In certain circles The Shins have become the name to drop in order to gain instant muso credibility. You can’t get through the doors of 6Music without humming two verses of their track New Slang into the ear of a burly bouncer, and rumour has it that Lauren Laverne won’t speak to anyone before first seeing proof that they own a copy of Wincing The Night Away. We can’t even speak of what one editor at Mojo magazine did to an intern who failed to name five songs from Chutes Too Narrow, but suffice to say, he now walks with a limp and talks with a stutter…
‘Just in time for Christmas’ Sub Pop have plundered the archives to find an early incarnation of the band and given a polish and sheen to When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return – the one album they released as Flake Music before evolving into The Shins. Originally recorded in 1997, it’s a tad like getting the old photo albums out for a nostalgia fest of “oohh what a cutey” and “look at the zits on him”. Though unlikely to raise much of an eyebrow beyond the ardent Shins devotees, it does hold up as a slice of buoyant American indie rock and gives an insight into the beginnings of James Mercer as one of the era’s most revered songwriters.
Opener Spanway Hits is a glorious, jangly, slacker celebration of youthful summers that pays homage to REM, Flaming Lips and the flowery alt-pop scene of the late 80s, but this is very much a coming-of-age record that wonders through dreamy stoner lullabies (On The Playground in the Wind), grungey thrashes (Structo) and experimental, psych-sprawls (Faded Polaroids) in a search of a definitive sound. Deluca tears along to waves of spikey guitar fuzz, Blast Valve plays with bubblegum melodies and yearning, befuddled angst whilst Vantage descends into an epic, instrumental post-rock fade out. It’s not dated well times, but the album does evoke a wistful feeling for a bygone age when melody was king and people didn’t roll their eyes when you told them that The Beatles were your favourite band.
“We worked hard on these songs and finally we feel like they’ve been fully realized. Bask in the Nineties glow of our summers passed,” Mercer said of the album to Rolling Stone magazine. And that’s the attitude to take. If this were the work of a fresh faced gang of 20-year-olds, they’d probably have the music world drooling at their feet. But this is more of an uncovered relic that should be of some interest to loyal collectors. So as Mercer says, ‘bask’ in the innocence and first rush of rock and roll exuberance from a band that draw much doting admiration. And for the love of that limping intern, go and acquaint yourself with the rest of The Shins back catalogue.