Before I heard “Simple Song” for the first time last month, I believed The Shins had been dead since 2008. Sure, James Mercer would give an interview with Pitchfork every once in a while and has consistently talked about the band’s “upcoming album” for the past four years. But for me The Shins were firmly situated in the past and their existence in the present was feeble at best.
The Shins were one of my first favorite bands. “Oh, Inverted World” was the soundtrack to my early high school years, and I’ve associated with that album—with its cadences, its lyrics, and Mercer’s idiosyncratic voice—a host of adolescent and idealistic meanings and emotions that dominated me in those days, including, embarrassingly enough, melancholic concerns about death. As that time of my life passed away, so too, it seemed, did The Shins. Their last album was released in my senior year of high school, and the band vanished when I got to college.
Then, as my graduation grew near, “Simple Song” surfaced as if the Shins arose from the grave.
The music video, released last week, features Mercer in the role of a dead father. His children gather to watch a video-will he had recorded before his death, which tells them that he has hidden the deed to the house somewhere and that whoever finds it first will be left everything. Most of the video is a frantic search through the house with flashback sequences of an equally chaotic past littered throughout. A younger hipster-cum-troll dad Mercer can be seen playing the song, backed by a band of his reluctant children.
When the deed is found, it is revealed that Mercer was kidding. He had sold the house already and had arrangements for it to be demolished that very afternoon. Everyone escapes the wrecking ball, though barely. The last scene of the video is of the various family members looking visibly happier than they did before, though they are covered in debris. A couple rediscovers one another in the commotion and shares a passionate kiss—a classic comic archetype—all due to Mercer’s elaborate posthumous plan.
Death is clearly a prevailing theme in the video—there are several shots of Mercer singing while he’s lying down in a coffin—but this fascination is surprisingly optimistic. The video explores the possibility of existing and impacting even after death.
The Shins of course, never really were dead. But even if they were, I was foolish to think that their music could no longer have a significant place in my life and even more foolish to quarantine it to the past. The seamless incorporation of flashbacks into the music video is telling: We keep the dead “alive” through remembering.
“Simple Song” is typical of The Shins in its masterful yet elegant songcraft. Moreover, its incredible polish and density of instrumentation surpasses anything I’ve heard from the Shins before. I don’t think I could ever like the upcoming “Port of Morrow” in the same way I did “Oh, Inverted World,” if for no other reason than that new album comes at a completely different time in my life, when I’m perhaps no longer as impressionable as I was when I first encountered the band. Still, “Simple Song” has given me reason to remember The Shins again, and they’re a band I want to keep alive in my mind.
—Staff writer Susie Y. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.