The Shins: “So Now What” / James Mercer’s Saving Grace

2017 has been a banner year for 2000’s indie zeitgeist-dominating blog rock. We’ve already gotten albums from Fleet Foxes, The xx, Phoenix, Dirty Projectors, and Grizzly Bear, with full-lengths soon to come from the National and LCD Soundsystem. It may come as a surprise to you, due to the relative lack of fanfare, but the Shins actually released a new album this year as well, just a few months ago. I guess they aren’t changing many lives anymore.

The record, entitled Name For You, is pretty unremarkable. It’s not bad per se, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the same sense of possibility and whimsy that defined James Mercer and the Shins of the 2000’s. “Kissing the Lipless” thrills you, “Pink Bullets” drips with potent melancholy, and that underwater synth line on “Sleeping Lessons” is magical. Even Port of Morrow, released in 2012 with a brand new lineup after a five-year hiatus, was solid all the way through (check out the insanely fun “Bait and Switch” or the leisurely and rewarding “40 Mark Strasse”).

Name For You is bland though. Songs like “Painting a Hole” and “Half a Million” are fine enough, demonstrating some interesting sonic touches, but where’s the emotion? Where’s the sense of wonder? It’s all so run-of-the-mill, and it makes me sad.

HOWEVER. There’s one song on Name For You that stands out, called “So Now What.” The track was actually first released three years ago, as a part of the soundtrack for the 2014 Zach Braff movie Wish I Was Here. It makes complete sense that “So Now What” was written long before the rest of the album. Mercer must have been riding a creative high in 2014 that didn’t hold over. “So Now What” is not flashy or attention-seeking, but the mid-tempo groove and simple melody have staying power. Mercer’s voice drifts through the clouds, dreamily singing “I had this crazy idea / Somehow we’d coast to the end.” At their best, the Shins are a band that can take you places other than where you’re currently sitting, and cause you to think about life and relationships and the past. Mercer couldn’t do it for a full album this time around, but at the very least, I’m glad we have “So Now What.”

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Grammy Recap

Did you watch the Grammys? Yeah me neither, but following the live blogs is just as entertaining, if not more so. The big story was Adele’s sweep, winning Album of the Year with her transcendent breakup album 21, and Record of the Year and Song of the Year with 2011 staple “Rolling In the Deep.” Kudos to the Grammys for getting something right, but they’re known to make some pretty laughable choices, and not even so much relating to what they pick as to how they pick them. Let’s go over some of the notable winners–ridiculous, deserving, and otherwise.

BEST NEW ARTIST: Bon Iver

Are you kidding me? Bon Iver made the big time last year with the self-titled Bon Iver, his sophomore album. Key word though: sophomore. Bon Iver’s debut record For Emma, Forever Ago was incredible, one of the best of the last decade. Oh, did I say “last decade?” Yeah, it was self-released in 2007 (before making a wider release the year after). I love the audacity they have to not just nominate him but choose him as the best new artist simply because those fossils finally recognized him. I know I’m belaboring an obvious point, but humor me for a second–take the Shins, for example. They made their last album in 2007, the same year as For Emma. The Shins are finally coming out with a new disc this year and we’re lauding them for “[taking] back their throne”, after “a long hiatus. If the time between 2007 and now is “a long hiatus,” then I’m baffled as to how Bon Iver, around since 2007, is a new artist. (Btw in my opinion, the award should have gone to Nicki Minaj).

BEST RAP ALBUM: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Say what you will about Kanye’s persona (Insert “I’mma let you finish” dig here), but the man is a genius. MBDTF rightfully won as the best rap album, but it’s insane that it wasn’t nominated for Album of the Year. Bruno Mars was nominated. Yeah, Bruno Mars. Badly done, Grammys. Badly done.

BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE NOMINATION: The Black Keys – “Dearest”

So actually the winner in this category was a collaboration between the late Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett, which I haven’t heard and don’t feel like checking out at the moment (no disrespect, I dig me some Amy Winehouse). Actually it’s pretty crazy that it won considering it was going up against “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, “Paradise” by Coldplay, and “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. Anyway, I just want to direct your attention to the other nominee, The Black Keys’ “Dearest.” It appeared on a tribute album to Buddy Holly called Rave On, featuring covers of Buddy Holly songs from Paul McCartney, Julian Casablancas, Florence + the Machine, Cee-Lo Green, and others, including the Black Keys. I’m surprised and impressed that the Grammys dug this track out of relative obscurity to nominate it because it’s a gem. Check it out below:

OK I’m bored. I was thinking of writing more, but the Grammys are useless anyway. If you’re feeling in the mood to reminisce on the best of this year’s show though, just crack out the Adele, Bon Iver, Kanye, and Foo Fighters and have at it.