for The Shins' past work. While Mercer is trying new ideas and pushing himself as a producer, it still sounds like The Shins and will only appeal to those that love them. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that.