The Return

The Shins

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In case the indie-music carrier pigeon hasn’t notified you yet, there’s a new Shins record out this month.

It’s five years since their last, Wincing the Night Away; five long years if you’re one of the people who helped it to sales of over 100,000, or if you’re Zach Braff, who introduced a whole swathe of fey indie hipsters to the band via the Shins-heavy soundtrack for his 2004 film Garden State.

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“It does sort of feel like a comeback,” says The Shins’ James Mercer, from his home in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. “I was filled with so much anticipation I could hardly sleep before this thing dropped. I feel very closely tied to the work that I do for The Shins, as you can imagine.”

Mercer’s been the main man of The Shins and responsible for their particular brand of tuneful melancholy since he started the band in 1999 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lately he’s also been the only man; he parted ways with the other members in 2009 (though he’s since recruited some new ones for touring purposes).

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In fact, he says, it was nearly game over for the band for a while. “There was a period of time, like, maybe in 2008, when I started to think I might want to drop The Shins and do something else, just start a new band,” he says.

The new band bit he did, teaming up with producer Danger Mouse to put out a record as Broken Bells in 2010 — and it cleared his head enough to convince him to give The Shins another shot. “I had worked for so long to build this presence in pop culture, it would be hard for me to just abandon it for some new thing.”

The new record, Port of Morrow, includes the decidedly ballsy “The Rifle’s Spiral” (“there’s a little bit more riffage going on this time,” he admits), and the positively cheerful “Simple Song”, released as a single in January.

Mercer says the track is about “being a father and a husband and how much I enjoy it”. Which all sounds very upbeat, and not at all like The Shins we know. “Maybe I just actually am more confident,” he says, “and somehow that translates.” (And don’t worry, last track “Port of Morrow”, he informs us, “is about death”, so he comes good at the end.)

Port of Morrow by The Shins is out on 19 March (Aural Apothecary/Columbia Records)