The Shins have debuted their first official release since early 2018, a new single called “The Great Divide.” It was released digitally via frontman James Mercer’s Aural Apothecary label and Monotone Records, and came with an accompanying music video.
The song was co-written and produced by Mercer with bandmates Yuuki Matthews and Jon Sortland. They aimed to make it sound simultaneously retro and futuristic. Mercer spoke about the recording, “We used everything from vintage synthesizers to iPhones, from a sixties Ludwig kit to an 808.” All the different sounds make the production feel like a nostalgic adventure through time as the instrumental keeps switching to something new.
Mercer’s high-pitched verses and anthemic chorus are fitting of his idea of “An epic about longing and love in a broken world.” He continued to explain, “I guess we wanted to try to provide a bit of warmth and sentiment in hard times.”
The music video, directed by Paul Trillo with creative direction by Sortland, starts with space imagery and goes through atoms, jellyfish and body tissue before ending up with humans. It then passes through the ages as seen through a museum and sculptures. At a pivotal moment, the scene evolves to show a black girl laying on the top of a car in the middle of a city that has been set on fire, assumedly a reference to the Black Lives Matter protests this year. Instead of ending there, the video continues to a retro-futuristic ideal of the future with many spaceships on a colonized planet. During this futuristic last stretch of the video, Mercer sings “You trace the lines through space and time/Until you find they all align.”
Trillo had a lot to say about the video, “We knew we wanted to craft something as grand as the song; something that was both wildly surreal yet also resonates on a human level. I wanted to place the current state of things, this ‘Great Divide’ we’re going through, within the larger context of the universe. Like the song itself, It was both timely and timeless. That’s when I sort of stumbled on this idea of an infinite zoom out through time. The song also has this entrancing quality that keeps pulling you in further and further, so that continual motion made a lot of sense.”
“The Great Divide” is also available as an alternate version called “The Great Divide (Flipped),” available exclusively on Amazon Music. The Shins’ last release was a fully flipped version of their 2017 album Heartworms called The Worm’s Heart.
The Shins have released some other songs since then, including “Waimanalo”/”Trapped by the Sea,” which were made in honor of their late former band member Richard Swift. Mercer also released two new Broken Bells tracks after three years of silence, “Shelter” and “Good Luck.”
Photo credit: Brett Padelford