The Shins’ ‘Port of Morrow’: A Kraut Rock Record in Disguise?
Well, this should be interesting. According to a recent interview with NPR, James Mercer, the creative driving force behind the Shins, reveals that the band’s new album ‘Port of Morrow,’ due in stores tomorrow (March 20), was inspired by Kraut rock.
This is not as strange as it might appear on the surface. Both Mercer and Greg Kurstin (the male half of the Bird and the Bee), who produced the record, lived in Germany for part of their childhood, and the music from the era struck a chord, as it were. ‘We talked a lot about German bands from the ’70s — Faust and Can, and some of the production work that Brian Eno did in Berlin at that time,’ Mercer explains. This would explain the underpinnings of ‘Simple Song,’ the lead single from ‘Port of Morrow.’ While it has a vintage Mercer vocal hook in the chorus, the instrumentation anchoring that hook contains a busyness that the band had not been previously known for.
And, as it turns out, there is a reason for the change in the band’s sonic approach as well: Mercer blew up the Shins prior to recording ‘Port of Morrow,’ and worked with an entirely new group of musicians. ‘I think I needed to shake up my surroundings in order to get back to a state of mind where I was enthusiastic about recording,’ Mercer says. This enthusiasm has led Mercer to draw inspiration in the studio from some more unlikely places. When deciding what to do with the break of a song, Mercer and Kurstin decided it needed…a horn solo.
‘We were thinking about bands like Steely Dan and Chicago, the sort of classic pop of the ’70s,’ Mercer says. The resulting track, to NPR’s ears, features a solo not unlike one Herb Alpert would have laid down in his prime. Not very Kraut-like, true, but still a revealing detail about what one can expect from ‘Port of Morrow.’
Listen to the Shins’ ‘Point of Morrow’