Ecclectic, Eccentric, Endearing
The accoustic guitars and happy-go-lucky, melancholic alt-pop of Alex Mercer and The Shins have somehow been a simultaneous bedrock of consistency and focal point for a complete evolution over the course of five full-length albums. The simple, lonely-heart stylings of debut Oh, Inverted World seemed far removed from the gloss and high production value of 2012’s Port Of Morrow, and each offering in the meantime has had something else to bring to the already bitter-sweet not-quite-party. Heartworms is perhaps Mercer’s most ecclectic effort yet, and succeeds in keeping the intriguing, endearing Alburquerque native’s project at its intriguing, endearing best.
The opening tune of Name For You is a call for female empowerment inspired by sole writer (and for the first time in four albums, sole producer) Mercer’s teenage daughters, and starts off in classic Shins fashion, with cheery guitar licks and an infectious, melodic prowesse that remains as immpressive as it was 16 years ago. It’s further on in the record where the disperate style really becomes evident, with anthems like Half A Million pulsing and providing a driving force, and Fantasy Island sneaking up with the build-your-own, bedroom tenderness The Shins have made their niche in recent years, all wrapped up in a wistful, ’80s-style lament to teenage anxiety. The Fear meanwhile, has something of the baroque, balkan-pop of fellow Abuquerqueans Beirut about it, with hum-drum percussion, strings and and a generous portion of accordion. The whole record feels almost like a culmination of the last 16 years. There’s more than enough of Oh, Inverted World‘s folk here to keep it feeling familiar, and enough invention and development of what was already a unique style to endear new listeners.
What’s always been the most impressive quality of Mercer and The Shins however, is how much each track grows after every listen. There’s a depth to the writing, melodies and compositions that isn’t seen in very many other places in the industry right now. With each track providing its own peaks and troughs to this supremely well put together reocrd, and as each track continues to emerge as a stand-out in its own way, it’s only going to become more plain that The Shins left a very big hole while they were gone. And it’s very nice indeed to have them back.
Heartworms is out now, available from all good music retailers.
Words by Ben Kitto