This is Music Mondays, a weekly list of music recommendations. Rather than doing the normal recommendations, I’ll be reviewing a new album this week. Is it worthy of its own recommendation? Read on to find out!
The Shins, “Heartworms” Review
The Shins have returned after a five year hiatus with their brand new LP, “Heartworms”. The album finds The Shins experimenting with new sub-genres in pop, while still retaining their fun and playful indie rock sound.
The Shins have always been a bright shining star in indie rock. Amidst the moodier hard rock in the genre, The Shins’ fun, Beach Boys-inspired sound have made the band stand out since their big debut in 2001 with “Oh, Inverted World”.
“Heartworms” keeps The Shins’ signature pop sound, while adding genre influences like psychedelia, synth, and even country to their wheelhouse. Not all of these experiments work out, and end up making the album seem somewhat unfocused compared to their previous records, which had more of a definitive pop sound.
The album’s opening track “Name for You” is a great single and the most catchy song on the album. “Heartworms,” as a whole, lacks the big, stop-in-your-tracks single like “Simple Song” (from 2012’s “Port of Morrow”) or “Australia” (from 2007’s “Wincing the Night Away”), but “Name for You” still has a toe-tapping use of percussion, and even gets a little funky with its use of guitars.
“Painting a Hole”, the second track, features some elements of psychedelic pop and a more “rock” sound than is typical for The Shins. This particular experiment with psychedelia is the worst of The Shins’ new sounds, but is still pretty good. The song is a bit long, and is certainly not one of the album’s best, but it gets better with each listen.
This can be said for “Heartworms” in its entirety. James Mercer, the singer, songwriter, and overall frontman for The Shins, has packed each song with his famously dense and creative lyrics. Wrapping your head around each song’s different sound, and then its lyrics, is a task that requires multiple listens, but most songs make it worth the effort.
My favorite songs on “Heartworms” are the third and fourth tracks, “Cherry Hearts” and “Fantasy Island”. They both use synth pop in different ways, with “Cherry Hearts” being a more upbeat track about a drunk night out, while “Fantasy Island” is a slower song that finds Mercer in a retrospective mood.
“Mildenhall” finds The Shins fusing country with its pop sound. Mercer sings of how he became a musician, reflecting on his time with his father and the first time he picked up a guitar. While the more mellow sound is jarring at first, this song is a pleasant break from the typical upbeat songs on the record.
This is another critique that can be made at “Heartworms”. It lacks the slower, more peaceful tracks that can be found in the second half of other albums from the band like “Wincing the Night Away”. The penultimate song “So Now What” slows it down slightly and the final track “The Fear” succeeds in ending the album on a slower note, but these songs are never as interesting, melancholic, or nostalgic as songs like “A Comet Appears” or “Black Wave” from the aforementioned “Wincing the Night Away”.
After “Mildenhall”, the second half of “Heartworms” becomes more forgettable than its first. While songs like “Rubber Ballz” and “Half a Million” are good and quite catchy, “Dead Alive” and the title track “Heartworms” in particular do not stand out among the other tracks.
“Heartworms” will not win over any new fans for The Shins. While it changes the band’s sound in subtle ways, specifically by adding new elements of pop, it is not the band’s strongest album. New fans are better off checking out albums from the band’s earlier discography. Songs from “Heartworms” like “Name for You”, “Cherry Hearts”, “Fantasy Island”, and “Mildenhall” are the album’s best tracks, and do not need the rest of the record to be great. Overall, “Heartworms” is good, but not great, pop, but is certainly worth checking out if you are a fan of brighter, more fun indie rock.