Published Nov 21, 2014James Mercer may now be remembered as the guy who fired his original Shins bandmates a decade into their career, teamed up with Danger Mouse, or penned the song that would purportedly change the life of Zach Braff's protagonist in Garden State, but before all that, he was just another earnest, yelpy young dude in a band trying to make music that sounded like his heroes. For a stretch in the '90s, that band was Flake Music, who released one LP before transforming into pop-rockers the Shins.
Their sole album, 1997's When You Land Here, It's Time to Return, has been re-mixed, remastered and given a new piece of cover art for a new generation, but what this reissue highlights is how much young Mercer and co. looked to the past. The Mercer of 1997 clearly listened to a lot of Weezer — you could put "Structo" on the Blue Album and the uninitiated probably wouldn't notice that it was by a different band. There are some early Shins indicators in there, too — opening track "Spanway Hits" and, of course, "The Shins" — but with wilier guitars and a more youthful sense of fun. The remaster breathes new life into the arrangements, and allows the tunes to shine more than they did on the original. All the parts sound cleaner now, even on jammy breakdowns like "Blast Valve," and what they reveal is that Mercer and co. have always been smart composers, even when frivolously rocking out. While it's not the most original sounding record, it's still a good one, and makes the Shins' success all the more understandable. (Sub Pop)