Has another band ever been so positively affected by a movie than The Shins? A couple that come to mind are Simon & Garfunkel with The Graduate and The Bee Gees with Saturday Nigh Fever, but both of those bands were already popular before the movie soundtracks took them to new heights.
As for The Shins, outside of the most in-touch indie kids, nobody had ever heard of the Portland — via Albuquerque, N.M. — group before they had a couple of songs included on the Garden State soundtrack in 2004.
The band’s frontman, James Mercer, must have been pinching himself when Natalie Portman handed Zach Braff a pair of headphones playing “New Slang” and told him the song would change his life.
By the time the movie was released and the band started to acquire a horde of new fans, it had already released a second album, 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow.
Within these first two albums, The Shins’ sound had already become signature — catchy indie rock/pop, with sometimes sad lyrics but always with James Mercer’s high-pitched, almost falsetto voice.
Besides the above clip, other songs from the first album that may have an effect on your life include “Caring Is Creepy”, “Know Your Onion!”, “One By One All Day” and “Weird Divide”. Another track of note is “Pressed In a Book”, simply because of how much Mercer’s voice sounds like Carl “A.C.” Newman’s.
The second album doesn’t have any real standout tracks, but there are some notable ones, such as “Mine’s Not a High Horse”, “Young Pilgrims”, “Pink Bullets” and “Gone For Good”. The album opener, “Kissing the Lipless”, is also strong, but it stands out because of how much the band suddenly sounds like some emo group — like Dashboard Confessional or something.
By the time they released their next album, The Shins were worried about being pigeonholed as “that band from Garden State.” When Wincing the Night Away came out in 2007, the group had taken their sound and added a little more airiness to it. And with it came some of the best music they’ve put out to date.
“Phantom Limb” is probably the best song in their catalog, but “Australia” is a close second. Other strong entries are “Sleeping Lessons” and “Sea Legs”.
In the ensuing years, Mercer ventured into various other avenues, including a rather successful side gig with Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) in the band Broken Bells, which released its critically acclaimed self-titled debut in 2010.
But Mercer eventually returned to the band that put him on the map, except that three-fifths of the roster had been overhauled since the last album. Despite that, in 2012, they put out their fourth album, Port of Morrow, buoyed by the single, “Simple Song”. Other notable tracks include “September” and “No Way Down”.
Besides appearing in a recent episode of “Portlandia”, it’s unclear what Mercer is up to nowadays. But, considering all of his side projects, it certainly must have something to do with music.