The Shins were a mid-‘00s success story, with their song “New Slang” pushing the band to success after it was featured in the movie Garden State.
Jumping into their latest album Heartworms made me nervous – would it finally bring them back to their former glory? As a whole, the album takes the indie genre and twists it with the old sound heard on previous albums (in a good way). Each small break has slightly tweaked what we hear – whether it be lyrically or musically. James Mercer certainly brought this collection of songs together. Since the reboot of the band with Port of Morrow in 2012, the band has released “Painting a Hole”, “Name For You”, and “Mildenhall”, all precursors to this hefty composition. Both are featured on the album, and aptly sum it up.
One thing that struck me before I sat down to take a listen was the album cover. Decked out in hues of pink and green contrasted against a black surface, a wispy skeletal figure hangs out to the right. A certain irony seems to be lingering; death and darkness lingers but is superimposed on the black opposite of the flowers with blue sky peeking out. It seems to represent a deeper meaning of ever present darkness (as does the title ‘heatworms’), though it is open to interpretation. At first glance, the album appears to be the typical indie album, full of electronic sounds and crooning “oohs” and “aahs.” It delves deeper with the lyrics, but apart from this, it is not strikingly original. It strays from their roots and acoustic tendencies in their early years in an attempt to adapt with the times. To some extent, they are successful. “Name For You” seems as if it was pulled from a John Hughes movie but vamped up with modern indie-rock and it ended up being able to paint an idyllic scene for the listener. They sing about a girl who stands out and wants to speak her mind, saying “They’ve got a name for you girls/What’s in a name?” This question repeats, and proves that The Shins have a knack for poignant lyrics and drawing their message out.
One striking thing on this album is the lyrics: they have such story and a poetic rhythm to them, something I haven’t seen an alternative band have in a long time. Often, it’s the Hoziers of the world that have a bone to pick, but James Mercer pulls it off. One such example is “The Fear.” It surprises me how well he takes one emotion and uses it as his basis, making a wonderfully meaningful song. “Fear” is most certainly a universal feeling and makes it relatable to all. We are taken on a trip through the childhood of Mercer as he relives his childhood in front of our very eyes in “Mildenhall.” The simplicity of the song is astounding because of the way he makes it so meaningful with the music. The way each song is balanced seems to be perfection.
I can see any of these songs being featured on the alternative charts. The only problem is that Heartworms sounds too similar to other bands’ albums. It may be hard to differentiate them from current artists, but that’s not to say that this fact overshadows their music in general. This album is worth a gander, and their comeback is well done.