If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
It took about 2 hours, longer than the estimated time. I suppose it would take less time for someone more tech savvy than myself, and/or someone who had done it a few times.
Given the nature of my work at iFixit, I thought I would have done this a few more times than this. Ne’ertheless, I shall continue on, and will hopefully do more of this kind of thing. I really had fun!
I just thought of it this way. I never stop working. Mostly it’s related to learning, but my mind never stops trying to make things better; whether for me or attempting to find a solution to some of life’s problems that all humans have to deal with. I’ve been cleaning a lot at work lately and I feel like it’s related to my want to make things better.
I think my new rule is going to be that I will leave a room better than when I entered it. This will instill in me, over time, a long-term ability to make things better. And as I just realized, making things better is a lot harder than making things worse. It takes character, integrity, and a very strong drive to make things better, and I want to do what it takes.
As the California spring air flows around me and the world once again wakes from its slumber of winter, I feel compelled to respond to the Shins’ latest album by means of writing a formal review. I’ve often told myself that I would produce an album of my own, and having listened to this album, I’m just about compelled to write a response album. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet…
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. Having pre-ordered the vinyl, I was privy to the downloads of “Simple Song” and “It’s Only Life,” the former of which I listened to repeatedly; the latter, only once. The message of “Simple Song” is pleasing to the soul, and it’s got a typical James Mercer feel to it.
Then just enough time passed, and I was excited to be reminded that the full album was coming out soon and my vinyl would ship.
Having been away that weekend, I found the package waiting for me on Monday morning upon my return. That day, I spun that record for its money’s worth. Subsequent days involved similar patterns; since the album’s release on March 20, I have probably listened to the album (in its entirety) at least 30 times, and I’m being realistic.
I love the music in this album. It’s fun and Shinsy as I know other albums to be. Only recently did I actually sit down to read the lyrics. What I read was different from what I had heard so many times.
The album is a mix of messages, from tales of love to social commentary, and it does it all with the style of songwriting known to the world as that of James Mercer. His unique way of communicating with music is an inspiration to people like myself (including me) as he manages to jam so many ideas into a song or album. His intricate intertwining of musical lyrics and rhythms really make me think, reflect, and enjoy the music I am listening to. In a world of American Popular music in 2012, Mr. Mercer presents a message that is clean, powerful, and lovingly detailed with musical stylings that we love him for.
= THE TRACKS =
The Rifle’s Spiral
The opening to this album is a song about the choices one makes. Lead by legacies of people no longer on this Earth toward a destiny of war, people have no choice in the matter but to participate.
This track was released before all the rest, as a single. It was an exciting song to hear at the time: the Shins’ first effort in years was catchy and sounded great. The message was a bit lost on me when I got tired of only being able to listen to one new Shins track. It was a “simple song,” but the message was, again, deeper than appearances would make one think.
Mercer talks about a woman who saved him; “gave [him] a lift, girl what a gift,” the lyrics go. He has known this woman (in real life or perhaps in his mind’s created memory from a fantasy) from an early age, and he
It’s Only Life
Life only happens once. And “it’s only life, it’s only natural.”
There’s a concise feeling to that line that sums up the message of the song. Acceptance of life and what it does; a true understanding of what it means just to be alive. To hear this song is to feel forgiven for just being you.
Bait and Switch
Ever felt like a woman hooked you and then showed her true colors? Once again, Mercer tells a story about a female he had the pleasure of knowing.
After finally sorting his life out, a man becomes involved with a woman quickly and isn’t sure how he got into it. He can’t get out of it either because he’s a “creature of habit [which] has no real protection” against fighting a woman as strong as the song’s subject.
Mercer’s falsetto on the closing lyrics, “I’m just a simple man, cursed with an honest heart; watch her go and tear it all apart,” are sung impeccably and sum up the song’s message and Mercer’s attitude toward the whole mess quite well.
“Love is the ink in the well when her body writes.”
Beautiful imagery created by Mercer in a song describing a woman who looks past his faults an loves him for who he is. The music is soothing, and wispy sound effects add to the dreamy state the song leaves you in when side A of the vinyl finishes.
No Way Down
The first track of side B is an upbeat social commentary describing a somewhat regrettable situation. The tempo and sweet melodies of the song keeps spirits from slipping downward, which the lyrics seem to try to nudge the atmosphere toward. As usual, reading the lyrics clarifies many of the misunderstandings my ears create, and I soon discover the song’s intent.
Mercer attempts to call out social situations in which “the tiny few are having all of the fun” and “apologies to the sick and the young, [but] get used to their dust in your lungs.” This is very 2012 with regard to the rise of the Occupy Movement and similar sentiments in the United States at this time.
The song asks the question, “Is there no way down from this peak to solid ground without having our gold teeth pulled from our mouth?”
As of April, 2012, the USA is still attempting to recover from the volatility created by the recession of 2008-10, and these questions represent a good number of Americans with similar problems. The theme of this song is lamenting over the recent downturn of events and hoping to correct the problem with appropriate action.
Taken For a Fool
“…yes I was, because I was a fool.”
The next track almost follows in suit in the album’s B side story of woe and repentance. How Mercer decided to admit his shortcomings in this song is noble, to be succinct. The tale this time is about his slow acceptance of guilt. While not necessarily the most popular thing to do, admitting one is wrong takes character; in this case, Mercer admits defeat.
Fall of ’82
Not knowing Mercer’s life story (and feeling comfortable with my own lack of motive to do an invasive Internet search), I am assuming that this song is about his sister due to the bridge lyrics “sister you’ve known me,” and also about how the subject “moved back in with us in the Fall of ’82,” suggesting an older sister at that.
My sister is 13 years my junior, from the same parents. I miss her. I think about her often, and I can’t wait until she is old enough to communicate with me on the same level.
What Mercer wanted to say was “thank you,” in this song. He is thanking her, first blatantly for [telling him] that a downturn will eventually improve and [she was] right,” but also with the entire song which is a celebration of her and her positive contribution to his life.
I hope to thank my sister one day. She has been a large part of my life. I love her and want to help her become the wonderful person I know she will be.
40 Mark Strasse
My favorite song from this album follows certain musical rules that those with appreciation for music theory, Brian Wilson, and a great falsetto voice can love.
Mercer tells of a woman whom he knows personally, who flies from the nest only to become herself in a world “in the street at night.” He looks up to her, but recognizes her as she truly is, and questions her life.
The harmonies of the chorus and the well-executed falsetto solos make this my favorite song. It is fitting, too, to have it so late on the album, because it is so deep and heartfelt. I suspect this song will never receive national attention, but Mercer can rest assured I will play this song over and over just to feel a certain way.
Port of Morrow
A title track placed at the end of an album really should summarize the album’s meaning and any future advice (if any).
Port of Morrow is about death, or so says the artist. I believe it. The track encompasses a heavy feeling of endings, with death as more certain a possibility than anything else. The fade out at the very end continues long after is necessary, and leaves me thinking.
I love albums that end with time to think. It’s not only given me a message, but given me the courtesy of the ability to contemplate it. It’s the little things in music these days…