It’s been five years since we’ve heard any new music from the Shins, and James Mercer (the band’s founder and sole remaining original member), seems to have grown a tad nostalgic during his time away. Heartworms, the group’s fifth studio album, finds the band exploring themes of his past, looking back on memories with a charming blend of reflective melancholy and youthful jubilance. The outcome is a delightful collection of heartwarming tunes.

The album’s stellar opening track, “Name For You” is reminiscent of the group’s earlier work, featuring a bubbly chord progression, and a catchy chorus accompanied by pointed lyrics which take aim at the vapid notion of the ideal housewife.

Later in the album, on the synth-laden “Fantasy Island”, Mercer recalls a time in his life where it was easier to ignore his feelings, and wallow in self-pity – “I don’t want to show you my feelings/I don’t want to bore you to death”, he sings wistfully. Meanwhile, on the more country-inclined, “Mildenhall”, Mercer takes us through a family relocation to England during his childhood (his father was in the U.S Air Force), realizing how it’s lead him to become the person he is today.

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Elsewhere, the Shins try their hand at expanding their sound into heavier territory on “Half a Million”, and succeed largely thanks to an appealingly foot-tapping chorus. Lyrically, Mercer struggles with the person he’d like to be and the reality of who he is. I’d love to hear the band indulge themselves and go heavier a little more often.

The album winds down in a satisfyingly simple way with “The Fear”. The song features lovely accompaniments on the mandolin and the violin, which beautifully complements the lyrics’ lament of the paralyzing power of fear.

Aside from a couple of exceptions (“Half a Million”, “Painting a Hole”), Heartworms doesn’t change much of the formula that has made the Shins so successful and beloved. However, it features some marvelously layered instrumentation and vocals – not to mention thoughtful lyrical revelations – and is ultimately a sheer pleasure to experience.

Best Tracks:

  • Fantasy Island
  • Mildenhall
  • Half a Million
  • The Fear
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