The Shins, "Port of Morrow" (Columbia)
James Mercer is back, still sporting the only handsome beard in indie-rock, but he's knee-capped the band. Bringing a turned-over lineup with him to a major-label debut, Mercer now leads a new roster of the Shins through familiar but overly spiffed-up guitar pop. Most of it openly wrestles with its tuneful, bare-bones roots and new producer Greg Kurstin's talent for contemporizing a band. The conflict is a draw: Fans of the band's cleaner, older sound likely will adore the loping balladry of "40 Mark Strasse" or the marching, nostalgic single "Simple Song," both of which find Mercer punching his falsetto in the groin. Elsewhere, the swirling dance-rock of "Bait and Switch," the overwritten and overproduced "Fall of '82" and the woozy title track weigh down the buoyancy usually associated with the Shins.
Like the Pretenders' "Learning to Crawl" in 1984, many fans might be hard-pressed to name the band members they miss, but their contributions are noticeably absent. "Learning to Crawl," though, racked up a half dozen hit singles and assured that Chrissie Hynde could continue under the band name forever, regardless of the payroll; "Port of Morrow" isn't that confident or concrete.
What ever happened to...
George Clinton? -- The master of funk, for this planet and elsewhere, is one of more than 100 musicians contributing to a supergroup called the Big Ol' Nasty Getdown and its new self-titled collection, "Big Ol 'Nasty Getdown, Vol. 1" (Getdown Entertainment) , out in May. Contributors include members of Parliament Funkadelic, Galactic, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Derek Trucks Band, Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band, Dumpstaphunk, Fishbone, Kool & the Gang, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Graham Central Station and more contribute to the project, including George Clinton himself. This river delta doesn't exactly cut into new ground, but it's got a decidedly New Orleans flavor, a surprisingly gentlemanly horn section and a few heroic rock-guitar moments. Stream it here.
The Dandy Warhols? -- Front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor recently published a graphic novel, One Model Nation, about a fictional art-rock band that disappeared mysteriously in the '70s. So of course there's a corresponding album, featuring Taylor-Taylor assembling a clangy, dystopian sound inspired by Kraftwerk and Joy Division. "Totalwerks, Vol. 1 (1969-1977)" is the made-up band's greatest-hits, full of old-school synth grooves, megaphoned-in vocals and noisy samples. Meanwhile, the next Dandys record, "This Machine," is due April 24, and, by contrast, Taylor-Taylor describes it as "stripped-down, woody and extremely guitar centric."
World Party? -- It's been a long recovery for Karl Wallinger, knocked aside by an aneurysm in 2001. With no new albums since then, Wallinger has managed to assemble a five-CD set, "Arkeology," due April 10, featuring 70 prevously unreleased World Party tracks. Most are outtakes, live recordings, demos, covers, B-sides, even some interviews, but a few are new creations as recent as 2011, including the expectedly retro-tight soft-rock of "Everybody's Falling in Love" and breezy electronic shuffle of "Photograph."