Context – Crunching numbers
Remember back in 2004 when life was simpler? Only kids were on the internet, bemoaning their parents’ concerns about creeps and weirdos who are trying to abduct them from their quiet, suburban homes; cell phones were only starting to come with color screens and with cameras, the extent of which we could not fathom; and a little movie called Garden State ruined cute little sub-cultures of hipsters before the internet could really bring all of us together.
Before Garden State I imagine The Shins had all of 500 fans, 10 from each state, because obviously nothing exists in reality until you become aware of it, and then it comes flooding into culture with a rich backstory and discography. Or maybe I think the world is more Jason-centric than it is.
The Shins really introduced me to this notion of “indie” music–I was coming off a hard line of emo and screamo, and had just started to dab into the world of metal(core). But these soft-spoken, tweed-breathing nincompoops had an energy I couldn’t really deny. I, erm, found a copy of Chutes Too Narrow at a friend’s place and listened to that CD on repeat for a good month. I feel like there were another CD or two of theirs I had enjoyed, but I can’t really retrace my footsteps.
Heartworms sounds exactly like The Shins should sound after discovering modern production methods and a computer to help generate some more out there sounds. It has all of the charm and apparent inventiveness that drew me to Chutes Too Narrow, but with much more modern sensibilities. Being generally out of touch with the genre, I can’t say if this is a refreshing development, if they’re behind the times, or if this is reductive as hell now.
This modernization is apparent on songs like “Cherry Hearts”, which starts to edge in on EDM (or as much as The Shins could conceivably move into an EDM space). I’m rethinking the EDM claim already, but I don’t have any other point of comparison for basic beats and weird noises, even if this is filtered through a pour-over coffee stain on your Moleskin.
On my “what to play now that the album is over?” list from Spotify I was pleasantly surprised to find both Modest Mouse and Sufjan Stevens. Not surprised as in “I don’t see how these bands connect,” but more-so in a “I temporarily forgot these groups existed and I’m happy for the reminder.” The sad part for The Shins is I enjoy both of these acts more.
Maybe Sufjan was a bit more of a surprise considering there really aren’t any sweet and slow ballad-esque songs on Heartworms. Everything has a base-line pip about them, as if they’re trying really hard not to delve into more folk territory. A quick scan for one has me feeling like there’s way more synth on this than I initially thought, which works to their benefit. When branching out from a core aesthetic it’s good for a new project to feel more like the band than it is like the toys the band is playing with. Heartworms pulls this off seemingly effortlessly, so I’ma leave this with like a 6.5/10, would recommend on Amazon (but not Yelp, I save my best work for them).