The Shins’ fifth full album, Heartworms, is the first work from the band since 2012. However overdue it may seem, was worth the wait.
Opening the album released last week, track “Name for You” describes a shift, or perhaps a needed shift, in societal gender roles and allocated power. As all songs are written by lead singer, James Mercer, it can be appropriately assumed that the track is catered towards his daughter’s interests and future possibilities. As written in the song, Mercer states that as the world is theirs, “[they] can move it around” to their liking. It is evident that Mercer’s love is focused on his family and the ways in which his daughter can influence the world.
Mercer also provides insight into his childhood experiences that seem to have resonated with him. “Mildenhall” describes his adolescent years as his family was relocated to a Royal Air Force station in England. Here, he narrates his relationship with music that began when “a kid in class passed [him] a tape” and now to his father teaching him some of the chords.
Another theme in Heartworms includes the pressures and hardships of Mercer’s career. Specifically, “Half a Million” delivers the explicit message concerning the speaker’s inability to accomplish all that is expected of him. “There’s a half of million things that I’m supposed to be,” although many can agree that the artist is doing well-producing music. But this infers that things are not always as they seem and other pressures may be hidden.
Concerning such pressures, Mercer devotes the track “Painting a hole” to describe an often-used escape route from the harsh realities he seems to be facing. It is important to note that his lyric, “you were meant to hide away,” confirms the previous idea that he is often afraid of combatting certain obstacles and not fit for the occupation.
Alongside occupational pressures, Mercer provides insight into past love. Within the track “Cherry Hearts”, the artist sings of a past relationship where he was let down by his love, describing it as a “crime of wanting something that never could stay.” It seemed that whenever he gave too much, he never received enough.
Following this track, “Fantasy Island” seems to serve as an adequate replacement for his lack of received intimacy. Wanting to “crash through the ceiling before it gets too real” portrays Mercer as one that becomes engulfed in love and often is left down, reasoning why this love-filled island is often a fantasy and never obtained.
Hardships are often accompanied with lessons, as well as an eventual silver lining. “So Now What” describes the relationship between two people that seem confident in their love. As “change lies in every direction,” Mercer states that with enough faith in each other, the ending will be in their favor.
Heartworms provides content from the past, an overall insight into Mercer’s various hardships, as well as the frequent “Heart Worms” he may receive from women he may love. In the end, it seems that he is confident in a certain movement within his heart to guide him.