Album Of The Month: March (Plus Special Bonus Album)

Port Of MorrowThe Shins

I’m going to be honest here; March wasn’t much of a month for new releases. I could probably count on one hand the number of new albums I listened to throughout the month. So this is somewhat of an inevitable pick. I’m a big fan of the Shins: I own their previous three albums on vinyl, I went to see them in concert the last time they were in town several years back, I even had one of their t-shirts that I used to wear quite a bit before it got a little rundown and tattered. But I can’t disguise the fact that if there was even one other release this month that captured my attention, it would have replaced this new Shins album as my pick in a heartbeat.

All that makes it sound like I don’t like the album, which definitely isn’t the case. It’s a perfectly solid album, a breezy 10-song collection of harmless and enjoyable pop tunes with a running length just over 40 minutes. My problem with it is that it isn’t anything more than that. Now, I’m normally perfectly happy with a solid collection of pop tunes, but with the Shins the situation is a little different. It’s been five years since the last Shins album, Wincing The Night Away, and forgive me for expecting that such a long layoff between albums should have yielded a much more sonically-interesting and challenging work. Wincing The Night Away had its share of strange stylistic flourishes, and James Mercer’s 2010 side-album with Danger Mouse Broken Bells hinted at some interesting new directions. But with the exception of the final song, a song that would have fit right in on the Broken Bells album, Port Of Morrow feels surprisingly safe. There are still some extremely catchy melodies, and the production is impeccable, but I can’t help feeling like the Shins needed to deliver more after five long years. So this ends up not being the strongest pick;  hopefully April will yield a better result.

I’d actually like to switch gears for a short while and talk about an album that I’ve only recently discovered. The album is:

Dark Night Of The SoulDanger Mouse & Sparklehorse

This is one of many albums I’ve had just lying around on my computer for the past few years without giving the proper chance. At the time I first downloaded it, there was no actual physical release scheduled, due to some unspecified legal issues. I remember being interested in it because of its amazing guest list: Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, Frank Black of the Pixies, and James Mercer of the Shins, among others, including Iggy Pop and filmmaker David Lynch. That’s a hell of a lineup, but for some reason I never bothered actually listening to the damn thing until last night. On the one hand, I’m extremely glad that I finally gave this amazing album a listen, but at the same time I’m kicking myself for holding out on it for so long.

Up above, I took the Shins to task for essentially making a nice, inoffensive pop album. Well, I’m now going to turn around and praise Dark Night Of The Soul for the same thing. Despite the towering guest list, the most enjoyable aspect of the album is how modest it is. If you’ve ever heard a Sparklehorse album, it fits right in to that kind of style: a nice mixture of folk/pop and experimental textures. Sadly, this was the last album that Sparklehorse front-man Mark Linkous worked on before committing suicide in 2010. His presence throughout the album, as well as the presence of Vic Chesnutt, who took his own life only a few months before Linkous, give the album an appropriately melancholy feel. Still though, it’s nowhere near a hard listen, and fans of any of the artists mentioned, or really just quality music in general, should give this a try.

Baseball is about to start up, so in the next day or so I’m going to try and provide my division picks for the 2012 season. Until next time.

It looks like Youtube has every song from both albums available. Here’s a small sampling of some highlights:

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About Andrew Alan Ramseyer

I am a Phoenix resident and I graduated from Arizona State University in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Film and Media Studies, and from Northern Arizona University in 2013 with an English Masters degree and an emphasis on Professional Writing. The real world made sure that I would need to continue schooling in other areas, but I still love watching films and writing about films. Maybe someday I'll be able to do something film-related on a professional level, but for now I'm content with writing for myself and for others, who hopefully find my thoughts worthwhile.
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