This past month, The Shins released their first album since 2012 and their fifth overall, titled Heartworms.
Though the name still remains, The Shins are now only composed of front man James Mercer, who released Heartworms in much the same way as his other LP Oh, Inverted World in 2001: self-produced and recorded. Though The Shins hit their peak during the indie-craze of the mid 2000s, Heartworms is a strong return for the band.
If you were a fan of indie music in the mid-2000s, this album will take you back. The Shins know how to conjure that nostalgic style.
Heartworms contains tracks that are a mix of both the upbeat pop-punk vibe of some of their old songs like “Australia,” and the somber musings of others, like their old “New Slang.”
The first track, “Name For You,” opens the album up on a high note, featuring Mercer bopping along to the rhythmic strums of an electric guitar. According to an interview with NPR, Mercer said the he wrote the song as a sort of empowerment ode to his daughters. Featuring lines like, “You’ve played the mother and wife/But what do you really dream of at night?” Mercer encapsulates an upbeat optimism on this track.
The last track of the album ends on a much different note than the first. Titled “The Fear,” Mercer uses it to discuss his struggles with anxiety. The instrumentals are moody and somber, with a sad acoustic guitar composing the backbone of the rhythm. Mercer floats along on the vocals, waxing poetic about the loss of love.
Heartworms, as you can tell from the variety of the songs above, does not have a solid theme to its musical musings but works as an all-encompassing musical ode to growing old but holding on to optimism at the same time. Tracks like “Mildenhall,” conjure up a twangy reminiscence of Mercer’s nomadic youth, while “Dead Alive” rocks along to the lyrics about the complex nature of nostalgia.
The album is not all predictable sounds, however. The Shins take a step out of their usual indie alternative-rock bubble and experiment more with the electronic side of sound.
In the second track, “Painting a Hole,” the synth keys run up and down in the background while the bass guitar pounds out a beat behind the aggressive strums of the electric guitar. It is one of the most unique tracks on the entire album and was likely a risk for Mercer but turned out to be a strong new foray into a different sound for the band.
Heartworms will likely stir some angst up in your soul. It is a throwback to the alternative sounds of youth and works well as ambient study music or a soundtrack to contemplate the deeper questions of life.
With just the right mix of upbeat and sober, Mercer proves that The Shins are still relevant, even if we are not all angsty teenagers anymore.