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The Shins – Wincing The Night Away

January 29, 2007

To be blunt, I really don’t know much about The Shins. I listened to some select songs from the band a few years ago and I remember not liking them that much. I don’t really know why, I think it might have been the vocals. Which I find completely ridiculous when I’m listening to this because his vocals sound fine. I also know that they are a Sub Pop band, which must have taken me surprise way back when I first heard the Shins, Sub Pop being the epicenter of Grunge and The Shins being nowhere close to that heavy signature sound. I do feel that this band is at home with the label though, for some reason. I also know that there is a lot riding on this record, considering all the delays surrounding it, so as far as the fans are concerned this had damn well be an awesome album. Surprisingly enough, it is great. I say surprisingly just because it would have seemed like the typical situation for a band with such a reputation to fuck it up on the album that they need to be great. In a word, I know this must be pretty good because after not really liking The Shins, it drew me in and got me interested and subsequently blew me away. That has to count for something. And god knows if I like this then it has to be good.

But seriously, talk about a frame shift. I think the biggest change to the music here from what I heard a few years ago is that Wincing The Night Away is much more produced and accessible. I know that I have a habit of reviewing very night-oriented albums, or maybe of just comparing albums to times of the day, but I don’t feel bad doing it, and god knows I’ll do it many more times. But this album is, as the title suggests, very much a night time album, contrasting a bit from the bands previous sunny pop records. Not that you couldn’t turn on this record at any time of day and still find great pop. It just feels like to get the full experience with the album, you should at least give it a listen after the sun goes down. The record is full of night time oriented effects and songcraft, and ends up being very complex in comparison to previous albums. But once again, you can only take my limited ears with a grain of salt, because this is my first real experience with the band.

Some friends and I tried to get tickets to see these guys live, but it didn’t work out. That kind of bummed me out because I now realize how cool they are, but I have to wonder what that show would have been like. A lot of these songs have great little intricacies that would be difficult to reproduce onstage, at least I would think, and these details give so much life to the songs that they would be shame to miss out on. But relax, I’m sure they are wonderful live, but some certain songs just get me thinking. The song Red Rabbits especially gets me wondering, with it’s twinkling melody and interesting water droplet effects. Another song in this category is the opener Sleeping Lessons. At the beginning it is a hazey dreamy synthesizer that carries over the vocalist as a gentle stream of water. That part is just as great as the last half of the song when it transforms into a fun, happy driving rock tune. Some songs are vintage pop though, especially the first single Phantom Limb with it’s priceless vocal chorus and Sea Legs, a nice beat driven downtown dream that pulls you back into it’s awesome groove right when you start to realize that the background drone sounds vaguely simmilar to a crappy Dido song from the nineties.

If it’s consistancy you’re worried about, put those thoughts to rest. There is really no sacrafice with the gain of a slick production, and every song is hand picked and fun pop, a lot of it reminiscent of the bands other material, so fans will love this while new listeners will appreciate the sound at it’s most radio friendly. Two of the more radio friendly songs are Australia and Turn On Me, and both deliver great loveable hooks. Songs never overstay their welcome and the album never repeats itself, putting forward memorable unique tracks just as much as it does garden variety pop. Black Wave is another strong one, a gentle guitar synthesizer combination that lulls into dreams. A Comet Appears was probably the best way this album could have possibly ended. I just love the contemplative guitars and the memorable vocals. VOCALS. They don’t bother me this time around. Why? Have I changed, or have the vocals changed?

Probably irrelevant. I can tell this is a good starting point. Once again, I respect a band that can change my mind like this. And it has, because I am now interested in the band. Maybe this will be the direction of The Shins in albums to come, appealing to a mass audience through simple decoration, without changing their sound to appeal to anyone. It’s a warm, comforting not-so-hopelessly romantic pop record and, well, I guess it’s the best album of the year thus far so you might as well start off your 2007 purchases with a completely memorable treat.

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2 comments

  1. Subpop isn’t really a “grunge” label, but I can see how it might seem that way…since bands like Nirvana were on there back in the day.

    Subpop is more of an “indie, underground” label…so when they first started grunge was underground…and then slowly it became popular when Nirvana and other like bands exploded on the scene.

    Nowadays bands like The Shins and The Postal Service on are the label…which is cool. It’s a very hip label for sure, and when I first got into The Postal Service and saw that they were under the Subpop label I was very surprised and happy to see that they were still around. As a Nirvana fan, I was under the impression that they were some dinky record label…so to see they have some good choice bands still is great.


  2. Gotta say – I had the same experience. Wasn’t interested in the Shins much at all and then heard the poppy catchiness of this album and liked it very much! Everyone seems to talk about how much the singer looks like Kevin Spacey… xD



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