The Great Divide

The Shins' James Mercer is just another underappreciated genius

That tangled-up aspect is exactly what makes Mercer's work vibrate past the historical impact of bands like the Apples in Stereo, who've made a virtue out of rewriting old Beatles and Beach Boys records, but with different chords in different places. Maybe it's Albuquerque, I wonder. After all, the co-presidents of this year's underappreciated-genius club, Pollard and Martsch, hail from two nowheresvilles themselves: Dayton, Ohio, and Boise, Idaho, respectively. How can re-creating oldies radio be interesting when all you've got is oldies radio?

Albuquerque’s finest: The Shins are, from left, James Mercer, Jesse Sandoval, Marty Crandall and Neal Langford.
David Ondrick
Albuquerque’s finest: The Shins are, from left, James Mercer, Jesse Sandoval, Marty Crandall and Neal Langford.

"People seem to live here for a couple years and then move," Mercer says of the city. "And I think being in a band and having any success seems to make them move even quicker." So why have the Shins stayed? "I think probably because we really like this town and certain things about it." He thinks for a second and then divulges the true rationale, bringing it all into focus. "Our bass player is a hot-air balloon pilot, and Albuquerque is like the capital of the world for that, so he can't really justify moving. There were just things that kept us here."

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