ESSENTIALS: Before The Shins, There Was Flake Music

James Mercer is so meta he named his second band after his first band.

Before there was The Shins, there was “The Shins,” a 3-minute, 17-second song by Flake Music, foreshadowing of the rise of the eponymous band from humble.

That’s right folks, James Mercer is so meta that he named his band after a reference to his band before they were famous. Before Natalie Portman endorsements, How I Met Your Mother finales, or Broken Bells, Mercer and the gang were great even before they were hipster deities.

Originally released in 1997 on Omnibus, the band’s only album, When You Land Here, It’s Time To Return, was remixed and reissued in 2014 on Mercer’s Sub Pop imprint Aural Apothecary. With that reissue, the album miraculously epiphanated names for the fifth, eighth and tenth track interludes, now referred to as “Candy Dish of Diamonds,” “On The Playground in the Wind” and “Faded Polaroids,” respectively. Even after that repressing, physical copies still circulate in very low numbers, making it highly coveted among its fans.

The album is a clear prelude to the sound Mercer would hone and perfect as his own in the few years to come. As interesting and fun as “The Shins” is, my favorite aspects of the album are the lesser known tracks that were cowritten by the Albuquerque-based band as a whole. The whimsical indie-pop songs like “Spanway Hits” and “Mieke” are super reminiscent of Oh Inverted World hits, while sing-songy tracks like my personal favorite “Structo” have a specifically nostalgic ’90s alternative sound. 

This album is truly one of a kind. The not-so-perfected sound and ’90s harmonies are matched by the ingenuity and stylistic integrity that would shape Mercer’s entire career. All jokes aside, this album is hipster gold as much as it is a casual listener’s unsuspecting delight.

Too often we take for granted the true roots of these generation-defining bands, but listen to “The Shins” by Flake Music, and everything will fall right into place. 

Listen to: “The Shins,” “Structo,” “Spanway Hits”

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