For the first time in five years since 2012‘s Port of Morrow, The Shins have returned to the studio to release Heartworms. Well removed from Chutes Too Narrow, New Slang, and Wincing the Night Away…this album struggles to make the good on the notion of these past successes. Outside of a few choice songs, most of the album is rather unremarkable.

“Name For You” is a rather catchy opening track, with an eclectic collection of sounds and James Mercer’s spectacular voice ranging beautifully as usual. Mercer wrote this track, aptly for the story of naming his daughter.“Painting a Hole” opens a dimension not yet seen from The Shins, a heavily synthesized bass and quick guitar chords along with relatively choppy beat evokes an 80’s experience that feels generic and out of place.

Nearly the same description applies to the following song “Cherry Hearts”, sans the disjointed beat. And also the next song, “Fantasy Island”…  until next comes “Mildenhall”, one of the few strong songs.

Inspired by frontman James Mercer’s childhood of living on a Royal Air Force Base in Mildenhall near Suffolk, England, the vinyl crackling at the outset gives an extra “story element” to this tune as does the low-octave tone of Mercer, widely regarded across the music industry for his beautiful tenor and range.

“Dead Alive” captures The Shins essence that propelled the group into the forefront of the mid-2000’s indie-rock scene, catchy bass lines with swift guitar chords and Mercer’s voice seeming to cascade down from a balcony. The short banjo addition during the refrain and intermittently after is perfectly implemented.

As far as a title track “Heartworms” is quite forgettable. It is over nearly as it begins and it feels like nothing really happens in between. Fortunately, it is not the final track, “The Fear” holds that distinction and likely for good reason. It is arguably the best track on the album, as a sublime cacophony of a plethora of instruments integrates seamlessly together. From strings, ukuleles, harmonicas, and bongos amongst the traditional instruments, combine to create a tranquil conclusion.

Writing some of these specific critiques is difficult, as a fan of the group for over a decade (especially “Sea Legs”…what a tune!) it would be remiss to identify this record outside the context of the four other releases. Those four LPs, mentioned in the opening paragraph, set a high standard for The Shins. It would be unreasonable to expect them to release masterful full-length albums every single time. At the same time, it would be irresponsible not to mention that this album falls short of the rest of The Shins collection.

To pre-order Heartworms due out tomorrow, click here!

The Shins will be performing an intimate show at The El Rey Theatre tomorrow, March 10th. Tickets for the concert were sold in a lottery format therefore not tickets are available online or at the door.

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