The Shins

Heartworms

James Mercer and company are back after a five-year hiatus with an album that triumphantly returns to their indie-pop primed, psych-folk spangled, surf-tinged rock. Ever since “New Slang” and Garden State, The Shins have been at the forefront of indie stardom, but commercial success has never taken its toll on their versatility or their sound. Heartworms is a testament to this.

“Name for You” opens the album with a swaggering surf groove, a pleasantly prominent cow bell, chiming guitar strums, bouncing and boisterous keys and Mercer’s signature heartening wail atop the mix. It all adds up to an album opener that cheerfully and tactfully sets the stage for what’s to come.

The second track, “Painting a Hole,” builds off a backbone Krautrock beat that clangs, pulses, booms and buzzes as Mercer’s voice echoes out into some cavernous expanse. 

The third track, “Cherry Hearts,” comes in with phasered, dub-inflected electronics, chiming tones, wavering and wobbly keys and a chorus with Mercer bellowing “You kissed me once, while we were drunk,” a refrain that might come off as cheesy with other less capable acts, but The Shins pull it off without question.

“Mildenhall,” the fifth track on the album, is a mid-album folk-fueled ditty that takes the tempo down to a slowed saunter, with almost a country feel to it. Mercer sings of some stories in a life that got them to where they are now. It’s a calm and cool break before picking up the pace again.

“Dead Alive” and “So Now What,” the eighth and penultimate tracks on the album, however different in approach and style and effect, bring home the signature sound The Shins are known for, while still feeling fresh and new.

The fact that so much can be said about every song on this album proves that The Shins are still on the right path. Every track on this album holds its own irreplaceable space, and, like the album cover, each song bursts with colour and elasticity, taking multiple forms and shapes, and keeps you mesmerized in its swelling, soothing, psychedelic embrace.

- Chris Bryson

Published in Volume 71, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 23, 2017)

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