CD Reviews: The Shins, Esperanza Spalding
'Port of Morrow'
The Shins occupy a peculiar perch in recent music history: Through grit and circumstance, what began as the solo recording project of James Mercer has sidled into a select pantheon, an indie-pop band whose triumphs have staked a series of waypoints in listeners' lives. To be a devotee of their 2001 debut "Oh, Inverted World," with its eerie harmonies and shuffling charm, or its more forthright 2003 follow-up "Chutes Too Narrow," meant something. When their music became a plot device in the curiously divisive 2004 film "Garden State," it meant something else. When their 2007 album "Wincing the Night Away" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, on its way to gold status, it meant something else yet again. After five years and a sidebar recording as Broken Bells alongside Danger Mouse, Mercer has assembled a brand-new band to take up the Shins banner, so what does it all mean now? The short answer: This is one for the mortgage crowd, and there's nothing wrong with that. "Port of Morrow" is not without its twisty, winsome passages that hark back to the innocent Shins of yore (especially the first single, "Simple Song"), but the feeling of glossy confidence and the tackling of mature concerns is inescapabable. The bright side to commercially minded tracks like the fat-bottomed anthem "The Rifle's Spiral" is that they promise the Shins (or at least Mercer) will be making music for a good long time.
'Radio Music Society'
The fourth album from the mightily talented jazz bassist-singer, and the first since her surprise Best New Artist win at the 2011 Grammys.