We Came Back For More: Aimee Mann’s ‘Charmer’

As fall rolls in, nothing scrubs away the mindless optimism of a “Call Me Maybe” like an Aimee Mann solo effort. Or, rather, the duet with James Mercer of The Shins, “Living A Lie”. “For every open arm has a cold shoulder, waiting to turn,” swoons Mann in the final verse.

At shows of late, she tells an anecdote about having been approached to pen a song for the film Shrek the Third, for a scene in which the mood is upbeat and inspiring. “That’s not really my forte,” she notes wryly. Which is well enough. There’s a class of us, myself included, that think if you’re not going to write sad songs, you’d be better off going to dental school.

But Mann’s albums have never been merely stark. Between the retro synths and the hooks that are catchy as all get out, there’s a boreal kind of coziness. The track “Slip and Roll”, perhaps a bleed-over from the down-and-out-boxer concept album The Forgotten Arm (“slip and roll, ’til you’re willing to take the hit”), feels less like getting smacked and more like having your coach wrap a towel over your shoulders while you rest in the corner.

If Mann goes as sappy as “Slip and Roll,” most of the album stays within her signature brand of irony; heavy on the wisdom, light on the apathy. “What’s more fun than other people’s hell?” she pokes in “Soon Enough”. “Labrador”—perhaps the biggest bummer of a song, wrapped in the prettiest of tunes—feels oddly affectionate in the hook: “I came back for more / and you laughed in my face and you rubbed it in.” But this, if anything, is the kind of Sisyphean thesis that Mann has relied on as a singer/songwriter. Anyone charming is just “a victim of such a hypnosis, like everyone else,” she prescribes in the title track.

Her mood and sound hasn’t deviated too much since Bachelor No. 2. If anything, the turn towards synthesizers and a ‘70s pop style maintains a distance between Mann and the general craze around electronic music. And it seems she’s still the only one who knows, as it were, that Disneyland’s about to close. One day, Carly Rae Jepsen will get dumped, as Justin Bieber becomes the next Quiz Kid Donnie Smith.

The ‘Children’s Hospital’ Video for ‘It’s Only Life’ Far More Terrifying Than Original

Anyone with an aversion to gratuitous amounts of blood, to clown makeup or to The Shins should probably just skip over this post, as they will find it incredibly upsetting. The cast of the cult Adult Swim web-short hit Children’s Hospital made a video of sorts set to The Shins’ breezy single "It’s Only Life" off of Port of Morrow featuring a rather gory blood drive gone awry. Patch Adams-lampooning protagonist Dr. Blake Downs (played by Rob Corddry), introduces the sanguine appeal, only to be interrupted by his nurses having an IV fight. The show returns for its fourth season on August 9th. 

As mega-gross as the clip is, it does look like it was crazy fun to film. Roll it.


The Shins In the Woods

Fans of the Shins have eagerly been awaiting mercurial frontman (and only member?) James Mercer to release a video from the new album, Port of Morrow. Hold your breath no more, fans of hyper-literate emotionally trenchant pop music! The video, directed by Hiro Murai, combines a boy in a cape (natch) playing in the woods (double natch) in Portland, OR (triple natch!) with mysterious creatures (natch times four.) Enjoy

The Shins Rock Three Nights at Terminal 5

This past Sunday night at New York’s Terminal 5, Shins frontman James Mercer was supported by the band’s newest lineup – composed of Jessica Dobson on guitar, Yuuki Matthews on bass, Joe Plummer on drums and Richard Swift on keyboards.

It was the first of three consecutive nights in front of a sold-out crowd. The young audience roared with approval as Mercer opened the set with “Caring is Creepy,” the first track off the 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World.  Here he was a decade later, hitting all the notes, fresh off the recent release of highly anticipated fourth LP Port of Morrow.

Next came “Mine’s Not A High Horse,” off 2003’s critically acclaimed sophomore effort Chutes Too Narrow, followed by “Simple Song,” the gorgeous first single off the new record, the first in five years, following Wincing the Night Away (2007).

Port of Morrow has been well received by critics. Pitchfork, who gave it an 8.4/10, called the LP “a triumphant return” and “the perfect distillation of the Shins’ back catalog—the jangly, wistful airs of Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow‘s genre-resistant playfulness, Wincing the Night Away‘s expansively detailed production. But in other ways, its colorful, detail-oriented approach sets it apart from anything Mercer’s done before.”

The band knew their strengths, playing a range of crowd-pleasers, including “So Says I” and “Sleeping Lessons,” with the wide-eyed audience singing along passionately, lingering to Mercer’s every word and savoring every line. They shouted restlessly for an encore, and when the singer returned, he was alone, guitar in hand, ready to perform “September” (off Port of Morrow). In unison, the crowd spontaneously began to chant the background “oohs” as Mercer sang: “Under our softly burning lamp/ She takes her time/ Telling stories of our possible lives/ And love is the ink in the well when her body writes.”

The lights brightened as the full band returned on stage for the popular “Kissing the Lipless.” And soon, the show would end the way it began—a return to an oldie from the first LP, the last song of the night, “One By One All Day.”

Set list:
Caring is Creepy
Mine’s Not A High Horse
Simple Song
Bait and Switch
Phantom Limb
Rifle’s Spiral
St. Simon
No Way Down
So Says I
It’s Only Life
40 Mark Strasse
New Slang
Port of Morrow
Sleeping Lessons

Kissing The Lipless
One By One All Day

Photo by Natasha Ryan

Is This Leaked Lollapalooza Lineup on the Level?

Is the 2012 Lollapalooza lineup set in stone? If this grainy snapshot of a piece of paper is to be believed, then the annual music festival will be headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Keys, Black Sabbath, Jack White and Florence + The Machine, with The Shins, At the Drive-In, Justice, The Weeknd, Sigur Ros, and more swooping in for the supporting time slots. It could be completely b.s. — again, it’s a grainy snapshot of a piece of paper — but the lineup seems very appropriate to Lollapalooza’s big tent appeal, and some of the acts have already been hinted at through promotion on Chicago’s transportation system. Check out the full (rumored) lineup over at Pretty Much Amazing

There may be one fly in the ointment: Black Sabbath previously cancelled a summer tour due to guitarist Tony Iommi’s lymphona treatment, and because drummer Bill Ward had previously expressed reluctance to do the reunion without being fairly compensated. But as this Rolling Stone report notes, Sharon Osbourne said that the band would be playing one American show in August — and, as it turns out, Lollapalooza happens to be American, a show, and in August. There’s your smoking gun if there ever was one. At any rate, we’ll know by Wednesday when the lineup is officially announced. There will be all sorts of fun to had at the festival regardless of who’s playing, as you can see below.

Watch The Shins Play ‘Simple Song’ on ‘Letterman’

James Mercer has a lot of ground to cover on The Shins credibility reclamation tour, especially because he’s the only original member of the band still available to do interviews. But his new record, Port of Morrow, seems to have been warmly received by critics, and he’s still getting booked on late night shows. How hard can it be? Last night, the band took to Late Show with David Letterman to perform "Simple Song," one of the better songs off the album. Watch him hit all of those high notes after the click, via Stereogum.

You might think that was sometimes collaborator Danger Mouse playing keyboards on the left side of the stage, but no, it’s just a white guy with curly hair. Hooray for assumptions! Port of Morrow is out right now.

Listen to The Shins ‘Bait and Switch’

The Shins make the kind of music that you listen to over and over and over and yet it was easy to forget about them entirely since their last album, Wincing the Night Away, was released all the way back in 2007.  Needless to say, anticipation for James Mercer and crew’s Port of Morrow is high.  They’ve already released “Simple Song,” “September,” and “The Rifle’s Spiral,” and now comes yet another song.  Below, take a listen to “Bait and Switch.” Filmed in their studio, clapping butter is not included.

Port of Morrow comes out March 20. Do The Shins make anyone else wonder what Zach Braff is up to?

The Shins Appear in ‘Funny or Die’ Skit, ‘Clapping Butter’

In their five years away from music, the Shins have apparently developed a wicked sense of humor. As promotion for their upcoming album Port of Morrow, they’ve made a video for Funny or Die which shows the band in the studio, trying to lay down another hit song. All of the elements go right except one: the hand claps that frontman James Mercer is trying to lay down, which require a substance called "clapping butter" to help work out the kinks. After the jump, see how the goop improves his coordination once he smears it all over himself.

Look how happy Mercer seems when he finally figures out how to clap! Money makes everyone’s mood go up. The Shins have released two semi-excellent songs from Port of Morrow, "Simple Song" and "September." Look for the album on March 20.

Afternoon Links: Paris Hilton’s Return to Music, Zac Efron Drops a Condom

● Paris Hilton makes a sultry — or, as sultry as one can be while saying things like, "No one is safe in the Twittersphere anymore" and "I’m too lazy to type, so I send a photo I took up a dancer’s skirt" — return to music with "Drunk Text," a spoken word collaboration with electro-duo Manufactured Superstars. Maybe it could be art, if you let it. [VV]

● First things first: the graying James Mercer dies in The Shins’ first (and most Royal Tenenbaums-inspired!) video in five years. [Spinner]

● Jennifer Aniston has no interest in a big screen Friends reunion. "I can’t imagine how you would do it, unless you did it years from now," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I can’t imagine what that would be. It’s not normal. Friends is in your living room; Friends is not in a movie theater. It doesn’t make sense to me. I think it would be going against its authentic self." [THR]

● Woops! Zac Efron let what appears to be a gold-foiled condom slip from his pocket on the Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax red carpet. At least he’s being safe. [Huff Post]

● None other than Angelina Jolie wrote the forward for Billy Bob Thornton’s upcoming memoir, The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts. [PageSix]

● James Murphy was not just impressed by Dan Albarn and André 3000 — he was totally "awestruck" by them. "I was really stunned at how good Damon and André are as technical musicians," he tells Pitchfork of their Converse collaboration. "They could both sit down and play the piano really well, and I was just like, ‘Um, I can hit stuff.’" [Pitchfork]