Artist Discovery: Paste Magazine & The Shins

Each week up until the Festival, we’re bringing you a closer look — from the best music bloggers out there — at the wide range of talent hitting the Lolla stages in Chicago. Whether you learn a little bit more about your favorite artists or discover a new band you want to check out in August, think of the series as a Lolla teaser! This week’s feature comes from Paste Magazine’s Tyler Kane. The Shins are a band that hardly need an introduction. After all, James Mercer and co. were the subject of one of the more memorable music recommendations in recent film history. Yes, they’re the same act that Natalie Portman introduced to the theater-going world in 2004’s Garden State after she tugged headphones over Zach Braff’s head and said “You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear.” “It had a huge impact on my life,” Mercer told us in 2007 about the plug. “We more than doubled our fan base.” But if that film was your only encounter with The Shins, you’ve missed out on a lot. By the time Portman’s character was on the big screen spinning “New Slang” from The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World, the band had already released a fantastic follow-up album in real life. That album was 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow, which earned its place as our 24th best album of the last decade with inspired tracks like “Kissing the Lipless” and “So Says I.” It was also that decade that saw the band move away from the lo-fi roots they established on the home-recorded Oh, Inverted World and progress into a cleaner, more accessible sound. That’s when we first featured the band on our cover, just before the release of their third album, Wincing the Night Away. It was a transitional period for the band, with Mercer and the band making a move from their native New Mexico to Portland, Ore. The album featured what would become breakthrough singles in “Australia” and “Phantom Limb.” “A lot of this stuff was written before I had fallen in love with [my wife], or was while I was falling in love with her, but I don’t know how to write about that,” Mercer told us. “I know how to be melancholy, but I don’t know how to be joyous.” That was five years ago, and The Shins are now admittedly a different band. For Mercer, that meant marriage, children and an entirely new lineup for his Shins. And for his songwriting, it meant that he was able to express his love a little more clearly. The Shins’ newest album—Port of Morrow, which was released this year on Columbia Records—features a single titled “Simple Song,” a track that Mercer dubbed his love song to his wife. It’s undeniably Port of Morrow’s standout track, solidified by sugary pop hooks and production that makes the track satisfying even after repeat listens. With the band’s latest output, it’s an exciting time to be a Shins fan, and we’re happy to be along for the ride.