The moment every teenage boy or young adult fell in love with the inescapable and utopically adorable Sam in Zach Braff‘s debut feature film Garden State (2004), they also fell in love with The Shins, a then underground indie folk band with catchy, significant melodies and a haunting timbre in one James Mercer‘s voice that made them ever-present and impossible to miss.
As they became an important character in an iconic film for an entire generation of angsty, insecure kids, they also became one of the staple bands of the early and mid naughts parties, car CD players, University headphones and College radio stations. They became somewhat of a cultural icon with their debut album Oh, Inverted World (2001, Sub Pop) and their sophomore Chutes Too Narrow (2003, Sub Pop), which catapulted them from underground indie band from Albuquerque to one of the most recognizable names in indie almost overnight.
Now they’re back with Heartworms (2017, Columbia), their fifth studio album and their first since Port Of Morrow (2012, Aural Apothecary, Columbia). A first glance provides enough evidence to confirm that they still bring their signature sound to the floor and, with James Mercer as producer, the end result is a very pure Shins experience. The album is a welcome break from all the “whoa-oh” anthemic indie that’s been the norm in later years (thanks, Mumford and Sons).
Now, before I start waxing lyrical all over, let’s get one thing out of the way: Heartworms is not The Shins’ greatest moment. It may have some flaws and it lacks the definitory song that makes it stand out from its predecessors. The songwriting isn’t as emotional or evocative as some would wish for, and at times it seems Mercer has borrowed a page from his Broken Bells project and dressed it in Shins clothing. That being said, the album is pretty good and lives up to the usual standards we are used to from these guys. The melodic choruses, the haunting layered vocals, the subtle keys over a sea of acoustic goodness encompass a joyful and welcome listening experience.
I’ve always found it amazing what being in the right place at the right time can do for someone. The Shins are perfect examples of making good of a good situation and taking the chances when they present themselves. What’s better, they rarely disappoint, and this time, they simply don’t. They celebrate more than twenty years as a band with a purposeful and strong album. They, at the core of it all, are also the guys falling in love with the impossible girl while waiting at the doctor’s office. They feel so familiar to us because they are us, in a way.
Listen to Heartworms below.