Although he’s best known for his work as the creative mastermind of the critically applauded indie rock act The Shins, James Mercer’s music career began in earnest in 1992 when the then 22 year old singer/songwriter founded his first musical project, Flake Music with Neal Langford (guitar), Phil Higgs and then Marty Crandall (bass) and Jesse Sandoval (drums). And during the band’s five year history, the band was a fairly collaborative effort with each member contributing to the entire songwriting process. They released several singles and toured with Califone and Modest Mouse before they released their only full-length effort, When You Land Here, it’s Time to Return.
About a year before the release of Flake Music’s debut, Mercer and his drummer Jesse Sandoval formed what was then thought of a side project, The Shins, which eventually became Mercer’s primary focus. Certainly, for indie rock fans, imagining what may have happened if Mercer’s first band blew up or if he didn’t decide to form The Shins may seem absolutely unfathomable and strange. In any case, when Flake Music’s debut was released, it was strangely enough, released without being mastered or mixed. The folks at Sub Pop and Aural Apothecary, along with Mercer properly remastered and mixed the original recordings, cleaning up the album’s sound in a noticeable way and re-releasing the material as they were meant to sound.
Now, if you’re a Shins/James Mercer fan, the re-release of his early work will likely be a revelation in the same fashion that the re-release of Soundgarden’s Sub Pop efforts was; in other words, it’s a peak at young artists formulating their sound and inching much closer to their signature sound. So when you hear “The Shins,” one of the singles off Flake Music’s debut, you’ll hear some elements of Mercer’s work with The Shins – jangling guitars, Mercer’s plaintive, nebbishy wail but raw and kind of jagged. In some way, the single bears an uncanny resemblance to The Shins’ exceptional debut, Oh, Inverted World and sounds as though it could have been a demoed song from those sessions.