I have already featured Robin Pecknold, and I think I said he was one of the best songwriters of this century, well, here’s the other, James Mercer.
Fortunately, there are versions of James Mercer’s songs both within the group, The Shins, and as guitarist and voice alone. I love both, but when he is just playing acoustic guitar and singing, you get a real sense of drama and how finely crafted his melodies are. I first heard this song on Pandora, but I don’t remember what station I was listening to. I think I was also listening to other groups like Fleet Foxes, The Killers, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Modest Mouse, etc. Something about this song stood above them all. When I started to investigate his other songs, I quickly realized that he had written many pieces as good as this one. When you got it, you got it.
This video shows a live performance of the song, New Slang. I realize that this performance seems like simple strumming to go with the sung melody, but there is more to his playing than that, and his accuracy is noteworthy. There is a clear baseline and grace notes that carry subtle melodic elements. This is true whenever he performs in this format. It’s always more than it seems. I never tire of this song, nor many of his others.