March 22, 2017 The Signal page 17
The Shins experiment on ‘Heartworms’
Mercer moves the band’s sound away from indie rock on ‘Heartworms.’ By Thomas Infante Arts & Entertainment Editor
After five years of anticipation, indie rock band The Shins released its fifth album, “Heartworms,” on March 10. It’s the first release since the band’s 2012 album “Port of Morrow,” which is when the band saw major personnel changes. The only remaining original member of The Shins is lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter James Mercer, who is now almost solely responsible for creating the band’s music. Although Mercer has not lost his talent for quirky lyrics and catchy musical arrangements, he has abandoned much of the edgier indie rock inspirations of The Shins’s first few albums. “Heartworms,”
in contrast, has more of a pop-influenced sound with some psychedelic and electronic elements that take some minor risks with the band’s tried-and-true sound. The singles released from “Heartworms” thus far could not be any more different. The lead single “Name for You” acts as a sort of summary statement for the entire album. It’s a fun song, with Mercer’s silly lyrics and high-pitched singing complementing the cheerful instrumentation. The song gets repetitive quickly, however, and doesn’t stand out from a creative or musical standpoint. The other single “So What Now” was released as part of the soundtrack to the 2014 film “Wish I Was Here.” This song is mellower, with airy synthesizers that
crescendo with the percussion into a strong, memorable chorus. The disconnect in both the sound and release dates of these tracks epitomize the album as a whole. While the songs individually are above average, it doesn’t seem that Mercer had much of an idea what he was trying to achieve with “Heartworms” musically. None of the songs on “Heartworms” are terrible, but several of them sound like outtakes, B-sides from previous albums or from Mercer’s side project, the indie rock band Broken Bells. The song “Dead Alive,” for example, is pretty good, with some eerie synthesizers and trippy vocal harmonies and effects that give the track some ethereal qualities while still sounding upbeat. However, there is nothing about this song that sonically separates it from the last decade of material that Mercer has released. The song could easily fit on 2007’s “Wincing the Night Away,” the last album released featuring The Shins’s original lineup. Other songs are so forgettable that it’s hard to believe that it took five years to put this album together. This is not to say that every song previously released by the band has been a standout masterpiece, but The Shins’s sound did not suffer from the overproduction until “Heartworms.” The song “Fantasy Island” sounds extremely artificial, with layered synthesizers that all blend into one another in the blandest way possible. Mercer’s distinct voice is drenched in effects to make it echo, creating a sleepy soundscape. The album picks up around the midway point and from there the songs are mostly solid, even if some sound reminiscent of the band’s earlier material. “Mildenhall” is an acoustic ballad with
a western folk tinge to it. Mercer’s lyrics detail his childhood experience of moving to England to be near his father who was stationed there for the Air Force. The small details in his phrasing, from a classmate giving him a cassette tape of indie band Jesus and the Mary Chain to skating along cobblestone paths, give the song a personal quality that feels absent elsewhere on the album. “Half a Million” is the only song on the album to prominently feature an electric guitar in the instrumentation, which is a breath of fresh air from the other synthesizer-heavy tracks. The guitar power chords combined with the keyboard riffs create a danceable and energetic sound, while Mercer’s lyrics discuss growing up and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The album ends with the song “The Fear,” which “is about someone who realizes that he missed an opportunity with a relationship and he’s sad about it. The door has closed and he’s sad about it,” Mercer said in an interview with NME. While the title and lyrics of the song are melancholy, the music is calm and blissful. The instrumentation draws from Latin music, with percussion instruments that sound like maracas and claves present in the rhythm section. Mercer also makes use of ukulele, harmonica and violin on this track, giving it easily the most sonic diversity of any song on this record. Overall, “Heartworms” is more disappointing than it is bad. With Mercer’s dominant creative lead, The Shins are now less of a band and more of an ongoing musical project headed by one individual, like Justin Vernon’s band Bon Iver. Hopefully in time Mercer will learn to develop his own distinct sound without his old band mates, or cave in and rehire them.
Cannibals and comedy mix in ‘Santa Clarita Diet’ By Alyssa Gautieri Features Editor Drew Barrymore chewing on dead flesh, biting into a neighbor’s neck and tossing fingers and toes into a blender are just a few of the things you’d see if you watched the first season of the Netflix original series “Santa Clarita Diet.” Society has always been revolted by cannibalism, so when Netflix released an original series about a suburban mother who engages in violence, murder and cannibalism, I was taken aback. Despite it being a little strange, I was surprised to find the first season both entertaining and intriguing. The new show joins a list of other popular Netflix original series including “Orange is the New Black,” “Stranger Things” and “Fuller House.” Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant star in the new series as married realtors named Sheila and Joel. The first season brings viewers on a journey as the characters try to understand Sheila’s spontaneous transformation. While I had to occasionally look away as Sheila tore into human flesh, the series goes beyond gore by exploring
universal curiosities. The characters, unsure of whether or not to call Sheila a zombie, try to understand the binary of life and death. Sheila claims to feel more energized and alive, yet she can no longer detect her own heartbeat and her blood has turned into black ooze. Aside from debating philosophical issues, the series also highlights the strong bonds between families as well as friends. After discovering that his wife needs human meat in order to survive, Joel willingly hunts for food alongside his high school sweetheart. The couple’s daughter, Abby, also supports her mother’s new habit with her best efforts. Eric, a neighbor and science geek, keeps the family’s secret as he proposes possible reasons for Sheila’s new desire for human flesh. Conscious of the fact that they could all go to jail for murder, the characters do their best to hide the bodies — which isn’t always hard considering Sheila can eat most of the remains. Families that kill together, stay together, right? In a strange way, the series provides a heartwarming portrayal of a dedicated family. Despite their casual attitude toward murder, the family hasn’t lost all morality — they intend to only kill
deserving prey. “We have to kill someone that deserves it,” Joel said to his wife in the second episode entitled “We Can Kill People!” I found myself sympathizing with the family, despite the fact that they really are murderers. While the concept behind cannibalism and zombies is entirely unrealistic, the characters are strangely relatable as they struggle to adapt to this obstacle. Despite the serious topic discussed in the show, the original series is a hit as a comedy. As the family discovers the best way to successfully kill, store and consume human beings, their go-to coping mechanism is humor. Without comedy, “Santa Clarita Diet” would be just another unoriginal zombie series. Instead, the series takes a different direction, one that incorporates a variety of different themes including humor, love, death and humanity. A good show takes its audience on an emotional journey, and this series had me laughing, questioning, sympathizing and, at times, feeling a little queasy. While the first season of the series was a little weird, I will definitely tune in for the second season.
Left: Sheila develops a taste for human flesh. Right: Sheila and her husband try to adjust to her new cannibalistic lifestyle.
The 03/22/17 issue of The Signal, The College of New Jersey’s student newspaper