In Opening Track, we take an early look at a forthcoming record that we’re excited about. Today, we check in with The Shins, who will release Port Of Morrow March 20.

Why we're excited: The Shins' first two records, 2001's Oh, Inverted World! and 2003's Chutes Too Narrow, rank among the finest guitar-pop records of the 21st century. Of course, those records came out a long time ago, and the band these days is essentially a solo project for singer-songwriter James Mercer, who revives the profitable Shins name for the first time since 2007's Wincing The Night Away.


What we've heard: Mercer admits that he's thought about ending the Shins altogether, and listening to Port Of Morrow it's clear that even if he's held on to the name he's not tied to the band's classic, pared-down sound. Similar to how Mercer collaborated with producer Danger Mouse for Broken Bells, Port Of Morrow was influenced greatly by Grammy-winning producer (and one half of The Bird And The Bee) Greg Kurstin, who Mercer credits with helping him get over being "nervous to go out there and work with 'real' musicians."

Compared with the homemade quality of the Shins' classic output, Morrow bears the hallmarks of "real" musicianship, outfitting Mercer's pretty, poppy songs with strings, twangy guitars, keyboards, precision drum beats, horns, and countless other instrumental shadings. If World and Chutes were coming-of-age works, Morrow is Mercer's "adult" record. The confidence he displays in blowing out the Shins' sound is bound to be met with mixed or even hostile feelings in some quarters, but Mercer's made no secret of his desire to chase and capture big, slick pop-rock sounds. In that respect, Morrow is a success.

Have a listen: "September" is the least representative song on Morrow, but it also happens to be the best, showing that Mercer's talent for writing simple, acoustic pop strummers hasn't abandoned him.