Recorded in Los Angeles and their native Portland, Oregon in 2011, The Shins' fourth album, Port Of Morrow, was produced by Greg Kurstin, who also worked with Foster The People on their debut set Torches and Kelly Clarkson on her fifth studio release Stronger. While promoting Port Of Morrow, frontman James Mercer stated the main themes include love (inspired by his wife and two young daughters) and the intertwining of the dual nature of life - the beautiful and the grotesque.
The Port of Morrow is a port site on the Columbia River in Boardman, Morrow County, Oregon. The title track ends symbolically the musical journey that the band embarked on throughout the album. "Port of Morrow, you know, I don't know too much about what the actual place is," Mercer said to Spinner about the titular port of call. "I know it's an industrial port over here in Portland, Oregon. What I do know is at the end of every tour when we return home to Portland, in eastern Oregon you pass this little sign and it says 'Port of Morrow' and it's something about the mood that you're in at the end of the tour and just the strange evocative nature of that phrase.
It ended up being a line in the song 'Port of Morrow' that, to me," he added, "ended up symbolizing the exit point of everyone's life... which is death. So that's what 'Port of Morrow' is about: death and mortality and understanding that's what awaits you and the strange dichotomy of life being beautiful and engaging and fascinating and wonderful, but also dark."
Mercer concluded: "I think that's something in the last few years that I've come to realize - that strong artistic experiences are always coupled. There's always a moment of beauty with its fragile and transient nature."
Between The Shins previous release Wincing The Night Away and Port Of Morrow, Mercer, became a father to two daughters. This song finishes with him describing the predatory circle of life as "a fact of life I know to hide from my little girls." He concludes with the couplet: "I know my place amongst the creatures in the pageant/And there are flowers in the garbage, and a skull under your curls." The lines were inspired by one of his daughters falling ill. Explained Mercer to Q magazine: "When I was writing the album, one of our children had a health scare. It was terrifying. Having children is this whole new world of emotional terror. So yeah, a couple of the songs are about that."