Some interesting new music out there these days, not the least of which is Port Of Morrow by The Shins. Upon hearing the lead-off single, “Simple Song”, I immediately thought of The Beach Boys. From the production, vocal harmonies and falsetto, to the “Don’t Worry Baby” drum beat (actually a lift of Phil Spector’s “Be My Baby” drum sound) it felt like I was listening to a modern-day Brian Wilson composition. Diving deeper into the album that feeling persists as lead singer, guitarist and main songwriter James Mercer uses a vast array of studio tools to create modern, melodic and multi-layered songs with uplifting melodies that set the backdrop for his moody, albeit at times nonsensical, lyrics.
Just like Wilson did back in the 60’s with The Beach Boys, Mercer has essentially become The Shins, bringing in guest or session musicians to help him craft his musical ideas in the studio. The result is an album full of lush synthesisers and echoing guitars that deliver a modern/indie sound that at the same time sounds like a vintage 70’s AM radio record. There’s also a peppering of assorted horns, organ and percussion that give the ten well-thought out tracks on Port of Morrow a complete sound. There doesn’t seem to be a bar of sound that hasn’t been well-crafted and made to sound as good as it possibly can. Mercer dials in his inner blue-eyed soul on the Daryl Hall-inspired “40 Mark Strasse” and t “Fall of ‘82” sounds like Thin Lizzy doing power-pop. Port Of Morrow is a solid album and don’t be surprised to see it on many 2012 top-10 lists.
Another album which caught my ears this week is Kids In The Street, the fourth studio offering by Stillwater, Oklahoma’s The All-American Rejects. The first thing I noticed about the album was how much lead singer/bassist Tyson Ritter sounded like one of my favorite power-pop singers, Butch Walker. Their voices have a very similar tone and Ritter can definitely deliver some impassioned vocals. He and lead guitar player Nick Wheeler can also right a pretty catchy pop tune as evidenced on album standouts “Beekeeper’s Daughter”, “Walk Over Me” and the title track, which sounds like an 80’s pop throwback. The album is more pop than punk witch is likely thanks to the contributions of producer Greg Wells, who has produced mega-hits for the likes of Adele, Katy Perry and One Republic. This album is definitely worth a listen, but like most releases these days, I find it too long (15 tracks?) and severely disjointed at times. It’s like the band had a ton of ideas and instead of delivering a cohesive product, they just let it all hang out. I’d take 10 really great songs over 15 with filler any day.
I also planned on reviewing Madonna’s latest, MDNA. I tried my best to spend some time listening to the latest from the Material Girl but I found the music utterly unlistenable and uninspiring. Listening to Madonna talk/rap her way through cliché lyrics and catchphrases all set to the tune of what sounds like the Euro-synth and techno beat samples that come standard with Garage Band, just isn’t what I think the 53-year-old legend should be doing. When she does open her mouth to actually sing, there is so much auto-tuning going on that I’d just rather listen to, well, just about anything else.