Top Songs of 2012 – #2
My second favorite song of the year comes from my second favorite album, The Shins’ Port of Morrow. Singer/songwriter James Mercer outdid himself on this album, shedding the backing musicians who’d accompanied him on the previous Shins albums then crafting the band’s best work yet.
Though Port of Morrow‘s songs run the gamut content-wise, its finest moment belongs to the most old-fashioned topic of all — the love song.
The Shins’ most recent album, Port of Morrow, is chock full of excellent songs about a wide and fascinating range of topics. One in particular, ‘Fall of ’82,’ stands out for me because it’s an ode to singer-songwriter James Mercer’s older sister.
These lyrics remind me very much of my relationship with my own sister, who was always my first and best confidant. It’s a relationship I see mirrored in her own children, who are also five years apart, a younger brother and older sister.
Entering Week Five of the never-ending musical genome project, I arrive at The Shins.
This is a band that straddles across two of my broad categories — Pure Pop and Melancholy. In fact, on some of their albums it appears as if it’s their mission to do exactly that, as upbeat pop songs alternate with contemplative, somber mood pieces.
Until I heard the album that sits on top of this list (only a few weeks ago), I didn’t think anything would unseat The Shin’s Port of Morrow as my favorite album of the year.
This is the band’s fourth album and far and away their best, though if you listen to many of their fans you’ll hear just the opposite. For some people, the presence of monster hooks and indelible choruses is somehow a bad thing.
The Shins are a group I very much think of as an album band… their quirky pop is so meticulous and off-kilter that it’s hard to imagine it being performed live. So this clip from The Late Show with David Letterman came as a big surprise. Turns out The Shins are a pretty kickass live band.
The one time I joined the live audience of Letterman’s show, I wasn’t lucky enough to see a good band like The Shins. I got a Mongolian throat singer. And the celebrity guest was Richard Simmons. The people who saw The Shins got Ricky Gervais and Forest Whitaker.
If I had to pick one band in my CD collection that I’m not obsessed with but probably should be, it would be The Shins. Listening to their three sublime albums, I never cease to be fascinated by the clever songwriting and offbeat, elegant production.
And they’ve gotten better and better, with the hesitant indie pop of their debut Oh, Inverted World giving way to the more confident Chutes Too Narrow and culminating in Wincing the Night Away, the 2007 album that ranks as one of the best pop records of that decade.
The Shins will probably forever be known as the band Natalie Portman, in the film Garden State, claimed would “change your life.” Just the thought of somebody as irresistibly adorable as Portman flirting with you in a doctor’s office and sharing a “moment” over music is pretty great.
There’s a reason writer-director-star Zach Braff chose The Shins for that scene, and a couple others, in his Gen-X pseudo-masterpiece. Their music is quaint, weird and other-worldly in a way that makes moments like that seem possible. Does it change your life? I’d argue that no song can, but it can sure make your life feel a little brighter for awhile.