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What’s New In Music: The Shins, White Hills, Tanlines

“I know things can really get tough when you go it alone” says sings James Mercer on “Simple Song” from new release Port Of Morrow. That lyric undoubtedly comes from a place of experience: it’s been five years since The Shins last release, 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, though Mercer has two albums out under much-loved side project with Danger Mouse, Broken Bells, and this is the first album without Marty Crandall (keyboards) and Jesse Sandoval (drums) who were fired by Mercer after their last tour. Bassist Dave Hernandez also disappeared sometime during the album’s recording, leaving Mercer with a totally new lineup for this album and tour. Port Of Morrow shows The Shins occupying a somewhat singular space in music these days: still rocking indie cred while clearly writing crossover-crafted pop tunes. What makes it special is that Mercer proves himself a sophisticated songwriter in between two worlds that could easily produce some pretty boring music. It’s worth your time. You might even sing along.


Somehow White Hills has been plugging away with 19 albums dating back to 2003, but flying under the radar until last year’s H-p1. Frying On This Rock is their second release on Thrill Jockey, who describe their sound as “deep space rock”, though there are elements of everything from Mastodon to Monster Magnet to Pink Floyd on this album, making it a psychedelic, feedback-ripping stoner rocker’s delight. Stand out cut “I Write A Thousand Letters (Pulp On Bone)” closes the five-song EP with a rather epic 15-minutes. Maybe start there and work backwards if you can handle it.


Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo has spent the past 30 or so years contributing a song or two to their albums as well as exploring a variety of experimental side projects, but Between The Times And The Tides is his first album as a singer-songwriter. A full album’s length gives Ranaldo the space to explore musical notions that wouldn’t fit in with the Sonic Youth sound including folk rock and acoustic ballads. Long time Sonic Youth producer John Agnello (Breeders, Kurt Vile, The Kills) brings shimmering rock production while Ranaldo’s guitar work is beautifully matched against the guitar of Wilco’s Nels Cline. Taken as a whole, it’s a very approachable collection of songs from one of rock and roll’s great guitarists.


Brooklyn’s Tanlines get lumped in with many others in the Chillwave category, but with Mixed Emotions they bring something deeper. A wonderfully easy listen with few, if any, lulls, vocalist Eric Emm’s husky baritone and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Cohen provide electronic grooves that never lack in heart. Keep your eye on these two.


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