Album Review: The Shins, Heartworm

Triumphant return to form from James Mercer-led troupe

The Shins has basically been a James Mercer-led project since the songwriter parted ways with the original line-up after 2007’s Wincing The Night Away. The last few years have seen Mercer collaborate with Danger Mouse in Broken Bells, as well as releasing 2012’s Grammy-nominated long-player Port Of Morrow with an assembled cast of regular and guest musicians. On Heartworms, the singer utilises the same template here with impressive results. In fact, the album should be called Ear Worms, as it is a supremely compelling collection of post-punk and electro-pop gems.

Opener ‘Name For You’ is an XTC-esque call for female empowerment inspired by Mercer’s three daughters, while ‘Painting A Hole’ is a darker proposition with squelching synths (bringing to mind former Brixton indie darlings Clor). Throughout the album – which also has echoes of other synth luminaries such as Devo and Erasure – Mercer noticeably moves out of familiar territory on the lyrical front. ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Rubber Balls’ are vividly drawn character portraits, while ‘Mildenhall’ is a personal reflection on adolescent angst in England and finding redemption in the music of The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Mercer’s vision, both in terms of content and sonic direction, is simultaneously fresh and somewhat nostalgic. Excellent.

 

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