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First Listen: Flake Music, 'When You Land Here, It's Time To Return'

A remixed, remastered reissue of<em> When You Land Here</em><em>, It's Time to Return</em>, the 1997 debut album by Flake Music, comes out Nov. 25. Singer James Mercer would later become famous for his work in The Shins and Broken Bells.
Courtesy of the artist
A remixed, remastered reissue of When You Land Here, It's Time to Return, the 1997 debut album by Flake Music, comes out Nov. 25. Singer James Mercer would later become famous for his work in The Shins and Broken Bells.

Before James Mercer broke through as lead singer of The Shins, he spent a good chunk of the '90s in a like-minded New Mexico band called Flake Music. The group only managed one full-length album in its five-year existence — 1997's When You Land Here, It's Time to Return — before giving way to the band that made Mercer famous.

Most of Mercer's fans won't have spent much time with Flake Music, but its newly remastered, remixed and reissued album is an essential document for those who love The Shins' early sound. All the key ingredients are swirling within a style that's still cohering: Alternately jagged and jangly, many of these songs have a Shins-y way of stitching together disparate fragments in disarming and exciting ways. Take "Blast Valve," which moves through several distinct phases — including a long instrumental interlude plopped right in the middle — during the span of just three frequently exhilarating minutes.

As on The Shins' Oh! Inverted World, which would follow four years later, When You Land Here has a way of soaring in concise and contained ways, with playfulness that's never cloying. In Flake Music, Mercer and his collaborators only fully land on what would become The Shins' sound in "Spanway Hits," "Mieke" and the tellingly titled "The Shins." Elsewhere, other apparent influences inform Flake Music's approach — a little Archers of Loaf here, a little Bob Mould there — as the band shuffles through new ideas constantly. It's to Mercer's credit that he soon figured out just how and when to lock on to the ones that worked best.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)