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 

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