It might be a fairly cynical approach, but the The Shins always seemed to me to be a band who wrote a great first album, had one of their strongest songs used in a fairly popular film aimed at exactly the section of pop culture fans the band were trying to impress in the first place, managed to get the lead actress to say that song would "change your life" and have since been trying to follow said album.
As pleasant as their previous two albums are, it is a welcome change that Port Of Morrow is a departure from this path. It is far more open, "mainstream", and "indie rock" than the bands previous albums. Of course, this is not surprising since The Shins are no longer the same band. Frontman James Mercer is the only member remaining from Oh, Inverted World, and his recent work with Dangermouse on Broken Bells is definitely present here.
Mercer has made a clear effort to "grow up" and has moved away from his indie teen angst roots in his songwriting as well. His lyrics remain strong as ever, as does his vocal delivery. However, as good as the summery likes of 'Simple Song' are, it's on the mellow 'September' where he really shines, the tracks where the bands origin remain strongest.
So, a refreshing change for a new era of The Shins, and a strong album to be sure; arguably their best since their debut. Still, it feels a little odd to label it as an album by The Shins, given the apparent changes in the musical direction of the band, as well as the fact it just not the same band any more. One member remaining from the album that launched them, it might feel better labelled as a James Mercer solo album. Still, it's an impressive step forward into the mainstream nonetheless.