Published on May 8th, 2017


The Shins’ James Mercer | Credit Marisa Kula

In “Name for You,” the poppy lead single off the Shins’ new album “Heartworms,” frontman James Mercer’s falsetto sounds like a joyful lullaby, making it all too easy to forget that he’s singing about something much more depressing: middle age.

For 15 years, Mercer has grown darker in theme and tone with his lovelorn folk-pop ballads, and that’s especially true on “Heartworms,” the band’s fifth studio album and one that Mercer self-produced and recorded himself. On it, we hear the Shins’ usual endearing brand of introspective lo-fi, but also Mercer at his most nostalgic as he cycles through songs that recall his teenage songwriting and present-day anxieties about growing older. Reflected on “Heartworms,” Mercer’s first original material in five years, are new changes to the Shins’ ever-evolving lineup (he fired his original bandmates in 2009), including a new guitarist, drummer and keyboardist.

Still, Mercer is a one-man band these days, and the songs capture him at his most vulnerable. On “Painting a Hole,” his distorted voice wavers over psychedelic synths and an electrified dulcimer as he describes creating a “mental hideaway” by literally painting a hole in the wall. But much of the album’s 11 tracks bend toward the autobiographical: The bouncy, country-tinged origin story “Mildenhall” revisits Mercer’s Army-brat youth when his father moved the family from New Mexico to England, while the final “Heartworms” track, “The Fear,” tackles his loner anxiety head-on. Ingrained in all of these songs is a thrill for reverb-soaked experimentation, still not lost on the guy who shot into the indie-rock consciousness with early 2000s gems “Caring is Creepy” and “New Slang” (made popular thanks to Zach Braff’s 2004 film “Garden State”).

If the possibility of hearing Mercer’s darker impulses sounds exciting, be prepared to travel. The Shins’ St. Petersburg show is its only Florida date – and it’s sold out. That’s a bummer for any South Floridian who counted Mercer as a vital voice in the soundtrack of their youth, and we hope he’ll come back to wax nostalgic about loving and aging in our neck of the woods soon.

The Shins will perform Saturday, May 13 with Surfer Blood at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg. Gates 7pm. Tickets are sold out. and
~ Phillip Valys

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