The Shins are not a prolific group, disappearing for long stretches when main man James Mercer has other things, such as his team-up with Danger Mouse, Broken Bells (QRO album review). It’s been over a decade since Zach Braff had Natalie Portman introducing the band to the world in Garden State (Braff even had a crowd-funded follow-up that was less successful, but still had a great soundtrack, with The Shins – QRO review) but now comes the band’s fifth album, Heartworms. While it has the basic Shins that you’re looking for, it also has other stuff, and doesn’t grab as powerfully as previous material.
Now, to be fair, The Shins have always done quality over quantity, with post-Garden records Port of Morrow (QRO review) and Wincing the Night Away (QRO review) keeping up Mercer’s high accomplishments. Heartworms has Mercer’s higher tones and charming songwriting; indeed, it’s a sunnier album than before. But instead of perfect indie-pop/rock songs, we get excursions into psych (“Painting a Hole”, “Dead Alive”) and synthesizers (“Cherry Hearts”, “Half a Million”). All fine and enjoyable, but not the greatness that The Shins are capable of.
There are two standout tracks, the stronger high carry of single “So Now What” and Mercer’s very memorable ditty about his adolescent discovery of music, “Mildenhall”. Maybe more greatness was part of the high expectations; it’s just nice to have The Shins back again.