The Shins and the Stand-ins
This post is inspired by a blog post from September of last year titled Last Shin Standing. Writer Casey Newton details the ins and outs of The Shins‘ transformations in the past decade: their rise to fame and the resulting changes to their roster. I suggest you go check it out for the super-apt analogy of the group through their own song, “Sleeping Lessons,” or if you are clueless about the band’s situation. If you’re to busy for that here’s the short version: frontman and composer James Mercer fired his bandmates after their third successful album together for “aesthetic” differences. Obviously, there’s more to the story, and it’s further fledged out in the aforementioned article.
Now that the ‘new and improved’ Shins have just released their latest album, Port of Morrow, on the 20th of March, judgment day has arrived, and I really don’t see any huge steps in the way of instrumentation that the former band members wouldn’t be able to perform. Frankly, Port of Morrow sounds just like any other Shins album – a bit indie, a bit poppy, and a bit whiney. If this is what Sandoval, Crandall, Hernandez, and Johnson were axed for, I’m not seeing the point. The “band’s” sound is practically the same, save for a few tweaks (mainly provided by Dobson, and I’ll get to her in a moment). What I mean by that is Mercer claimed to have shed his band so that he and his vision could progress and move on to new heights that the rest for some reason or another just couldn’t reach. To be fair, that’s understandable. Those guys can composite their sounds to form beautifully melodic songs, but technically, they are nothing special and only afford so much room for growth. So what has the new band reached? From what I can tell, a better live performance [I haven’t seen them live other than SNL, which is hardly a stage for fair judgment (just ask Lana Del Rey), but that’s the word on the street] and a new album that fails to reach even the heights of Oh, Inverted World and Wincing the Night Away – both performed admirably by the outcasts. My gripe is that Mercer has taken his opportunity to flee what was The Shins, yet he hasn’t flown further than the front lawn. He kept the name on the mailbox, kept the sound, and lost the respect of a sizable chunk of his fans and friends.
It would appear that James Mercer is finally getting what he wanted…band members that can upstage him instead of just play what he says to. New guitarist, Jessica Dobson, poses that threat. On an album of grand proportions that lacks an edgy pertinence, Dobson shines on the final and namesake track, Port of Morrow, while backing Mercer with harmonies and distinctive guitar effects throughout the preceding songs of the album. Not only that, she certainly has the presence to be a frontwoman, as she is already making waves with her own band, Deep Sea Diver, out of Seattle. Their debut album, History Speaks, was released February 24th, and you can stream and buy it on the group’s bandcamp. At least watch this studio-basement video of their two leading singles and witness their jagged, jammy goodness for yourself:
So, at last we can see that there is a silver lining to Mercer’s revolving door of collaborators: stand-ins are people too, and now they’ll get their time in the sun.