The Shins set a high bar from the start. The indie-rock group’s first two albums, 2001’s Oh, Inverted World and 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow, brimmed with quaint, idiosyncratic tunes and aching lyricism — but on subsequent releases, frontman and sole constant member James Mercer has struggled to consistently nail that same potent combo. The band’s recent output — and Mercer’s two collaborative albums with the producer Danger Mouse as Broken Bells — has delivered scattered highlights like 2007’s “Australia,” while serving generally as a clearinghouse for Mercer’s sonic ambitions.
The Shins’ freaky fifth album, Heartworms, teems with psychedelia that’ll please the lava-lamp-and-incense crowd. From Magical Mystery Tour-styled sound effects (“Painting a Hole”) to hypnotic island vibes (“The Fear”), the project contains some of the band’s most adventurous music yet. And songs like “Name For You” and “Cherry Hearts” prove Mercer still pens some of indie-rock’s most addictive pop melodies.Mercer’s lyrical luster has diminished somewhat since the band’s halcyon days, but he still flashes poetic brilliance often on Heartworms: Take “Mildenhall,” a lilting, autobiographical standout about spending his teenage years on an English military base. And clever lines hide throughout the album, like the biting aside on “Half a Million” where Mercer sneers, “I’m just too lazy to make amends.” True to the band’s spirit, but willing to push beyond aesthetically, Heartworms is a rewarding and singular addition to the Shins’ catalog. B+
Mercer’s ode to discovering the Jesus and Mary Chain and teaching himself guitar during teenage years spent on an English military base.
On Heartworms‘ ruminative, tropical closing cut, the Shins construct one of the best soundscapes of their career.