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4.3 out of 5 stars36
4.3 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 March 2012
No other band has been overshadowed by a reference in a movie more than The Shins. That Natalie Portman line from Garden State has been mentioned in every critical review of this album and its a little unfair. Not only are the band radically different from that era (they are no longer really a band in the traditional sense as most members have departed), but their music has evolved. Port of Morrow is not the same vein of innocence that their first album had and this is as it should be. After all that album was released over ten years ago. However, whichever way you cut it this isn't as good as some previous efforts.

Port of Morrow is a record that sounds like it belongs in the seventies. The kind of singer songwriter music that at turns was mournful and at other joyous. The music is light and at times effortless. However, its lack of weight also means that it lacks the impact and longeviety many would expect. Bait and Switch, for example, is a pop ditty which is light of heart and whilst you find yourself humming along it doesn't linger as it should. Simple Song is effective and efficient but where it should soar highly it doesn't quite take flight. The vocals are strong and this is a strength and a weakness as they seem to lack the emotive edge that first bought The Shins to fame.

Those are the quibbles. And its the kind of album where expectations are high and you focus on what doesn't work before you realise what does. Fall of '82 and 40 Mark Strasse have a kind of linger aftertaste. This is not just due to the melodies, harmonies and instrumentation. The lyrics are also part of their strength. 40 Mark Strasse obviously has a deeper meaning and with its ending refrain of 'you are going to let these Americans put another dent in your life' you realise that the time it has taken to make this is reflected in the overall effect. The title track end proceedings well and has the wistful quality of The Shins at their absolute best.

This is music that will grow the more you listen to it. But it won't grow into the classic many expected or wanted. Its not bad at all. But the weight of expectation of any Shins album make you feel like its not what it should be. But then again the band aren't what they used to be. The sparse arrangements are not as strong as they were and this is the album of one mans work really. And that man, James Mercer, is obviously a different person than he was previously. Thats what is really reflected here.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2012
It's rare that I've approached an album with an adamant desire to hate everything about it. After hearing the news that James Mercer had fired the entire band and drafted in a new team, whilst having the cheek to keep The Shins name... I wanted nothing more than to hate the album, and enjoy doing so. So it was strange that in listening to it played by my brother... I was left with a burning intrigue to listen to more. Grudgingly, I had been hooked.

It's tough to pin down the stars for this one. The songs range from I-just-listened-to-that-so-let's-listen-to-it-again addictive to why-is-my-brain-trying-to-rip-out-my-ear-canal awful. There's a lot of 4-5 star material brought down by weak tracks. It feels like it both is and isn't The Shins (firing the original band would do that)... almost like it's The Shins' offspring, where the mother is Broken Bells. The sound is similar to The Shins' previous work - But new additions to the team mean that there's more in the way of instruments and effects.

Lyrically, it's nice to see that Mercer's ability at crafting words elegantly hasn't been hit too hard, though it does feel a little watered down at times. Many songs keep The Shins' charming style of clever metaphors and honest thoughts... but there are points that sometimes feel a little, dare I say, bland. It certainly lacks some of the same charm that fans of The Shins' previous works might be able to relate to.

1. Rifle Spiral - So the album kicks off with this. It's an excellent opener with a nice dark edge to it, infused with Mercer's unflinching ability to craft such visceral images. It carries a lot of overtones of 'Wincing The Night Away'
2. Simple Song - This is ultimately standing as the 'Phantom Limb' of the album. It's a divine piece and thoroughly enjoyable.
3. It's Only Life - Continuing the pace with it's charming tone and delightful catchiness, this track feels a little twee, but is hard to dislike it when you're bobbing along to it. A very pleasant track to say the least
4. Bait & Switch - This is where we start to fumble a bit. It's a fast-paced and upbeat track, synonymous to the likes of 'So Says I' - but the chorus feels a little 'much'. Not sure if it's the distortion, the high pitched voice or both
5. September - It's around here that I start to zone out and the album hits troubled waters. It's pleasant, but lackluster and a little too matter-of-fact (where The Shins have normally been more cryptic). Mercer might have well sung "I'm an imperfect sod... but my woman is perfect. And she loves a man like me. Wowza!"
6. No Way Down - An upbeat and enjoyable track. Whilst it's not as powerful or as memorable as the stronger ones - It's steadfast and quite Shins-esque
7. For a Fool - Definitely a highlight of the album... think of it as 'September's' more talented and likeable brother. It's heartfelt but doesn't get bogged down in being too sweet. The chorus is deceptively simple, but beautifully crafted. One of my favourites
8. Fall of '82 - A bland addition to the album. It's pretty much reading the diary of a miserable kid with a cheesy chorus
9. 40 Mark Strasse - This valiantly tries to save the second half of the album. And it nearly succeeds, as it's perhaps the strongest here. The chorus is a work of genius, and the haunting whistling makes for a tremendous hook. I've sometimes sat with this song on loop for ages, it's that enjoyable.
10. Port of Morrow - Now I know the previous song is a hard act to follow... but 'Port Of Morrow' is like following an opera with a raspberry. It's an effort to finish and actually feels quite creepy. The vocals of the verses are intimidatingly high, and the whole sound is very "I'm going to haunt you in your sleep". An unfortunate finish to the album and left me with an unusual taste. The sort you'd get after eating a wasp. I normally go back and play 'Simple Song' as a form of brain mouthwash

So it's not a BAD album... in fact some of the songs on here are truly outstanding. But a few weak pieces really brings the whole thing down. If I listen to the album excluding tracks 5,8 and 10, it's good. But this one's a real mixed bag and hard to truly sit back and enjoy
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on 18 April 2012
I really can't understand the negative comments on this album. What are you people listening to! Ok, I know its personal taste and all that, but come on, its brilliant. Open your ears people. Let it grab you and take you away. Just like 'Wincing' gets undeserved bad reviews, I can't understand it. Both brilliant albums. In my opinion. Get the stars up people.....
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on 10 April 2012
This album by The Shins is a great listen.

There are some really catchy songs, and the musical content of the album continues as it begins with the album opener 'the rifle's spiral' - one of the stand out tracks of the album.

It's also got some very mellow moments, that it's really enjoyable to relax into.

Now for the 'less-good' news. Listening to the album on some not especially expensive headphones, I found it hard to listen to the album all the way through. My ears were hurting due to the sound quality.

Doing some googling, I was quite shocked to find on one website, that the album had been measured with a dynamic range of 'six', which basically meant the levels had been pushed really high at the recording stage - that this was why I found it so difficult to enjoy. To put it in perspective, other albums on the website I discovered had a range of 11-14 - cutting through it, twice the audio quality.

When recording quality is sacrificed like this, it becomes very hard to enjoy the beautiful aspects of this album, and it's truly killing me to say it, because I love this album.

Hopefully, they'll re-release the tracks in the future on some kind of greatest-hits and re-master them at the time.

I'm a bit gutted to be honest.
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on 31 March 2012
Finally! a shins album with good production. apart from new slang (which got the special treatment), the rest of their first album sounded thin and weedy to me. 2nd album the same, which was frustrating as i was aware they had some great songs. things improved on wincing, and it is much improved here - well balanced lush and full sounds.

Song-wise, it's choc full of james mercer's great melodies and hooks as you would hope for. the new band are very good, if slightly generic (imagine a band who are all session musicians).

Also, i like playing the songs in reverse order - for some reason i think the album works better that way.
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on 19 March 2012
I'm slightly dissappointed that this is all I can say about a Shins album, but then both Inverted World and Wincing were growers for me so I might come back feeling great about it in a few days or weeks.

The first two tracks made me feel like this was going to be another Wincing the night away. Melodic, catchy, full of Shins composition cues, and even a bit rockier than I expected. I heard Simple Song on the radio before I bought this album and thought 'Oh my God, there's a Shins CD I've missed'.

And that's kind of the problem for me. It's good but I don't think it's that fresh. It doesn't sound like 5 years have passed since Wincing.

After a so so mid section it picked up again briefly with Fall of 82 and 40 Mark Strasse. Then I found the final and titular Port of Morrow track started slightly remeniscent of Broken Bells. So overall, doesn't burn as brightly as Wincing, and doesn't approach the same cohesiveness as Inverted World. But then what does?
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on 9 May 2012
Let's start by saying 'Chutes Too Narrow' was my favourite Shins album before this one came out, and still is. I don't know many fans of The Shins; the ones I do know don't share my view that 'Chutes' is their best by far.
So maybe you shouldn't listen to me. Maybe, if Wincing the Night Away, or Oh, Inverted World float your musical boat, this latest will be the perfect thing. But I find it lacks the fizz and foam of 'Chutes, so that while it doesn't offend me at all, I don't get any excitement from it.
Just a bit 'meh'.
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on 8 May 2012
Five years and two band members down since the last joyful release from The Shins, but on-form, long awaited, and loyally we are finally exposed to album number four.

James Mercer once again, efficiently delivers his well thought out and consistently good lyrics, the album seems too simple in places which adds to it's charm. Simplicity is something Mercer clearly enjoys playing with, the second track on this album called cheekily "simple song" is great sounding bubble-gum pop song that feels like they consumed the entire eighties and nineties indie genre and compressed it until it became a diamond. I don't think it is album is going to satisfy die hard shins fans because it seems to be the beginning of a new direction for this great band. I have really taken to this album and it will most certainly be in my long play car list....

The album has a vibe to it that flows quite naturally through the play list, the great opening track "The Rifle's Spiral" seem most like a traditional shins track and interestingly this album concludes with the title track "Port of Morrow" which seems furthest from their core sound, it seems progressive and exquisitely over-produced, it's has a swishy, flange almost ethereal conclusion. I think this may be a great direction for Mercer who may be enjoying the freedom of taking the shins forward into new places and developing musically into something awesome and original, this is growth in a very exciting direction.

If you don't believe me ignore the album and just listen to the bonus track "pariah king" which is amazing.... It has everything 2012 needs, spade loads of it !
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on 21 January 2013
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on 11 September 2012
I really love this album. By far the best Shins album to date. If sacking your band is what it takes to produce an album of this quality then the guy was totally vindicated.
It's obvious that he is the talent. He is The Shins.
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