2017 Review – Best Vocalist

The votes for Best Vocalist are as follows…

3. Sigrid (15.38%)

2. James Mercer (19.23%)

1. Sampha (34.62%)

The Shins – Heartworms Review 


The Shins rose to prominence during the Indie reflex following The Strokes first two albums; they were much involved in the wider Indie culture after being featured in Zach Braff’s film Garden State in 2004. James Mercer’s 60’s Pop Influences distinguished the group as a laid back band with good lyrical content as opposed to the more frantic style of Kings of Leon or the clean cut sound of The Killers. Their music has since only received gentle nudges in direction that build on Mercer’s vocals and narration as he made bigger musical leaps with his Dangermouse collaboration, Broken Bells. The Shins are back with their new album Heartworms; five years on from their last. Will those years have produced another gentle nudge in style or a wider reinvention?

Their opening single from last year was ‘Dead Alive’ and it indeed shows signs of another gentle nudge in direction with old, whirring keyboards and gentle acoustic chords stringing the song’s rhythm together. Mercer’s casual vocal reverberates across the simple instrumentation as the song slips into phases of early psychedelics of The Beatles or The Zombies. It is a enjoyable track and is warm with familiarity in spite of the odd shift. It would be nice for Mercer to blow this sound out of the water, but with The Shins he’s quite happy to cruise along nicely. Stylistically ‘Name For You’ features more subtle differences to their sound, but the Indie driven Sixties melodies remain with this track. These swaying rhythms are tinged with high pitched piano chords and are strung together with James Mercer’s energetic and easy vocals. As usual, Mercer’s storytelling is the product of their trusted musical base. This song is just another Shins song that’ll make up another Shins album, but it’s their familiarity that makes them so accessible as this track demonstrates, they keep each song engaging. ‘So Now What’ was written off the back of the latest Broken Bells album in 2014 and featured on another Zach Braff film ‘Wish You Were Here’. Here James Mercer has written a typically dreamy and floating piece of indie pop through The Shins gazing delivery. Light and airy synths chime to open the track as Mercer’s echoing and ranging vocal alights the song to even higher destinations. The floating and motion slowing chorus is pulled back down slightly in the verse and bridge with close jangling and lightly charged riffs; Mercer’s vocals swinging lower tonally before being lifted back up into the air by the time the chorus arrives. It’s the ultimate daydreamers song and a beautiful song at that.

‘Painting a Hole’ and ‘Cherry Hearts’ are two of several tracks on the album where they bolt on some electronica and more elaborate production to their songs. Bolt on being the operative word as fundamentally they’re still recognisable Shins songs. The former is has cascading percussion with heavily distorted rhythms and wiry synths behind them. Short stabbbing riffs interspersed between it all and faded, howling backing vocals keep the song urgent and of course Mercer takes command of these new surroundings with an assured vocal. The latter is a more blocky faux eighties style with bouncing synths and jangling, wiry rhythms. In some way it isn’t too dissimilar to the sugary electro Pop of Tegan and Sara’s latest album, albeit a little less effective. ‘Rubber Ballz’ is a more typical song with basic electronic additions and is a song that takes on an impression of a latin acoustic style in the verses with a pepped up Indie in the chorus. ‘Half A Million’ is a fast paced and joyful Indie pop track that Brandon Flowers circa 2004 would be proud of. The title track is a slow burning acoustic track where Mercer’s rambling lyrics make the song onto a swooning chorus. Heartworms is another example of The Shins not tripping up basically. It is familiar and retains all their best Pop and Indie qualities with regards to lyrics, vocals and melodies. They trial some different production methods and play with electronica and effects on certain tracks and these are a pleasant surprise, even if they all don’t work as well as they could. This is not album of the year and it won’t be picking up any awards, but it has its own warmth and eccentric beauty that only The Shins can deliver. 

The Shins – Heartworms = 8/10

Owen Riddle 

Single Review – The Shins – Name For You

The established Albuquerque Indie group are to release their fifth studio album Heartworms on March 10th and this week have released the second single from it with ‘Name For You’. Stylistically there are subtle differences to their sound, but the Indie driven Sixties melodies remain with this track. These swaying rhythms are tinged with high pitched piano chords and are strung together with James Mercer’s energetic and easy vocals. As usual, Mercer’s storytelling is the product of their trusted musical base. This song is just another Shins song that’ll make up another Shins album, but it’s their familiarity that makes them. When other acts try to be dark and edgy, they remain joyful, direct and much loved. 

Owen Riddle 

Single Review – The Shins – Dead Alive

The Shins rose to prominence during the Indie reflex following The Strokes first two albums; they were much involved in the wider Indie culture after being featured in Zach Braff’s film Garden State in 2004. James Mercer’s 60’s Pop Influences distinguished the group as a laid back band with good lyrical content as opposed to the more frantic style of Kings of Leon or the clean cut sound of The Killers. Their music has since only received gentle nudges in direction that build on Mercer’s vocals and narration as Mercer made bigger musical leaps with his Dangermouse collaboration, Broken Bells. The Shins are back with a new album I Gleek On Your Grave for early next year. It will have been five years since their last album by that point. 

Their new single ‘Dead Alive’ shows signs of another gentle nudge in direction with old, whirring keyboards and gentle acoustic chords stringing the song’s rhythm together. Mercer’s casual vocal reverberates across the simple instrumentation as the song slips into phases of early psychedelics of The Beatles or The Zombies. It is a enjoyable track and is warm with familiarity in spite of the odd shift. It would be nice for Mercer to blow this sound out of the water, but with The Shins he’s quite happy to cruise along nicely and I for one, can’t find a problem with that. 

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Broken Bells – It’s That Talk Again

The more than capable combination of James Mercer and Brian Burton (Dangermouse) have unveiled their first new track since Broken Bell’s second album After the Disco last year. ‘It’s That Talk Again’ is to accompany their recorded performance Live at the Orpheum which is available tomorrow. It is a track that has a confident and strident groove to it from the swift moving bass lines with distorted synths laying a light mist behind them. James Mercer explores most of his brilliant vocal range again in a track that isn’t too different from Tame Impala’s recent effort aesthetically and shows that even with a smaller track such as this, they can deliver a brilliant piece of sonically charged Space Rock.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Sunday Suggestion – The Shins – So Now What?

James Mercer of The Shins and Broken Bells produced a contribution to the soundtrack of Zack Braff’s kickstarter film ‘Wish I Was Here’. It’s a reunion of sorts between the two with both gaining a lot of attention for the film ‘Garden State’ and this soundtrack for this film also includes Bon Iver, Coldplay and Cat Power as Braff looked to make the music an integral part of the film. Off the back of a very solid Broken Bells album with Danger Mouse; James Mercer had written a typically dreamy and floating piece of indie pop to the film through The Shins gazing delivery. Light and airy synths chime to open the track as Mercer’s echoing and ranging vocal to light the song even higher into the clouds. The floating and motion slowing chorus is tugged back down slightly in the verse and bridge with close jangling and lightly charged riffs and Mercer’s swinging lower tonally before being lifted back up into the air by the time the chorus arrives. It’s the ultimate daydreamers song.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Sunday Suggestion – Broken Bells – Perfect World

Broken Bells are the joining of The Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse a.k.a Brian Burton who released their second studio After the Disco album in January last year. It was a follow up to their self titled debut in 2010 and it had furthered their earlier forays into space rock and all out retro pop in everything from the album’s packaging to James Mercer’s falsetto’s. The third single off the album is the six minute plus ‘Perfect World’. It’s a gentle and softly produced track, yet one that has a rapid and infectious rhythm along with it. These are accentuated by the flashing and shimmering synths and electronica whilst being anchored by the rumbling bass line. The enthused backing vocals add to the basic sing-a-long factor and the perfectly placed guitar solo shreds through the soft edges of the track with ease. The song is brought back up to speed from it’s more considered interludes by the driving percussion from Brian Burton that’s built upon a warped and echoed effect to further round off the soft edges of the track. All in all it’s a song that isn’t pushing the boundaries but one that has been tweaked and manipulated to great effect. What Broken Bells have so far done with ease.

This Week’s Music Video with Pharrell Willians feat Daft Punk, Broken Bells, Caribou, Ty Segall and Wampire

Single Review – The Shins – So Now What

James Mercer of The Shins and Broken Bells returns with a contribution to the soundtrack of Zack Braff’s kickstarter film ‘Wish I Was Here’. It’s a reunion of sorts between the two with both gaining a lot of attention for the film ‘Garden State’ and this soundtrack for this film also includes Bon Iver, Coldplay and Cat Power as Braff looked to make the music an integral part of the film. Off the back of a very solid Broken Bells album with Danger Mouse; James Mercer has now written a typically dreamy and floating piece of indie pop to the film through The Shins gazing delivery. Light and airy synths chime to open the track as Mercer’s echoing and ranging vocal to light the song even higher into the clouds. The floating and motion slowing chorus is tugged back down slightly in the verse and bridge with close jangling and lightly charged riffs and Mercer’s swinging lower tonally before being lifted back up into the air by the time the chorus arrives. It’s the ultimate daydreamers song.

Broken Bells – After The Disco Review

Broken Bells is the continuing project between James Mercer of The Shins and Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse. Their self titled debut from 2010 was an all round success culminating in a Grammy nomination and showcasing their combined melodic, yet experimental efforts. They look set to continue in this vain with their upcoming second offering After The Disco. It is an offering that has largely been unexpected but with their combined talents surely have to produce results. After The Disco does effectively what it says in a fusion of erm… Disco, Funk, Soul, Space Rock, Electronica, Pop. Is it an overload of the senses? Maybe, but get it right and it could be a fantastic new and interesting sound.

‘Holding On For Life’ was the first track that they revealed back last year. Beginning with a slow and weighty bass line with thin electronic and acoustic elements; the song then gradually builds up with James Mercer’s step by step increase of his falsetto which culminates with a chorus Barry Gibb would be proud of. He ability to switch back to his normal vocal is quite impressive too and it shows the great vocal range that he has. It is a great bit of Disco and Pop indulgence but organised into something more profound in terms of the overall progression of the song and with the production. The title track itself is perhaps a broken reflection of the first. There is a much more urgent rhythm and groove with the synths spilling off from it. James’ vocals are isolated well to sit atop the instrumentals and allows him to push his voice to it’s limits even if he’s toned down the Bee Gees style falsetto from ‘Holding On For Life’. This track is also a far more catchy and melodic space rock affair as opposed to the disco ballad of the first track. The instrumentals are fluid as one but are not so separate as to devoid of any space and movement the track has. When the vocals are added then it greases the wheels of the track even more for greater motion and a greater melodic kick.

‘Lazy Wonderland’ almost sounds like a tribute to George Harrison with a slight peculiar twang on top of the steady acoustic sound and so creating a mild, spaced out sound. Not entirely original but varying the tone of the song while retaining its feel. ‘Perfect World’ is a driving piece of electronic mastery with the churning bass and the rapid synths. It’s an unashamed piece of synth pop and the vocals traditionally match it. The guitar solos grind and shred their way through the rhythms in the same way until it fades into a slower and more subtle interlude. A great way to open the album. ‘Control’ has the groove and melodic tendencies that the whole album seems to have and may be a slightly weaker track in that sense as little else is done with it. ‘No Matter What You’re Told’ are more guitar founded and put a different angle on the melodic twist and turns the album has. The album flows excellently and is consistent in it’s aims. Though the groovy, funky and glimmering feel begins to wain on the odd song; they generally manage to rejig much of the set feel in various tones and methods. Beyond that it is just a fantastic piece of melody and pop. For that they can’t be faulted.

Broken Bells – After The Disco = 8/10