Posted October 20, 2006 by Mike Mineo in Features

The Shins are wincing the night away


It’s been almost three years since The Shins got the Braff treatment in Garden State. You know, one of those movies about the depressed dude who “finds himself” by revisiting his old town and finding a new love. Oh, he found The Shins too. At times, it seemed like an ongoing music video for the sunny indie pop group, with Natalie Portman (recently overtaken by Scarlett Johansson for indie queen of the year) being the group’s cinematic quirky fan claiming that ‘New Slang’ will “change your life”. I’m not giving enough credit to the band though, because long before the band got their commericialized treatment in Garden State, they had one of the most dedicated followings for a group releasing their debut album in this particular decade. Chief songwriter James Mercer was always touted as having a similar vocal and melodic delivery to the legendary Brian Wilson, something that adds to The Shins’ bubbling originality.

Speaking of originality, their third album, Wincing the Night Away, is bursting with even more than the first two. Besides their already traditional nods to the Beach Boys and The Smiths, the group has taken on more atmospheric songs reminiscent more recently of the acclaimed Animal Collective or even the technological catchiness of New Order. Sure, you still have the sparkly pop with such songs as ‘Australia’, but the band seems to be taking a new direction with others like the odd ‘Black Wave’. The production seems to be a step up, with ‘Red Rabbits’ boasting a dynamic combination of twinkling keys and decorative strings forming around some dynamic guitar effects, concluding with a few strums of an acoustic guitar. The topics are diverse, as Mercer describes the songs’ influences ranging anywhere from My Bloody Valentine to Fugazi. The opener ‘Sleeping Lessons’ is a buildup to a momentous outburst of electric guitars layered by a constant synth, while ‘Split Needles’ is another example of their exposure of synth. After a few listens, Wincing the Night Away is most certainly the most experimental and well produced out of the three. I have yet to find a song on the album to be as catchy as some of their best, such as ‘Know Your Onion!’ or ‘Saint Simon’, but I have a feeling that the increased variability in their song structures will help make this one a grower. Wincing the Night Away will be released on January 23rd and I’ll review it in further detail as the actual release nears.




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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].