It’s a place we’ve all been to before; a tranquil paradise where fear and anxiety cannot exist. This place, dubbed “Fantasy Island” by American indie rock band The Shins, exists in all of our minds. It’s a place that we visit when we’re stressed, miserable, or just plain bored. For frontman James Mercer, the “Fantasy Island” was a place where he sought refuge in order to escape from the crippling anxiety and depression he developed in his childhood. The song “Fantasy Island” off of The Shins’ latests studio album Heartworms uses a soothing psychedelic indie pop sound to create what feels just like a daydream in which the listener might find they’re losing themselves in. The instrumentation sounds quiet, gentle, and understanding; the silky notes from the guitar and pacifying synthesizers greet you like a lifelong friend wrapping you in a warm embrace. Despite sounding so beautifully hospitable, the song still contains a very melancholic undertone, particularly in the lyrics.
Acting as a candid snapshot from Mercer’s childhood, the lyrics use a first-person perspective to tell the story of a boy struggling with anxiety and depression. Alone, with nowhere to turn, the boy doesn’t want share his feelings with anyone for fear of burdening them, or worse, being rejected by them. He talks about hiding insecurities like his “skinny arms” and pulling fire alarms at school as a desperate plea for help. It’s a sad story and one that’s relatable to anyone who’s suffered from any similar mental illnesses.
“Fantasy Island” uses therapeutic instrumentation as a contrast to the sad tale being recounted by the band’s lead singer as a means of sending a hopeful message to it’s listeners. Mercer’s ability to tell the story and talk about his childhood ironically goes against his inability to share his feelings as a child, ultimately proving that no matter how bad things get, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.